Tag Archives: NPR

Forrest Gumpish Me

I felt so Gumpish yesterday.

The Milwaukee Green Sheet “Blasts from the Past” had an item from 1979 about Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini receiving “a tumultuous welcome in Tehran as he ended nearly 15 years of exile.” My children and I had just been evacuated from Tehran the month before with what we could carry in a few suitcases as the Islamic Revolution became chaotic in Iran, and my husband was still there with no indication that he was going to get out.

An interview on NPR with TV critic Eric Deggens about “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” miniseries scheduled to debut on FX last night included mention of the Rodney King-beating trial verdicts and resulting L.A. riots threw me back to all of those events.

When Rodney King was stopped by law enforcement for a malfunctioning taillight and beaten, I was city editor at the Pasadena Star News with a coverage area that included King’s hometown of Altadena. I had moved to my position as Los Angeles courts public information officer just three months before four L.A.P.D. officers stood trial for beating King. That trial was a real baptism by fire! But not nearly as hot as the subsequent riots during which I was one of the few people to keep showing up for work every day at the downtown County Courthouse.

And, of course, the accusation and subsequent trial of O.J. Simpson for murdering his ex-wife practically consumed my life for more than a year and a half in 1994 and 1995, which is now the foundation of the TV drama “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.

I have to say the Simpson case practically consumed my life, because sandwiched between court sessions, dealing with related media issues and meeting with the trial judge, Lance Ito, were the Hollywood Madam Heidi Fleiss case and preparations for the Menendez brothers retrial.

Feeling Gumpish comes over me at other times of the year, too, such as during the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, in which I drove a float one year and… and…

Oh, well, that’s enough for now. Sorry to get carried away.



Remembering What Didn’t Happen?

In NPR’s Jeremy Hobson’s Here and Now interview with TV critic Eric Deggins on Feb. 2, 2016, about the FX drama “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” Jeremey said the show reminds us of so much we forgot about that happened in the 1994-95 Simpson trial.

So I told Jeremy (yes, I talk to the radio, also to the TV), “That’s because so much that’s being portrayed in the FX miniseries didn’t happen.”

An example is the prominent role Kris Jenner, ex-wife of defense counsel Robert Kardashian, has been given. Her pre-“The People vs. O.J. Simpson” comments have her in the courtroom, hanging onto every word throughout the trial.

No. She showed up on one day only. That was Sept. 27, 1995, more than nine months after the trial started and less than a week before it ended with not-guilty verdicts. She sat with her then-husband Bruce Jenner and friends Steve Garvey and Garvey’s wife.

 Photo courtesy of MPJI/HGSTAR1 NEWSPHOTO taken on Sept. 27, 1995, by Photojournalist Haywood Galbreath 

My huge problem with this series and with so much that has been written and portrayed about that case and the trial is the perpetuation of misperceptions, myths and fantasies that just didn’t happen.

No Déja Vu to Everyone

News reports and opinion pieces have been full of comparisons between the George Zimmerman and O.J. Simpson trials on murder charges. I jumped on that bandwagon with my “Déja Vu All Over Again” post on this blog.

A good friend and the most experienced and knowledgeable non-lawyer person on courtroom proceedings I know, however, begged to differ.

Other than public perception, she said, there is no comparison between the two trials.

I certainly agree that public perception is a common denominator and huge factor in measuring the Zimmerman trial against Simpson’s. But I believe other similarities are present, too.

One is the prosecution’s less than stellar, even ineffectual, performance. Another is that both defendants had juries of their peers so far as racial makeup is concerned. Both trials were highly emotional, polarizing, fraught with the role racism played or might have played in the case, and both were scored by a wide swath of media and pundits as if they were sporting events.

Unlike sporting events, however, in which few other than team fans care much about the outcome, just about everybody who knew about Nicole Brown’s and Ron Goldman’s murders and Simpson’s trial, and the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s trial have strong feelings/opinions about the verdicts in those cases.

My friend asserted that Florida law was the cause of acquittal. Certainly, Zimmerman’s claim of self defense was the crux of the case his lawyers presented and of jury instructions. Lost, not considered or even absent, though, was Trayvon Martin’s need, attempt or right to defend himself.

The question that should be asked, my friend said, is what would have happened under that law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed.

That prompted me to contemplate the few known facts in the Zimmerman case, which are that a white man followed a black teenager, even though police told him not to, a confrontation occurred, the white man who had a loaded gun shot the black teen dead.

Both had the right to be where they were. The teen had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. walking on the street. The man had the right to be doing what he was doing, i.e. following the teen, even though police told him not to.

Both, under Florida law, had a right to defend themselves.

