The O.J. trial and the press: The debate continues p.15

By: Tony Case O.J. SIMPSON will receive a fair trial, despite the copious and sensational press coverage his double-murder case has received, one of New York City's preeminent journalists contends.
Jerry Nachman, vice president of news at WCBS-TV and former editor of the New York Post, said at a recent New York State Bar Association convention there is not a cause-and-effect relationship between publicity and the execution of justice.
If there were, he maintained, John Gotti, John DeLorean, Imelda Marcos, and John and Lorena Bobbitt would never have been acquitted, and there wouldn't have been a deadlock in the Menendez brothers' trial ? assuming these individuals considered justice served when they were exonerated.
"The press, constitutionally and procedurally, has no requirement to guarantee anyone his Sixth Amendment rights," Nachman told several hundred lawyers meeting in Manhattan. "That's up to the courts."
Journalists and attorneys apply vastly different professional and ethical standards in their work, the newsman pointed out, and something that is inadmissible evidence may be perfectly admissible journalism.
The tabloids have been chided for their incessant and lurid reportage of the story, but, as Nachman noted, a contentious press in this country is nothing new. The framers of the Constitution knew the journalists of their day to be seditious pamphleteers, yet they felt compelled to ensure their freedom.
"While they may not have anticipated Court TV," Nachman said of the founding fathers, "they were aware of people like Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin."
In the spirit of the 18th-century scandalmongers, the supermarket-circulated Star newspaper has emerged as the leader of the pack ? pack journalism, that is ? in the O.J. coverage. The weekly, which has been quoted by no less an august institution than the New York Times, has featured the Simpson story on 35 straight covers.
Star editor Richard Kaplan defended his paper's reporting at the lawyers' meeting.
"I know we're a supermarket tabloid, I know what the perception is, but we have tried to go down the middle of the highway and I think we have succeeded in doing so," he said.
Kaplan contended the Star has risen above the competition in that it has not convicted Simpson or declared him innocent.
The tabs are regularly skewered for employing questionable news-gathering practices ? paying for stories, taking liberty with facts, heavily quoting anonymous sources.
But Kaplan said the Star has come by Simpson stories with relative ease. Information has flooded in, unsolicited, from all sorts of sources, including attorneys on both sides of the case.
"I feel much more comfortable, increasingly comfortable, in what I do when I see how the lawyers in the O.J. case are behaving," he said. "They're behaving like spoiled children."
Like Nachman, Kaplan believes Simpson is getting a fair trial ? that his fate hasn't been sealed by the hype. He said he was much more concerned that the victims, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, were treated fairly in court and weren't themselves put on trial.
While the press is accused of sensationalizing the plight of the disgraced gridiron hero, Kaplan contends the O.J. Simpson story has taken on a life of its own and there's simply no containing it. When Simpson and his friend, A.C. Cowlings, led police on a low-speed chase across Los Angeles, as millions watched via television, "the spigot of publicity was turned on ? not by the media, but by the event itself," the editor said. "And there is no hand on earth strong enough to close that spigot."


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