on fact-supported stories in the national weeklies sp.
NEVER MIND THAT O.J. Simpson's murder trial was about to get under way.
The story in Los Angeles was the reportedly bitter in-fighting between two of his lead lawyers and the attempts of a third to smooth it all over.
Behind the bickering, which made front pages and the six o'clock news around the country, was the burning question of who gave Tony Frost, a writer for the supermarket tabloid the Star, the scoop on Simpson's interview with police the day after the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
For the media, the fracas again highlighted the issue of the supermarket tabloids' role in setting the pace in the Simpson trial.
An investigator for high-powered Simpson attorney F. Lee Bailey accused co-counsel Robert Shapiro of selling the transcript of the interview to Frost for $5,000. Shapiro denied the accusation, although he conceded he had chatted with Frost at a restaurant in what he described as an attempt to "set me up."
For a couple of days, Bailey and Shapiro, previously great pals and colleagues, were not speaking to each other. Johnnie Cochran, who is leading the Simpson defense effort, threatened to fire one of the "dream team" attorneys if the twosome didn't patch things up.
The threat apparently worked, at least to outward appearances. The next day, Jan. 18, Bailey, Shapiro and Cochran arrived at the courthouse arm in arm, vowing to give their unified all to win an acquittal.
In his running Simpson case column, the Spin, Los Angeles Times writer Bill Boyarsky commented, in connection with the Bailey-Shapiro spat, that the tabloids "have often been on the cutting edge of the Simpson story. To the dismay of the establishment press, legal scholars and serious attorneys, the tabs have exerted their splashy influence on the coverage of the case and even played a role in the trial itself."
Pointing to the mainstream coverage given the attorneys' squabble, Boyarsky went on, "We in the establishment press were running news that had its genesis in one of the biggest supermarket tabloids, the Star."
But, according to the columnist, news is news whether it runs in the Star, National Enquirer or Los Angeles Times.
Although deploring checkbook journalism, Boyarsky said "reporters should chase the news ? good, bad, exciting and, in the case of the Simpson lawyers, sleazy."
Star editor Richard Kaplan chortled over the idea of the mainstream media chasing his stories.
"It's nice to look back and see them one step behind," he said in a phone interview from his Tarrytown, N.Y., office. "They can wiggle and squirm at following us, but if they don't want to be in that position, they should do their jobs better. Those who can, do; those who can't, criticize."
Kaplan, who has a degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is a former editor at Ladies' Home Journal, contended that the Star and other weekly tabloids have forced the dailies to play catch-up on several major stories, including the Gary Hart scandal and Bill Clinton's alleged affair with Gennifer Flowers when the president was still governor of Arkansas.
Defending the Star's reporting methods, Kaplan asserted: "We publish only what we can check out and prove. Many tips do not check out, and we don't run anything on them."
The interview was held on the day after a federal judge ruled that the Star libeled Rodney Dangerfield in an article that characterized the comedian as a booze hound and drug user. The head was "Rodney Dangerfield Swills Vodka by the Tumblerful, Smokes Pot All Day and Uses Cocaine."
However, U.S. District Judge S.W. Lew awarded Dangerfield only $45,002, instead of the $4 million he had sought.
The comic's attorney said he would appeal the amount.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Lew explained that the Star has no real assets since all revenue is controlled by its parent firm, American Media Operations.
Besides, the judge went on, Dangerfield's reputation was "considerably less wholesome than the California Dancing Raisins."
Meanwhile, the Star continued to play the Simpson story big. The Jan. 24 issue featured a cover of Nicole Simpson modeling a sexy swimsuit ? highlighting her "one day" as a model, the caption said.
Inside, Tony Frost offered a synopsis of Simpson's upcoming book, I Want to Tell You. The story quotes a "source who visited Simpson in L.A. Men's Jail" as saying, "The prospect of the book being published has kept O.J.'s spirits up. He's been badly depressed. He told me, 'The letters and cards I've received from well-wishers have helped keep me going.' "
On page 22, another Simpson piece headed "Nicole's Final Hours on Earth," also by Frost, was based on a purported "exclusive" interview with Candace Garvey, wife of former Los Angeles Dodgers star Steve Garvey, and a friend of Nicole's.
The story said Mrs. Garvey broke her "long silence" regarding the murders and "finally describes in harrowing detail O.J.'s strange behavior . . . . Her startling, hitherto-secret diary begins the eerie countdown to Nicole's murder."
?( According to Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Boyarsky, the supermarket tabloids " have often been on the cutting edge of the Simpson story. To the dismay of the stablishment press, legal scholars and serious attorneys, the tabs have exerted their splashy influence on the coverage of the case and even palyed a role in the trial itself.") [Photo & Caption]
By: M.L. Stein Mainstream press has often had to scramble to follow up