Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 | midnight
What is now going on at the Regional Justice Center is really just an echo from the trial of the century.
The police and the media were the primary witnesses to what little spectacle attended Day 1 of O.J. Simpson’s kidnapping and robbery trial in Vegas. This was good news for the attention-seekers who did take the time to put in an appearance. A line of reporters was waiting to interview a lady dressed as Wonder Woman. She told me she was there fighting for the rights of women. But since every defendant and alleged victim in this case is a guy, I asked her what she meant. “Well, I just want people to go to OJTalk.com,” the superhero replied.
Joe Pepitone was popular with the press as well. He was protesting an unrelated case—involving a dispute over a slot payout—by wearing a barrel and little else. When not being interviewed, he yelled out to no one in particular: “They walk over us! They step on us like we are nothing!”
“Who?” I asked.
Pepitone looked at me confused.
“Who is stepping on you?” I clarified.
I looked at his gnarly toenails sticking up from his sandals. “I can’t speak for all media, but I’ll be careful not to step on you,” I promised. I gave him a wide berth as I passed.
The next day Pepitone had his photo, including not only his barrel but also his detailed protest sign, displayed in the Review-Journal. Attention-seeking at the Simpson trial seems to have worked out for him. But no one would have confused the scene outside the Regional Justice Center with the Simpson murder trial.
Careers were made covering the murder trial back in 1995. Who would know Greta Van Susteren without O.J. Simpson? Once a mere CNN commentator on the trial, she now has her own show on Fox. Even the witness whose failings were most responsible for Simpson’s acquittal, Mark Fuhrman, wound up a best-selling author.
So reporters now on Simpson-watch seem to have brought ambition for this trial. Perhaps too much for the occasion. Outside the Regional Justice Center, I found Fox News had four scampering employees supporting an earnest reporter. He was discussing Simpson with the intensity of a war correspondent. I asked to interview him. His handlers told me that was impossible: too busy.
But busy doing what?
According to Court Information Officer Michael Sommermeyer, close to 600 press credentials have been issued for the trial litigating O.J. Simpson’s big Vegas adventure. Among those credentialed is Marcia Clark, a prosecutor in the first trial, now a television commentator. And, to complete the air of nostalgia, octogenarian Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne is expected to attend. Of course, knowing how dull and irrelevant most jury selection is, either had yet to surface.
Still, one wonders if this trial will turn into the fulcrum of public feeling and interest that the media and the courts in Vegas have so thoroughly prepared for. Double murder, of course, is more serious than memorabilia theft, and the first trial had racial overtones seemingly absent from current circumstances. But most of all we now know the milieu of celebrities like Simpson.
Back in 1995 bloggers and TMZ weren’t ripping down the star publicity machinery on a daily basis, and many people were glued to the Simpson case in large part because they were actually surprised that the former football star and actor turned out to be so different in his private life than his public image. No one is surprised anymore by celebrities behaving badly, no matter how squeaky-clean their image. We expect it. Now, we know O.J. too well; better, perhaps, even than we know Britney.
When the original trial of the century ended, there was talk of viewers suffering Simpson withdrawal. But judging from the first day, it seems the public this time may finally have Simpson fatigue.