Chutzpah, Columns and Criminal Cases: That's What Alan Dershowitz Has

By Lamb, Chris | Editor & Publisher, September 10, 1994 | Go to article overview

Chutzpah, Columns and Criminal Cases: That's What Alan Dershowitz Has


Lamb, Chris, Editor & Publisher


MEDIA COVERAGE OF the O.J. Simpson case has been relentless, but one member of his defense team still believes the accused murderer can get a fair trial.

"I don't think there is a conflict between a fair trial and a free press," said Alan Dershowitz. "I think a fair trial and a free press can work together. A free press that operates responsibly promotes a fair trial."

The well-known attorney and syndicated columnist once told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that "self-censorship is the wrong way to protect the press."

He stated, "Let me tell you as a criminal lawyer and as a civil libertarian, do your job as journalists. Don't worry about the legal system. It will protect itself. Never withhold from reporting on a story because you think it will have an impact on the administration of justice. That's not your job."

Dershowitz is no stranger to high-publicity cases. His clients have included socialite Claus von Bulow, boxer Mike Tyson, hotelier Leona Helmsley, junk-bond dealer Michael Milken, evangelist Jim Bakker, deposed Philippines leader Ferdinand Marcos, heiress Patty Hearst and others.

And Dershowitz regularly exercises his own right to free expression by writing books as well as a 10-year-old column for United Feature Syndicate.

The weekly column addresses topics such as the First Amendment, "political correctness," the "right to life," privacy, censorship and the Supreme Court.

Between his column and books, Dershowitz estimates that he writes a million words a year, literally -- he can't type. The Harvard law professor composes longhand on legal paper for a secretary to keyboard.

Dershowitz is keenly aware, and proud, that many of his words aren't popular with readers.

"My goal in writing the column is the same as my goal in teaching a class," he said. "I want to see people rip up newspapers and write letters to the editors."

Sometimes, angry readers cut out the middleman and write hate mail directly to him. Or they leave hostile messages on his answering machine.

Dershowitz said he's criticized by people of all political persuasions, including conservatives for defending liberal causes and liberals for defending conservative causes. Which is fine with him, because he doesn't want to be a predictable columnist.

"People can't categorize me," he commented. "One newspaper wanted to include me because they wanted a liberal perspective. That fit their stereotype. But about a third of my articles are strongly against the current liberal view."

In one recent column, for instance, he wrote that women are responsible for more than half of all incidents of intrafamily violence. This contradicted the common perception that family violence was typically male against female. Dershowitz was accused of being antifeminist.

"I don't write articles against feminism," he said. "I merely cited the data and let the chips fall where they may. It's just a myth that only husbands kill wives and that they get away with it. They don't get away with it. They're dealt with much more harshly than women who kill their husbands."

Dershowitz is a self-proclaimed civil libertarian, but he noted that the American Civil Liberties Union is his most frequent critic. He said the ACLU has supported "politically correct" causes at the expense of individual civil liberties. Dershowitz stated that he would rather be right than "politically correct."

But the columnist isn't willing to give conservatives credit for attacking liberals for their "political correctness." As is often the case with Dershowitz, he puts a plague on both houses.

Dershowitz said he's against any kind of censorship or litmus test or political agenda-setting that substitutes for the truth, whether it comes from liberals or conservatives. …

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