Disturbing Pattern p. 11

By: M.L. Stein Reporters covering the O.J. Simpson trial say having
allowed the Ito court to overregulate them could
set a negative precedent for future trial coverage sp.

REPORTERS COVERING THE O.J. Simpson trial have allowed the court to "overregulate" them, setting a disturbing pattern for future trials, veteran Associated Press reporter Linda Deutsch said.
Deutsch, who has covered the trial from its beginning and is considered the dean of American court reporters, added, however, that judges probably won't ban cameras in the courtroom despite the controversy over gavel-to-gavel video coverage in the Simpson murder trial.
Appearing on the panel with other "Simpson regulars" at the annual convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, Deutsch related that reporters must get seating clearance each day despite their being as well known to the court staff as the lawyers trying the case.
Also, she noted, "We have to be searched each time we go in, pass through metal detectors and abide by a number of rules."
She noted that reporters are barred from interviewing anyone in the corridor outside Judge Lance Ito's courtroom, and that some newspeople have been thrown out of the courtroom for whispering or chewing gum.
Deutsch also questioned the "arbitrary" assignment of seats, which have forced some major newspapers, including the New York Times, to share poorly located seats with other news organizations.
"In the old days, we [the press] assigned the seats," recalled Deutsch, who has covered several famous trials, including the Manson case, the William Kennedy Smith rape trial and the John DeLorean drug trafficking
Referring to Ito as a stern "taskmaster," Deutsch conceded the press had little choice in accepting his rules.
"We were in a very tough situation," she explained. "Either you went along with the system or you didn't get in. It's like an armed camp. But by permitting ourselves to be regimented, we have set a precedent for every trial."
Nor have the trial media won any plaudits from the public, observed Tricia Takasugi of KABC-TV Los Angeles, who patrols the area outside the courtroom, snagging onlookers and lawyers for interviews.
"I'm out there with the people and they hate what we're doing," Takasugi said. "They think we have turned the trial into a circus, but still they can't get enough of it. Many won't admit they're addicted to it."
She warned that another fallout of the case may be that police will be less likely to give reporters confidential information in light of the furor over leaks to the press.
New York Times reporter David Margolick, another Simpson regular, suggested that the attorneys share some of the blame if the trial has taken on a circus atmosphere.
"They're posturing before the cameras, and Ito makes all kinds of comments that he would not bother to say without cameras," Margolick contended. "Ito has become an international personality and he wants to be liked."
Still, Margolick allowed that because Judge Ito comes under daily scrutiny "he has bent over backwards to be fair to everyone. Cameras in the courtroom place a lot of pressure on a judge and it takes a strong-willed judge to handle those pressures."
Dan Abrams, a correspondent for Court TV, which is the pool camera in the Simpson courtroom, defended photographic trial coverage while agreeing that attorneys for both sides are "playing to an audience."
"Often, when they say they are speaking for the record, it's not for the record but for audience consumption, whether print or broadcast," he said.
In most trials, cameras themselves have little effect on the proceedings, Abrams maintained. "But this case is very different," he went on. "One has to wonder what's happened and who's to blame."
Ito is one candidate, Abrams asserted. "Because lawyers are performing for the cameras, he has threatened to pull the plug instead of asking [lead prosecutor] Marcia Clark and the others to focus on the arguments," the panelist griped. "Why can't the judge enforce certain guidelines? He has done it on occasion, but not all the time."
In any event, Abrams said, "cameras are better than having [lead defense attorney] Johnnie Cochran coming out and telling the press what went on the courtroom."
Both Margolick and Abrams have law degrees.
The panelists also speculated on the availability of the jury for interviews after it renders a verdict. Deutsch, who said the press already has requested permission to speak to the jurors, predicted they will comply. Margolick disagreed, suggesting they are more likely to sell their thoughts and jury-room recollections to the tabloid media or book publishers for big money.
"They realize the monetary value of what they will say," he remarked. "They'll be more in demand than jurors have ever been."
Deutsch called the protection of the sequestered jury "silly" in view of the fact that through the questionnaires the jurors initially filled out, the press knows all about them, except for their names.
"Actually, the public doesn't care who the jurors are unless it's a next door neighbor of a juror and he would know it anyway," she said. "There is no excuse for jurors to be kept anonymous unless it's a mafia trial."
Despite press restrictions and other problems, the Simpson trial "has been quite an experience," Deutsch commented. "If we learn anything at all from it, it's that the trial is a morality play or the ultimate soap opera as all trials are," she posited. "We also are learning that judges are not perfect. They have their foibles like anyone else. And that the media are not perfect. Maybe the ultimate story of the O.J. trial is the media. Did we do a good job of it, and can we go on and cover other trials? Will we even be allowed to? And we are learning a lot about the media being a participant in the trial rather than assuming our traditional role as observers."
?("Maybe the ultimate story of the O.J. trial is the media. Did we do a good job of it, and can we go on and cover other trials? Will we even be allowed to? And we are learning a lot about the media being a participant in the trial rather than assuming our traditional role as observers.") [Caption]
?(Linda Deutsch, Associated Press) [Photo]


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