By: ALLAN WOLPER
MARCIA CLARK AND Christopher Darden were anonymous Los Angeles deputy district attorneys before the 0.J. Simpson trial became a must watch television soap opera.
But as the courtroom drama played in American living rooms, Darden and Clark jumped to the A-List of high-profile public officials.
And after Simpson was acquitted last Oct. 3 of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, the prosecutors marketed their publicly financed celebrity status.
They each took unpaid, one year, leaves of absence from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, and signed with the William Norris Talent and Literary Agency to write books and launch careers on the lucrative lecture circuit.
Darden’s book, In Contempt, which earned him a reported $1 million advance, was published earlier this year by Regan Books, a division of Harper Collins.
Clark received an estimated $4.2 million advance for her thus far untitled book, which is scheduled to be released early next year by Viking-Penguin.
The lectures, which earn them $20,000 to $50,000, have provoked several First Amendment face-offs, especially at taxpayer-funded universities and colleges.
The debate has centered around the William Morris Agency’s efforts to control press coverage of Darden and Clark.
Reporters are invited to what are called “press availabilities” prior to their speeches, but usually are told when they get there that the prosecutors will read a statement and won’t take any questions.
Darden made himself more accessible to reporters earlier this year as his book began circulating to newspaper book reviewers. Clark, however, has continued to keep the media at bay.
Both have refused to allow journalists to videotape or record their formal talks, forcing print reporters to rely solely on handwritten notes.
David Lyons, a Miami Herald staff writer who covered Darden’s first college speech last Oct. 29 at the University of Miami Law School, described the event in a front-page article as “a carefully inaugural public appearance.”
Lyons was philosophical about it, although he chafed at the restrictions.
“Journalists don’t like to be told how to do their job,” he said in an interview. “I would have liked to be able to use my tape recorder instead of sitting there like a scribiner.”
The manacling of the media at first was attributed to publishers who were concerned about scooping their own books, and later to fears that journalists would record the speeches and possibly sell them.
Clark threatened to cancel her address at the University of Florida when the local television and radio stations demanded the right to videotape her presentation.
She relented only after reporters agreed to stop their cameras and tape recorders after the first three minutes of her speech.
Reporters of all media were allowed into the auditoriums, but were warned not to ask questions afterwards. If they tried, they were ignored.
Some journalists were so annoyed that they bypassed Clark’s 45-minute speech at a recent fund-raising dinner for the University of California-Fresno Foundation.
The Fresno Bee ran a picture and caption entitled, “Clark speaks, briefly” without an accompanying story.
Nancy Osborne, an anchorwoman for KFSN-TV, an ABC-TV affiliate in Fresno, said Clark had no reason to be difficult.
“She’s no Princess Di,” Osborne laughed. “I don’t understand why she won’t take any questions. For someone who was so offended by the other half of the equation [the O.J. Simpson defense team] she certainly is making a good living off of it.”
Betsy Berg, director of the William Morris Lecture Bureau, says Darden and Clark are warned against unfettered news coverage.
“They need to be protected so they can speak freely,” Berg said.
That has angered some public college officials and free speech advocates who say reporters must be allowed to exercise their role as surrogates for those who don’t attend the events.
“The First Amendment protects the right of media to cover legitimate news events,” said Sandra Chance, assistant director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information in Gainesville, Fla.
“The First Amendment insures that the public participates in policy debates. If the public doesn’t understand the issues, the debate is thwarted.”
Not press friendly
Darden and Clark were ordered by Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti not to speak to the news media during the Simpson trial, fearful it would affect the case.
Suzanne Childs, director of communications for the district attorney’s office, said Garcetti felt he should handle all the press inquiries because the case was so sensitive.
“It was a touchy area,” Childs said in an interview from her office. “There are things you can’t say about an ongoing case. Chris and Marcia didn’t talk to the media while the trial was in progress. Gil was the only one who spoke to the press during that period.”
But Darden acknowledged in his book that he and Clark granted interviews whenever they felt it would help their case or help their image.
Right before the trial started, Darden telephoned David Margolick of the New York Times because he felt his standing in the black community was being compromised by comments from defense attorney Johnny Cochran Jr.
When he worried that his police witnesses were not being aggressive enough, Darden called a live Geraldo Rivera show and said he hoped they would improve their performance on the witness stand.
On another occasion, Darden told Los Angeles Times reporter Andrea Ford to get her paper to kill a shopping mall survey in which people referred to him as an Uncle Tom.
