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

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

8
Race and Money Matter:
Justice on Trial

Ann M. Gill

THE SPECTACLES OF THE TWO SIMPSON TRIALS allowed the media to set the agenda by establishing the issues about which the public thought and spoke. This chapter explains how the issues surfaced in the trials, what the media contributed to the discussion of these issues, and how these issues contributed to commonsense understandings of the trial process and verdicts. The media commentary in the trials' wakes, which has been almost as overwhelming as the media coverage of the trials, includes both "reaction and meta-reaction" ( Wesson, 1996, p. 949). Commentators typically form two conclusions about the trials: (1) the rich and famous can get away with murder ( Keeva, 1995, p. 78; Anastaplo, 1995); and (2) race, which affects the functioning of the criminal justice system in many ways, once again was a deciding factor in trial outcome (" Unreasonable Doubt," 1995, October 23). The defendant's wealth was particularly apparent in the criminal trial because of the depth of the legal and investigatory teams assembled in Simpson's defense. Race, an underlying tension in nearly every aspect of society, surfaced in media coverage of the criminal trial.

Analysis of the roles of wealth and race should go beyond the carapace of law, which makes trials appear to be neutral and color-blind searches for truth conducted with objectively applied procedural rules. Close analysis of the Simpson trials cracks that carapace. No longer can Americans interpret the law only in terms of rationality. The Simpson cases supplant the traditional legal notion of rationality with a form of commonsense justice that is actually objective, universal, and quite unimpeachable. This chapter (1) identifies the celebrity quality of Simpson's

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