The press gets new seats.
Most are happy, some are mad.
It’s always no win.
Simpson trial judge Lance Ito knew there was great demand for seats in his courtroom and signed off on the assigned seating for the media. He concurred that they were the eyes and ears of the public and thought they should have some certainty in getting a seat. The assigned seats came with a caveat, however. They had to be occupied. In the early days of the trial, no problem. But as time went on, some reporters and producers would watch the TV feed in the media center instead of sitting in the courtroom.
After weeks of seeing empty media seats, and knowing that some members of the media who were always there didn’t have the best seat, he asked me to revise the seating plan and give members of the media who had the better attendance to better seats. I could do that because, just like a school teacher taking daily attendance, I had a written record of who was there — not just every day, but at the beginning of each session.
So, here is my journal entry for the day the new seating assignments went into effect:
“The revised seating plan went into effect today and I feel like I’ve been through a meat grinder!
All but maybe three people were absolutely up in arms. They just ripped into me. It started out, I went over to the courthouse and told a couple of the deputies at the (security) screen, ‘Hey you guys want to come up and be my bodyguards? I need a flack jacket,’ and boy I was not underestimating!”
One wire service reporter was in tears, saying it wasn’t fair because she had to duck out to meet frequent deadlines. But I took attendance only at the beginning of each session, not during it. She said she was late and didn’t get in on time because of balky elevators. Everyone ran that risk, I said. Plus, I didn’t ding anyone the day the elevators broke down or when there were bomb scares, or when they were out sick, including her.
“Everybody had a gripe, a complaint, a reason why they shouldn’t have been held accountable or they wanted to contest me, saying, ‘We were there, we were there, we were there!’ I have it written down every single day that the seat wasn’t filled with somebody from their organization. So, I can’t help it if they say, ‘We have producers here from New York and you may not know who they are.’ But I always asked. If I didn’t know who the people were I asked, if I had a question and I thought they might be with the network then I put a question mark. I did not count it as a vacancy. So I really erred on the most liberal side giving everybody the biggest benefit of the doubt.
“It is strictly on attendance, strictly on attendance, strictly on attendance. They couldn’t seem to understand. They were saying that I was unfair, and so forth and then they started saying that I have this unannounced policy and that I hadn’t told anybody that the seats are going to be reassigned and that I was giving secret demerits.
“At one point, David Goldstein with KCAL had said, ‘Hey, we are an affiliate of CNN so we can share seats because it says affiliates can share,’ and I said, ‘That’s not right because CNN has a seat with KCOP, so when we do the revised seating I guess we’ll put CNN with KCAL and KTLA with KCOP.’ Oh no, he says, ‘all of us, all three stations are affiliates of CNN.’ I said, ‘Well, maybe I will just give one seat to all of you because the other, the networks have to share with all of their affiliates.’ He said, ‘Oh, but they are owned by the networks, CNN doesn’t own us, we are all independent, we just have an affiliation agreement with CNN.’ That’s what I have to put up with.
“Then Bill Whitaker called, he is a correspondent with CBS. I was on the phone with him for a 1/2 hour and he just went on and on saying they were in their seat and this person was on this day and this person was on that day and I said, ‘I can tell you I sat right in the courtroom and if there was not a human body in that seat it was vacant or if a George Reedy (a media wannabe), or a Current Affair or somebody else who is on the first-come-first-served list is in a seat, it was vacant.’ He started carrying on about secret policies.
“So before I got back to the office I stopped by to see Judge Ito and I said, ‘If I remember correctly you even made a remark from the bench one day about all these empty seats and that the seats were going to be reassigned so that the people who were there faithfully would get better seats,’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did.’
“So, there it is on the record. Then, I get back to my office and come to find out he had issued a media advisory, I’d forgotten all about it. We issued a media advisory on April 14th spelling out exactly what was going to be happening and so I faxed that to Bill Whitaker.”