The O. J. Simpson Trials: Rhetoric, Media, and the Law

By Janice Schuetz; Lin S. Lilley | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: Telelitigation and Its
Challenges to Trial Discourse

Janice Schuetz

THE 1990s BROUGHT WHAT JONATHAN ALTER ( 1997, February 17) called "The Great Age of Trials." Alter noted that "bad news about crime tends to drive out good or important news about anything else. Today's jealous mistress of law is seducing the news, threatening to dominate yet another part of public life" (p. 127). For many observers, the new communication technologies, the massive coverage of crimes, and the trials that follow have created a public obsession for watching and reading about trials. The nearly three years of O. J. Simpson trials typify this new age of "telelitigation."

This book provides an interpretive and critical analysis of key segments of the O. J. Simpson criminal and civil trials. The focus of the book is on telelitigation, the way that the media has transformed sensational trials with celebrity defendants and victims into telemediated forms. Quite clearly, the Simpson criminal trial is the strongest example of litigation being transformed because of media coverage. From the arrest and live coverage of the chase in the Bronco on June 17, 1994, until the verdict on October 2, 1995, the criminal trial received the most extensive coverage of any event in history. In fact, some scholars claim that the Simpson trials received more media coverage than did the Vietnam War during the actual years the war was being fought. The trial cost Los Angeles County an estimated $9 million and Simpson $10 million. The jury initially composed of twelve regular and twelve alternates was sequestered for 266 days. The prosecution provided testimony for ninety-nine days and the defense for thirty-four (" Simpson Trial Statistics," 1997). Judge Lance Ito's permission for live coverage of the trial in part fostered the intensive media attention.

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