“Look, Andrea, I am one of the principals in this trial,” Darden quotes himself as saying. “Don’t do this. You fucking do this and I won’t say another word to the L.A. Times.”
And Ford reportedly replied: “It’s not my story. I can’t stop it.”
Clark, at another point in the trial, called the New York Times to rebut the defense testimony of Rosa Lopez, a maid who worked for Simpson’s next door neighbor.
“Her lack of credibility was so apparent we could never have imagined the defense would hinge their whole case on this witness,” Clark said.
The prosecutors’ distaste for the news media was nurtured by the way they were portrayed during the trial, including stories that they were having an affair.
Darden said the stories weren’t true, but acknowledged they were encouraged by the fact that the two of them spent a weekend together in San Francisco. He noted they stayed in separate rooms.
The newspapers and television stations, in addition, pestered their families with interview requests and chronicled Clark’s custody battle with her ex-husband.
At one point during the trial, Clark wrote Darden a note to express her outrage at a KCBS-TV Los Angeles news crew’s attempt to interview his brother, who was dying of AIDS.
“Those sleezy [sic] pieces of shit are fucking immoral, irresponsible, scumsucking [sic] pigs. There is simply no valid reason for this. Kind of similar to publishing one half of a custody case, don’t you think?”
Controlling the press
Childs, of the district attorney’s office, said that neither Darden nor Clark were under any legal or ethical prohibitions once the trial was completed.
“It was over,” she said. “The case was completed.”
The William Morris Agency, however, warned colleges, universities and any other group that booked the prosecutors that it wanted the media kept in check during the Darden and Clark appearances.
“People always ask us if we can tape the speeches,” said Betsy Berg. “And the answer is always no. We don’t want anyone making tapes and selling them for a profit.
“We give reporters a chance to have a photo opportunity before the speeches so they can get enough for their newscast. But we don’t want them asking questions. If they want to, they can sit in on the speech. Our rules apply whether the event is held at a private establishment or a public one.”
Darden’s lecture tour included stops at the University of Pittsburgh, Mercer College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Indiana State University, the Suffolk Law School in Boston, and St. Thomas University in St. Paul.
His first stop speech was last Oct. 28 at a University of Miami Law School alumni breakfast, a sold out affair that reporters learned quickly would not be press friendly.
Catherine Pacheco, a writer in the Miami office of media relations, was instructed by William Morris to send out the following media alert: “Editor’s Note: Note taking and photography are welcomed; however, video or audiotaping will not be permitted at the event. At Darden’s request, no media Q & A or one-on-one interviews will be permitted.”
Newsweek magazine writers who received the press advisory decided not to cover Darden when they saw the restrictions that were imposed on reporters.
Pacheco was initially concerned about the media reaction to her advisory, but said she thought the press media got enough to satisfy it.
“He was late and wanted to make it up to them,” she said. “The television people got enough before the speech for a couple of sound bites and they let the camera crews pan the audience.”
But David Lyons of Miami Herald said Darden’s replies to five minutes worth of questions were not enough to meet the needs of his readers.
Darden’s speech also begged for follow-up questions after he said that he was troubled by the racial hostility created by Simpson’s acquittal.
“There was a lot more to the verdict than you know,” the Herald quoted Darden as saying. “I am not about to call this a race based verdict. I am not going to do that.”
Lyons said he tried to ask a follow-up question in the audience, but was not recognized. Afterwards, Darden met privately with law students.
“They wouldn’t let us in there,” Lyons said.
Clark’s first stop on the college lecture circuit last Nov. 21 at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, almost was aborted before it began.
Clark, who was paid $22,500 to give her speech, refused to start until the local television and radio news crews, which included college stations, turned off their cameras and microphones.
After a frenzied consultation with William Morris in New York, Clark agreed to let the crews tape the first three minutes of her presentation.
Clark’s speech and the restrictions persuaded the University of Miami lecture bureau to revise its rules. Speakers who receive university funds now have to agree to allow the news media to record whatever they deem newsworthy.
Clark eventually advised the 8,000 students that they should look for work that will be satisfying instead of taking a job just for salary.
“Today, the world is a far more complicated place,” Nancy L. Othon wrote in the St. Petersburg Times. “Money is the primary goal with the nature of the goal being of secondary importance.”
The Clark and Darden lectures have caught the attention of the Student Press Law Center, which is concerned that public figures might use lecture bureaus to shield them from legitimate news scrutiny.
“It seems to me to be an open and shut case,” said Michael Hiestand, a staff attorney with the law center, “especially if the speakers are paid with public funds. The public has the right to be represented there.”