The jury heard Zimmerman’s testimony, albeit via his statements to police investigators, but without the benefit of cross examination (i.e. a single-source story). The jury heard no testimony from Trayvon Martin.

Once defense lawyers were permitted to portray Martin as a wanna-be gangster and use photos of what they promoted as his gang symbols and of his well-defined musculature, which were as unrelated to the trial as was Zimmerman’s record of his past brushes with law, which apparently was not admissible, they successfully fertilized the seeds of fear that are planted in the vast majority of Southern white females — and I was one — in early childhood.

Thus, instead of responding like prosecutors apparently thought they would, i.e. mothers sympathetic to what the prosecution planned to present as an unarmed teenager — who very well could have been one of their children — walking home from buying candy and a drink being stalked and shot by a wanna-be cop, those five white and one Hispanic female jurors saw him as the young thug the defense turned him into. The kind of young thug they had been conditioned to fear and who, no doubt, break into the houses of people like them.

Once the defense morphed Martin into the bad guy, he lost all credibility and any right to defend himself.

So, what would have happened under the Florida law if a black man were the aggressor and a white man were being followed? One finding cited in a Tampa Bay Times story is, “Defendants claiming ‘stand your ground’ are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.”

The story is at http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/florida-stand-your-ground-law-yields-some-shocking-outcomes-depending-on/1233133.

I was struck earlier today by another similarity. This one between Zimmerman and, not Simpson, but the lynching more than eight decades ago of three black teenagers who were arrested on suspicion of murder. A Sanford, Florida, resident said in an interview aired this morning on NPR, “We need to move on.” That was the theme of a newspaper editorial in the wake of those lynchings more than 80 years ago.

No Courtroom Camera, No Trial Buzz?

Although I have witnessed the difference courtroom-camera coverage can have in media reports of trials and, in fact, I wrote about that in my 1997 Court Manager article “What A Difference A Lens Makes”  http://jerriannehayslett.com/pdf/What_a_Difference_a_Lens_Makes.PDF, and even though I support cameras in courtrooms, I take exception to the assertions in this National Public Radio report that aired yesterday.

Lack Of Video Kills Media Buzz At Whitey Bulger Trial


In this broadcast, NPR reporter Tovia Smith says:

“It all raises that age-old question, if a blockbuster trial happens in court and no cameras are around to broadcast it, can it really be a blockbuster trial? Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson says not really.”

Then Charles Nesson says:

“It makes it literally invisible, not a public trial.”

I beg to differ.

Who, including NPR’s Tovia Smith and Harvard’s Charles Nesson, can possibly argue — at least with a straight face — that the 2005 Michael Jackson child molestation trial in Santa Maria, California, wasn’t a “block buster” or that it was “literally invisible”? No cameras in the courtroom for that case.

I know, not only because I could not watch any of the court proceedings on television, but because I consulted on that case and discussed with the judge his thinking on whether or not to allow cameras in.

And how about the 2004 Martha Stewart insider trading trial? No cameras there. Yet every aspect of the courtroom proceedings was aired by the legions of reporters covering it?

Don’t you think the media would have covered every inch the so-called 9/11 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui’s 2002 trial, had he not pled guilty before the case went to trial? Cameras would not have been in that courtroom either, since it was a federal case in a federal courthouse and, except for couple of limited experiments with civil cases, federal court system does not permit camera coverage.

And what about the 1996-7 O.J. Simpson civil trial in which Simpson was sued for wrongful death by the families of murder victims, Simpson ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman? The judge presiding over that trial vehemently denied camera access to his Santa Monica courtroom, yet the media no only covered the actual trial (but maybe not the accompanying circus outside) nearly as closely as they did the 1995 criminal trial, the Santa Monica police issued riot gear and marshaled its mounted units to keep the raucous crowd outside under control.

Most people I poll in presentations I do on high-profile trials think the trial of Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife Laci on Christmas Eve of 2002, was televised. It wasn’t.

A number of lawyers and even judges who previously were anti-camera, subsequently have reversed their thinking.

One notable lawyer is Peterson’s defense attorney Mark Geragos, who firmly believes his client is not guilty.

Geragos said at a 2005 conference, which I quote in my book Anatomy of a Trial, “I think we should have had camera coverage to get the facts out there for people to form opinions for themselves. The venom the public expressed about Scott Peterson was based on urban legends. It was not based on the evidence presented at trial.”  http://courtsandmedia.org/conferences/rnccm-conf05-reno.html

I think I agree more with the comments posted at the end of the NPR story that with the premise of the story itself. Here’s a particularly cogent one posted by Sam Hedrick:

“The longer I listened to this story, the madder I got. It’s a bunch of reporters whining because they can’t take video cameras into the courtroom and are missing out on some “great television”. These are not journalists,they’re talking heads. News isn’t supposed to be about making entertainment, it’s about conveying information. Without that, it’s just more worthless crap. This is a trial about a man’s life- maybe a life wasted, but nonetheless this is about justice, not TV.”


