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

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

9
The Trial of the Century in Retrospect

Lin S. Lilley

THE 1935 HAUPTMANN TRIAL WAS ONCE LABELED "the trial of the century." For the first time, trial proceedings were shown audiovisually outside the courtroom, and millions of moviegoers watched newsreel footage of the trial of the alleged kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. When the judge realized how the live shots were being used, he promptly put an end to the carnivallike atmosphere. In the aftermath of the Hauptmann trial, the American Bar Association House of Delegates recommended a ban on all photographs during court sessions and on the broadcast of actual trial proceedings. The ban stayed in place until the late 1950s and early 1960s when a few western states started experimenting with television cameras in the courtroom ( Lassiter, 1996, pp. 936-37).

Now, sixty years later, the trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman has become the true trial of the twentieth century because of the amount of publicity generated. After the Simpson criminal trial, there was a plea, once again, to ban cameras from the courtroom. This plea worked. Judges have prohibited cameras in several recent high‐ profile cases, including Susan Smith's trial for the death of her young sons, Yolanda Saldivar's for the murder of the singer Selena, Richard Allen Davis's for the abduction and murder of Polly Klaas, rap star Snoop Doggy Dogg's for the murder of a rival, and the retrial of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the deaths of their parents. Most notably, though, Judge Fujisaki prohibited broadcast of the Simpson civil trial proceedings. Even so, the media "feeding frenzy" continued. Hollywood hired actors to reenact the civil courtroom saga, and the legal commentators continued to comment each night. Once again, ratings were high, and Americans just could not get enough of the O. J. story.

But it was not just Americans affected by the Simpson story. The media coverage of the Simpson trials created what Marshall McLuhan has

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