Tag Archives: USA Today

Remote Trial Coverage

I read this article, “New Doc Features Black Journalists Who Covered OJ Simpson Trial,” expecting to see names of journalists I knew who covered the O.J. Simpson trial. I knew who attended it because I kept a daily list. Among the regulars were Andrea Ford, Dennis Schatzman, Janet Gilmore, Myra Ming, Bill Whitaker, and above all, photojournalist Haywood Galbreath, who was in court every day that trial was in session. Others attended from time to time as well.
While Star Jones, who is quoted in this story, did show up occasionally, although I remember her more from the Rodney King beating trial days, most of the people quoted in this story I never met or saw in the courtroom or in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building 9th floor media center. I wondered after reading the story, why the writer, Matthew Carey, didn’t interview those who were there.
It’s a given he couldn’t have interviewed Andrea Ford or Dennis Schatzman, as both died years ago. (Schatzman, who reported for the African-American newspaper The Los Angeles Sentinel and made race the theme in his trial coverage, wrote an excellent book, The Simpson Trial in Black and White, with a white colleague, Tom Elias.) But Janet Gilmore, who reported for the Los Angeles Daily News is now and has been at UC Berkeley for more than a decade; Myra Ming, who was KTTV’s reporter/producer on the scene and went on to become a Nieman fellow, and Bill Whitaker with CBS News where he is now a 60 Minutes correspondent, shouldn’t have been hard to find.
And Haywood Galbreath, whose attendance at the Simpson trial rivals only AP reporter Linda Deutsch, to my knowledge, not only continues his photojournalism career via his H. G. Star-1 News Photos agency and published The O. J. Simpson Murder Trial: the complete photo journal of the trial of the century, he readily talks about being a black journalist covering the trial and probably has the most stark and telling stories about that experience.
At best, one or two of those Carey quoted in this article might have shown up in the courtroom once or twice during the nine months of the trial from opening statements to closing arguments and the four months of pre-trial proceedings, although I don’t recall seeing them. Otherwise, they must have covered the trial from their newsrooms, offices and other non-courtroom locations, via TV, like millions of other viewers.
In Carey’s article, former USA Today DeWayne Wickham recalled his frustration that his reporting didn’t get picked up by his own paper, which he implies in this story was racially based.
“I was a black journalist who reported a story that raised serious questions about the prosecution’s conduct of that trial, and most white folks ignored my reporting.”
Whether or not that was the case, I can’t say. What I do know, though, is that the two USA Today reporters who were consistently in the courtroom were women, so Wickham must have been covering it remotely. Plus, considering the number of African-American journalists who were assigned to onsite, i.e. courtroom, coverage, Wickham’s situation seems to have been more of an anomaly than the rule.
As I read the caption of a photograph used to illustrated Cary’s story, a bias of my own bubbled up. The picture shows Simpson getting out of a car.
Defendant O.J. Simpson arrives under the gaze of t
The caption reads: “Defendant O.J. Simpson arrives under the gaze of the media at the Santa Monica Courthouse where the first day of opening arguments. AFP/Getty Images”
This photo and caption taps into my bias in three ways of how the news media distorts and misinforms the public.
(1) The picture is of Simpson wearing civilian clothes,
(2) The caption says Simpson is arriving at the Santa Monica Courthouse,
(3) The caption says (ungrammatically) “where the first day of opening arguments.”
(1) During Simpson’s 1995 murder trial, he was in custody, locked up in the Los Angeles County Jail, where he wore orange jumpsuits from the day he was arrested on June 17, 1994, until his acquittal on Oct. 3, 1995. His lawyers brought civilian clothes to the courthouse for Simpson to change into in a locked cell there for his courtroom appearances. Never during that trial was he wearing civilian clothes while riding around in a car.
(2) The murder trial, which Carey’s story seems to be about, was held in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse, not in Santa Monica. What was held in Santa Monica was Simpson’s 1996-97 civil trial which resulted in a $33 million judgment against him. So, unsuspecting and otherwise uninformed readers of this story won’t understand the difference.
(3) Opening arguments? What the heck are opening arguments? That is a creation of the news media, something I didn’t realize until I worked for the court. Trial attorneys make opening statements. They state to a jury the facts of the case as they plan to present it and the evidence. Arguments come at the end of the trial, after the attorneys have presented their case, and argue why the jury should decide in their and their clients’ favor.
I’m disappointed that Carey, who is billed at the end of his story as editor-in-chief of nonfictionfilm.com. During the Simpson trial he worked for CNN’s LA bureau, writing on media coverage of the case didn’t know correct lingo and wasn’t aware of the damage conflating two very different trials held at different times does on his readers’/viewers’ understanding of the legal system and of those who cover it.
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Fielding an L.A. Times Query

Gorgeous weather can have a downside, at least it did for me yesterday.

