POST-SIMPSON PASTICHE: Jeffrey Toobin's "A Horrible Human Event," in The New Yorker (Oct. 23), included a disclosure that should shake the complacency of news media and their reporters. Of The O. James Simpson Trial, Toobin writes: "The reporters were an overwhelmingly white group and, as far as I could tell, no one ever worried that their treatment of the defense was unduly favorable. Fear of being called racist transcended everything in that newsroom." And because Johnnie Cochran cultivated the press so assiduously, whenever Toobin and Court TV reporter Dan Abrams appeared on NBC's "Today" they found themselves thinking, "What will Johnnie say?" Toobin adds, "...perhaps fearing the consequences of taking on a prominent African-American," the press gave Cochran "almost every break."
It seems clear that if Toobin is right, journalists are in for a lot of soul-searching. We can stop worrying about the jury system; it's professionalism in our news media that needs work.
And when it comes to TV in the courtroom, can we now agree that the cameras do belong? One exception: when Judge Ito presides. Does anyone doubt that he could have run a much tighter ship?
After prosecutor Marcia Clark used a sound/video "collage" to end her jury presentation, Ted Koppel worried on "Nightline" that this might lead to ad agencies, heaven forbid! handling courtroom multi-media productions. The man was not happy. Perhaps he hadn't noticed that Ito's courtroom was stuffed with computers, laptops, TV sets, videoscreens and electronic overhead monitors. With all sides using this high-tech stuff, plus juror-behavior specialists, does Koppel really expect defense lawyers and prosecutors in high-visibility trials to avoid hiring outside talent, including writers, to help them "sell" the jury?
Hugh Pearson, writing in The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 11), pointed out a glaring irony: Simpson, who represented "the quintessential example of how a black person could successfully transcend race," became "the quintessential excuse for why blacks and whites will, for the most part, remain separate." He asked how "optimists [can] see this fiasco as an opportunity for racial healing?"
Fiasco indeed. But as the dust settles, maybe we find that last month's March on Washington, with its focus on pride, dignity and the rebuilding of urban America, trumped and displaced The Trial as race relations' focal point. Maybe that hot, nasty Trial is fading out, done in by a divisiveness we would rather forget. Maybe Simpson will somehow learn that when and if he does interviews, instead of whining about his media treatment, he chooses a loftier message, one of healing, of focusing on the March on Washington's ideals. Maybe that's what will help us get over this Trial of the Century and get on with the work that needs to be done in the next century.
MEDIAMEANDERING: On Oct. 20, Geraldo Rivera told us on "Geraldo" that the murdered Tejano singing star Selena was "larger in life than she was in death."
TV: BETTER THAN MOVIES: Somewhat belatedly, Entertainment Weekly (Oct. 20) offered "10 Reasons TV is Better Than the Movies," and The New York Times Magazine (Oct. 22) gave us Charles McGrath's salute, "The Triumph of the Prime Time Novel." They stress that TV is a writers' medium, more so, McGrath maintains, than a lot of magazines, movies and Broadway. EW says that in TV, "the writer rules," while in Hollywood the writer is "some peasant out in a field." One exception: Joe Eszterhas, "one of the few screenwriters not routinely subjected to revisions by a succession of hired hands." But this exception doesn't even help Hollywood; "Showgirls" and "Jade," two of the year's biggest bombs, were written by Eszterhas, of whom Time's Richard Corliss recently noted, "His favorite plot hook [is] sexual mutilation...." I guess TV's future remains bright as long as Eszterhas keeps writing movies.
Neither article, by the way, credits or mentions the TV advertisers who, despite occasional boycott threats, support such McGrath favorites as "ER," "NYPD Blue," "Chicago Hope," "Homicide," "Law & Order" and "Picket Fences." So please permit me, Charles, to toss a salute to America's perennial villains, advertisers and their agencies. I remember how they got beat up, and blamed, during TV's "blah" years.
The Oct. 19 "Seinfeld" plot line had George Costanza, the pitiful N.Y. Yankees exec, entertaining Houston Astros executives to help further a deal involving the two teams. On Oct. 23, the Yanks announced the hiring of a new general manager, Bob Watson, from the Astros. How plugged in can a TV show get?
With radio talk show hosts now reading faxes from listeners, I guess we're about to enter a new radio fax-show era, with messages like: `Hi, Bob. I'm a longtime listener and a first-time faxer."
Nostalgia: How many out there remember when "Murphy Brown" was all about Beltway politics and the media?
It was okay for the Washington Post and The New York Times to decide, finally, to publish the Unabomber's Manifesto, but they'll regret their decision to seek pre-publication blessings from our Attorney General and the FBI. The way it's supposed to work is that newspaper editors weigh the news value of editorial material among themselves, without consulting the Feds.
FLASH! As we watch the latest "Saturday Night Live" troupe flounder, let's hear it for Fox's more adventurous "Mad TV," and Comedy Central's innovative Squigglevision series, "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist." Esquire magazine reports that "Katz" dialogue is entirely improvised by comedians. But I don't think they're the same ones who work the "SNL" beat.
"Big and Clunky" is the caption of a Frye ad that features a closeup of a Frye boot and this copy: "It looks how it looks because it is what it is-indestructible." Turns out Adler Boschetto Peebles, New York, did the ad. I thought it was by Dr. Seuss.