‘Arguments’ Differ from ‘Statements’

A reporter on National Public Radio yesterday talked about opening arguments in the Bradley Manning trial.

Reporting like that is an example of what drives judges nuts about media coverage of the courts and court proceedings.

Judges contend and my advice, both as the Los Angeles courts media liaison and as a court-media consultant, is that members of the media need to know what they’re talking about when they report news.

The NPR reporter committed an all-too common mistake. Trials do not have opening arguments. Attorneys representing litigants in a trial present opening statements. That process involves telling — or stating to — jurors (or the judge, if it’s a bench trial) what they will present in the testimony phase of the trial.

After the testimony phase, the lawyers then present their closing arguments. That process involves telling jurors (or judge) why, based on the evidence presented, they must arrive at a verdict in favor of their client and/or against their opponent’s client.

Judges, as the AP’s 46-year veteran reporter of high-profile and celebrity trials Linda Deutsch says, are process oriented. The accuracy, correct application and context of words is critical in their world. While most members of the public don’t understand and couldn’t care less about the difference between arguments and statements in court trials, members of the media who cover court cases should.

Borrowing from the adage that ‘the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,’ the best way to winning the respect and confidence of a judge is through accurate, fair, objective, non-sensationalized and knowledgeable reporting of legal issues and proceedings. Don’t believe me? Just ask Linda Deutsch.

Not Such a Nice Girl — or Boy — After All

Jake Tapper, previously an ABC corespondent and now with CNN, on the NPR program Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me — of all places — told about having a date with Clinton White House intern Monica Lewinsky before news of her relationship to the president had broken. Some time after that date, Tapper was on a scuba-diving vacation with his father in the Cayman Islands when he saw the headline in the Caymanian Compass. His reaction?

“Oh, my god!”  http://www.npr.org/2012/12/01/166240236/jake-tapper-of-abc-news-plays-not-my-job

That was my reaction to the news many years earlier that O.J. Simpson was the primary suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman — except that I had never dated Simpson. In fact, I hadn’t even met him. But like just about everybody else in the country, I knew him.

Or thought I did.

Football great, Hertz and HoneyBaked Ham pitchman, Naked Gun movie actor, all-around good guy.

Seeing him in the courtroom, interacting with his defense attorneys and others during his 1994 pretrial proceedings and his 1995 trial,  didn’t do much to challenge that image, despite evidence alleging otherwise. At most, the self-centered sense of entitlement that isn’t uncommon with gifted athletes who are courted and coddled from high school — and even earlier — on through scholarships and ivory-towered college sports program, began to bleed through.

An example was his lawyers bringing special food to the courtroom for his lunch so he wouldn’t have to suffer the “mystery-meat” sandwich and apple sack lunches given jail inmates in courthouse lockup. That lasted until word got to the trial judge, Lance Ito, who ordered it stopped.

I got a better sense of another Simpson during his 1997 civil trial that resulted in a $33.5 million judgment against him. Unlike the criminal trial, Simpson was not in custody, so he frequently held forth in the Santa Monica courthouse corridors.

One day a high school student whose teacher had arranged to help me out as a volunteer said she didn’t want to be around him because he hit on her. Interestingly, she was a pretty, shapely blonde.

I never actually “met” or talked to Simpson until his 2008 Las Vegas trial on robbery and kidnapping charges  trial. It was an awkward moment. I was going into the courtroom during a break in the proceedings and he was coming out. We met in the doorway.

Although we had never spoken, I knew that he knew who I was. How could he not? I was in the courtroom almost every day of both his ’95 criminal trial and his ’97 civil trial.

After we each said “hi” as we stood there in that Las Vegas courtroom doorway, what to say next. So I blurted out, “How are you?”

Well, duh. He had a ten-year-old $33.5 million judgment against him that he hadn’t paid a penny toward. The ivory tower of his youth and glory days had crumbled to dust. He was the ongoing butt of endless jokes. And he was, yet again, on trial for crimes that could land him in prison for years. (And did!) So, how the heck did I think he was?

And what the heck was I doing at that trial in Las Vegas, anyway? I no longer worked for any court in the country and had long-ago moved out of California.

Although the Simpson trial in Las Vegas would be interesting, the only reason I went was to see my friend Dominick Dunne who had been diagnosed with what was expected to be a terminal illness. (And it was.)

So, have you known, or thought you knew, someone who turned out to be vastly different from the image they presented or passed themselves off to be? Someone who gave you an “Oh, my god!” moment?