I was out in it all day, so didn’t see this email until after dinner:

From: Stevens, Matt
To: Judge Lance Ito
Cc: Jerrianne Hayslett
Sent: Fri, Jun 13, 2014 4:09 pm
Subject: RE: QUERY // LOS ANGELES TIMES

Judge, thank you for responding and looping in Jerrianne. If I have any further queries, I’ll be quickly in touch.

Jerrianne, if you have any input you’d like to share, please feel free to do so. We’re right up against deadline, so I’m not sure what we’ll be able to get in the paper. But we’d welcome your thoughts.

From: Judge Lance Ito

Sent: Friday, June 13, 2014 2:05 PM

To: Stevens, Matt
Cc: Jerrianne Hayslett
Subject: Re: QUERY // LOS ANGELES TIMES

Matt:  The Simpson case is still a pending collection matter and the Canons of Ethics restrain me from responding.  You may wish to speak to Jerrianne Hayslett who was the court’s PIO at the time.

From: Stevens, Matt

Sent:  6/13/2014 10:42 AM

To: Judge Lance Ito

My name is Matt Stevens and I’m a reporter for the LA Times. I know you’ve been barraged by requests to speak about the O.J. trial over the years, and especially, I’m sure, within recent days.

We too have a story set to run tomorrow looking back. In it we discuss many of the lessons folks say were learned from the trial.

As you’re aware, some have accused you of running too loose a ship during that trial and keeping an eye on the cameras. “He would have celebrities in his chambers, and that didn’t look good,” veteran defense attorney Harland Braun told us.

We’d like to give you a chance to respond to those criticisms or comment generally on the case if you desire.

We’re on an immediate deadline, as the story is scheduled to run in tomorrow’s paper. But we’d love to talk with you if you are willing.

Best,

–Matt

Even though the hour was late, I sent the following reply to Matt Stevens:

I’ve been out all day, Matt, and just saw this email. I’ll try to answer and hope it’s not too late.

I was in the courtroom every day of the Simpson trial and believe I had a good sense of what went on both in the courtroom and behind the scenes.

Re: Judge Ito’s courtroom management. He is a jurist who believes in allowing lawyers to put on their cases. When it became apparent that counsel in the Simpson trial were abusing the rein he gave them, he took measures to corral them. He fined them, sanctioned them, admonished them from the bench, chided them in chambers and issued written orders. One order, issued on April 26, 1995, titled “Attorney Conduct” addressed nine specific areas with specific instructions concerning their behavior and courtroom demeanor, including prohibiting “speaking objections” and reactions such as “gestures, eye rolling, head nodding, laughter, stage-whispered comments or any other conduct of reaction which is visible and/or audible to the jury.”

His intent for the cameras was that they provide the public a view of the trial that they had a right to see. He was not interested in being on camera himself and repeatedly asked the media not to focus on him.

Re: celebrities in chambers. Of the few, the most notable were Katie Couric, which was a Public Information Office staffer’s doing, and Larry King, which was my suggestion, primarily because Larry King had cooperated with two of Ito’s requests when no other member of the media did. Many, many others asked to visit him in chambers, but were denied. Some journalists who had not achieved celebrity status at the time, such as Jeffrey Toobin, did after submitting repeated requests.

Interestingly, although I was present in chambers when those and many other individuals visited the judge, to my knowledge Harland Braun was never in Ito’s chambers during that trial, so any information he believes he’s been privy to, is hearsay.

Thank you for contacting me and, again, I hope this will meet your deadline.

Jerrianne Hayslett

Matt was courteous enough to reply, even though I didn’t send my email until after 7:30 p.m., saying he wasn’t sure his update made, it but that he might contact me again if the Times does a follow.

The story, Simpson murder case brought change to LAPD, D.A.’s office, in today’s edition doesn’t appear to include my input, even obliquely.

Neither is it as castigating or derisive as other accounts have been over the years. It is disappointing, however, to know that the vast majority of the critics–even those in judicial circles–either have no first-hand experience or knowledge of the trial, didn’t read the transcript or lack objectivity, such as lawyers involved in the case and members of the media Ito kicked out of the courtroom for misbehaving, such as L.A. Times reporter Matt Stevens’ co-writer on this story, Gale Holland.

Ito’s court order, dated May 18, 1995,  which is on page 49-50 of Anatomy of a Trial says, in part, “The Court has received notes from two jurors complaining of noise created by two news reporters in the audience section of the courtroom. … Talking or whispering amongst audience members while court is in session is never acceptable behavior, especially when it interferes with the jury’s ability to hear the evidence. The court finds good cause to bar Kristin Jeanette-Meyers/Court TV and Gail [sic] Holland/USA Today from admission to Department 103.”

Even though I have long since left my position as the L.A. courts’ media liaison and no longer in the business of having to field media questions for the court or its judges, I think I’ll try to check email more often, even when outside in the sunshine when it’s nearly impossible to see my cell phone screen.