Media Squeeze More Juice Out of O.J.

A handcuffed O.J. Simpson is escorted by Las Vegas police on Sunday.
A handcuffed O.J. Simpson is escorted by Las Vegas police on Sunday. (By John Locher -- Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moments after President Bush announced Michael Mukasey as his nominee for attorney general yesterday, the cable networks jilted him for an old flame.

O.J. was back. O.J. was proclaiming his innocence. O.J. was doing the perp walk. The Juice was under arrest, and television was magically transported back to the mid-1990s, when all of America argued about every facet of the double-murder case.

"This promises to be the biggest fall series of the new season," said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "The double homicide was a tragedy of mythological proportions. The sequel seems to have come back as a sitcom."

In a heartbeat, a small battalion of media types descended on Las Vegas, where O.J. Simpson was charged with six felony counts Sunday after an alleged hotel-room robbery that he described as reclaiming sports souvenirs that were rightfully his.

"It's the story that just doesn't go away," Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, who has interviewed Simpson several times, said by phone from Las Vegas. Van Susteren was part of a corps of little-known lawyers who rode the murder case to television fame.

"This is a routine criminal case in many ways," she said yesterday, calling Simpson's latest legal scrape "certainly disheartening." The murder charges should play no role in this investigation, Van Susteren said, even though "99.9 percent think he's guilty" of killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1994.

There was, however, a racial split. A 2004 poll by NBC News found that 87 percent of whites, but only 29 percent of African Americans, believed Simpson was guilty of murder.

In the media encampment outside the Regional Justice Center in Nevada's largest city, dozens of journalists, with camera crews and satellite trucks in tow, staked out their turf yesterday under a baking desert sun. Lawn chairs were pulled up around card tables stocked with bottled water, sunblock and Triscuits. The atmosphere quickly took on the air of a reunion.

"O.J. Three!" CBS radio correspondent Steve Futterman cried when he spotted NBC reporter George Lewis standing on the courthouse steps. Both men had covered Simpson's criminal and civil trials.

Futterman held up three fingers. Lewis waved back with the same sign.

"I've been hearing from all the old crowd," Lewis said.

"It's like ESPN Classic out here," Futterman replied.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company