The second coming of the misinformation onslaught has begun, thanks to that vast purveyor of misinformation, Fox Entertainment Group. The first of a 10-part miniseries, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, debuts tonight on its FX network.
This drama will contain a representation/misrepresentation of non-courtroom conversations and events involving the lawyers, relatives and others related to the 1994 murder case of O. J. Simpson and the defendant.
My interest is how it portrays court officials, including the trial judge Lance Ito, and media coverage. That’s because I was the Los Angeles courts’ director of public information at that time and present in the courtroom, the courthouse and behind the scenes before, during and following the 1994-95 trial.
The FX series has conjured up lots of reminiscing by people who were there — and not — with lots of mis-remembering. Here’s something that popped up online today:
In his New York Post Page Six column, Richard Johnson writes that “Judge Lance Ito was a virtual Hollywood groupie who couldn’t resist rubbing elbows with stars — including Richard Dreyfuss.”
Johnson goes on to ‘relate’ a conversation Dreyfuss had with another Post staffer about the day Dreyfuss attended the trial “as a curious bystander.”
“Ito spotted Dreyfuss and invited him into his chambers, where he showed off some of the gory crime-scene photos from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman,” Johnson writes.
“'[Ito] said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest today,” and introduced me to the courtroom,’ Dreyfuss recalls.”
I kept a voice-recorded journal during the trial, which I had transcribed and used as a reference when writing my book, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson. Here’s what I recorded the day, Sept. 14, 1995 — nearly nine months into the trial — that Dreyfuss sat in the courtroom:
Thursday, September 14th.
Today Mr. Dryfuss was in the courtroom, a rather sleepy Richard Dryfuss, I caught him dozing a couple of times. I told Judge Ito. [Earlier Ito had asked me, Did you see who was out there? And I said, ‘No’. He said , ‘Richard Dryfuss’. I said, ‘Oh, well, what is he in one of the special guest seats?’ He said yes. ‘But, I am taking your advice, and I am not going to go out to meet him.’ I said, ‘Good, you will avoid a lot of criticism.’ I told him later that he had been dozing and he kind of gave this little whining noise like ‘what, he wasn’t riveted to my every word? I said something about, ‘Don’t take it personally.’ It was really dry, boring stuff going on there.
One thing this journal entry doesn’t do is convey Ito’s wry sense of humor and subtle sarcasm. What it and the trial transcript do, though, is prove two aspects of Dreyfuss’s assertion wrong.
One was Dreyfuss’s representation of himself as ‘a curious bystander.’ Dreyfuss, like other recognizable faces that showed up in the courtroom, such as James Woods, Steve Garvey, Jackie Mason, Anita Hill, Jimmie Breslin, might have been curious, but of greater importance was an obsession of many celebrities. The Simpson trial became THE place to be seen. Dreyfuss (or someone for him) called the courtroom to see if he could get in. A couple of courtroom seats were held in reserve throughout the trial for Ito in case he got requests from people he wanted to be sure got into the trial. His parents, for instance. One day it was a cancer patient who had written him a letter and told him that watching the trial on TV was a distraction for her and help her endure the terrible side effects of cancer treatments. At his invitation she and a caregiver sat in his ‘special seats.’ He also invited her to rest on the couch in his chambers during proceedings recesses. The media didn’t report on Ruth Archey attending the trial or Ito offer or his chambers couch.
To my knowledge, Ito didn’t contact, rub elbows with or invite any of the ‘celebrities’ who showed up in the courtroom to attend the trial.
The other incorrect assertion was that Ito introduced Dreyfuss to the courtroom. The court reporter made an official transcript of everything that was said in the courtroom during that trial from the minute Ito took the bench until he left. My search of the transcript for the entire month of September 1995, turns up no mention of Dreyfuss, much less Ito introducing him to the courtroom either by name or as a “special guest.”
Ito didn’t even speak to Dreyfuss in the courtroom, so it’s not likely Dreyfuss would have visited him in chambers, and even more unlikely Ito would have shown him crime-scene photographs. One reason is that the crime-scene photos were trial exhibits and as such in the custody of the courtroom clerk which she kept locked up in a closet. Another reason is that of all the occasions I accompanied courtroom visitors to Ito’s chambers, which included some members of the media at their request, I never saw Ito show them trial exhibit photos.
So, where did Dreyfuss get that from? Who knows, but my guess is it was a false memory. That is a common phenomenon.
My younger brother swears he was with me on a late-night caper when I was 16 years old and he was 12. I sneaked out of the house while everyone else was asleep and drove the family car to a nearby town hoping to find a boy I had a crush on who hadn’t called me on the telephone that evening as he had promised he would do.
First, why on earth would I have taken my younger brother in my confidence, especially when we weren’t exactly BBFs, much less taken him with me in such a situation. In fact, I actively avoided him and wanted as little to do with him as possible as was typical for any teenage girl with a ‘little’ brother. I was 16 and he was 12, for crying out loud.
Second, although he was younger than me by four years, he wasn’t my ‘little’ brother. That year, the year he turned 12, he grew nine inches, so was not only no longer smaller than me, he was an unbelievable clutz — like a puppy that hasn’t grown into its giant paws. No way would I have risked being caught because any noise he might have made. In fact, it took me what felt like forever to sneak down the stairs without stepping on any creaky ones, tiptoe to my parents downstairs bedroom, get the keys off my dad’s bureau, creep through the house to the back door, easy out and close it and get in the car without waking anyone. So, I would have brought my bull-in-a-china-shop brother with me? And trusted that he wouldn’t tell anyone, even when my dad remarked the next morning when the entire family was in the car to go to church that the car was parked on the opposite side of the driveway from where he had parked it the day before and that the gas gauge showed a quarter-of-a-tank of gas less than it had the day before and concluded that someone must have taking it for a joyride and that he was so thankful whoever did at least brought it back instead of stealing it or leaving it in a ditch somewhere?
I don’t think so.
It’s not beyond belief that Dreyfuss saw and read so much about the Simpson case — some of which included fabrications, like some parts of Toobin’s book did when it was published a year later — that his memory inserted himself into stuff that didn’t happen.
Memories such as this one Johnson’s Page Six report and other fantasies that are sure to be vomited up in this “Everybody’s Gotta Say Something” second coming of misinformation onslaught with FX’s “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” drama are equally if not more frustrating and maddening as those I endured 21 years ago.