"It seems clear," says "A Current Affair," "that O.J.'s defense team is in fact exploring the possibility of blaming the murders on Nicole's drug use, claiming that she and Ron Goldman were killed by Colombian drug dealers."

"The Double Life of O.J. Simpson," says Newsweek, describing a man "who cruised bars and indulged in drugs and random sex. His wife believed he was a cocaine addict; his friends ... thought his real addiction was white women."

"O.J.'s Women: Nobody Could Escape the Sex-Crazy Star," says the National Enquirer, quoting "leggy model Cheryl Lynn" as saying "that O.J. attempted to make her his 'sex slave' by bribing her with a car and piles of cash."

The images race by on the screen, the headlines shout from the newsstand, the conspiracy theories fill the talk-radio airwaves. With baseball on strike, O.J. has become the new national pastime, only with better ratings. And with Simpson's murder trial scheduled to begin Sept. 26, the most intensely covered criminal case in modern history is about to become an even bigger story.

"We've reached the saturation point," said Greta Van Susteren, who, like legions of other lawyers, analyzes the case on television. "I've heard so much I can't remember what I've heard. I can't remember what's true and what's a rumor."

Indeed, it now seems that no charge against Simpson, no matter how outlandish, is off-limits. Many attorneys say that potential jurors have been influenced by this journalistic barrage, and it is clear that public perceptions of the former football star have been permanently altered, regardless of the trial's outcome. As hundreds of journalists from around the world head to Los Angeles for a trial that may last until Christmas, the entire media landscape is about to be transformed.

California campaign strategists worry that the trial will blot out their candidates. Publishers are considering delaying the release of some fall books. And the Big Three broadcast networks are wrestling with how to cover the trial without sacrificing their lucrative daytime soap operas.

While the networks probably will rely on hourly updates and live cut-ins, they are wary of ceding a substantial trial audience to the CNN and Court TV cable networks. NBC is considering providing a live daily feed from the trial that local affiliates can carry at their discretion. But some network executives worry that a West Coast trial could play havoc with East Coast news schedules.

"A real trial is about as interesting as watching paint dry," said Rick Kaplan, executive producer of ABC's "World News Tonight." "I don't think you can allow O.J. coverage to bump out health care and all the rest. If you start preempting the news, the only thing that happened in the world is O.J."

Ed Turner, CNN's executive vice president, says his network will carry every minute of the trial. "We've found over the years that even though there are slow times, there is a certain fascination with watching a real drama unfold," he said. As for suggestions that CNN is exploiting the Simpson case for ratings, Turner said: "We have paid our dues with plenty of Nigerias and Somalias and Bosnias over the years."

These media calculations, at bottom, involve large sums of money. Court TV's ratings increased fivefold during the preliminary hearing, and CNN's numbers tripled, which is why "Larry King Live" has aired more than 20 Simpson shows. USA Today, which has run more than 300 stories on the case, has seen its circulation jump by as much as 150,000 when Simpson is on the front page.

"O.J.'s been above the fold on all but a few days since the story broke," said USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson. "On the two days when we didn't put O.J. above the fold, our circulation managers called in from the field, saying, 'You people may be tired of the story, but the reader isn't.' "

Covering the trial itself is an expensive proposition. Courthouse officials have ordered the pressroom moved one floor up, at a cost of $250,000, to keep reporters away from potential jurors. The bill, much of it for asbestos removal, is being shared by 45 media outlets: $14,000 for television stations, $7,000 for radio stations and $1,250 for print organizations, including The Washington Post. The coming invasion of satellite trucks will cost TV stations another $700,000 for the installation of power lines, lights, platforms and portable toilets in the parking lot.

The Federal News Service has asked clients if they would pay $350 a day for same-day transcripts of the trial. And the New Otani Hotel in Los Angeles is offering journalists "special O.J. Simpson trial room rates," including shuttle service to the courthouse.

The public fascination with this tragedy remains as intense today as when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman were slain on June 12.

"You can have a lot of complicated theories about it -- it's a class thing, it's a race thing, it's a celebrity thing -- but I just think it's a great story," said Evan Thomas, Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. Or as writer John Taylor put it in Esquire: "Everyone loves a good murder."

Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine, has written of television's attempt to elevate the saga: "Surely there had to be something more to the story, something important, for God's sake, some civilized message about sports, or the predicament of women, or racial prejudice, or the system of criminal justice -- something that could be dressed up in the costume of an issue."

All these elements and more have been tossed into the journalistic Cuisinart. From Simpson friend Brian "Kato" Kaelin to the man who operated the camera at the preliminary hearings, from Simpson girlfriend Paula Barbieri (interviewed by Diane Sawyer) to the psychological impact on Nicole Simpson's dog, no tangential stone has been left unturned. A mock jury will decide Simpson's fate when the syndicated program "Judge for Yourself" debuts next week.

"You have a Larry King show about the O.J. judge, the O.J. this, the O.J. that," said Steven Brill, president of Court TV. "All that stuff will get to be too much, and people may get sick of it. Can someone explain what 'Entertainment Tonight' is doing with O.J.? The sole purpose of the show is so when you go to a commercial you can have a 'bumper' showing the car chase."

Jim Van Messel, executive producer of "Entertainment Tonight," said that "we deal in the world of celebrities. The country has made Simpson a bigger celebrity since this happened than he was before. The lawyers themselves have become celebrities of some note."

The supermarket tabloids, not surprisingly, have engaged in a fair amount of hype. The Enquirer's "Secret Videotape Reveals O.J. KNIFE ATTACK" turned out to be from the Simpson TV pilot "Frogmen." The Globe's "O.J. Talks for First Time!" was a report on what he has supposedly told "prison pal Lyle Menendez." The National Examiner's "New O.J. Bombshell! Jealous Woman Killed Nicole" was attributed to an unnamed "mystery witness."

At the same time, the Enquirer, which has 20 reporters on the story, reported the week after the murders that Simpson regularly stalked Nicole, that Nicole told Simpson she would never reconcile with him and that she went out for ice cream on the fateful evening -- all details that have since surfaced in the mainstream press.

"We've been out in front of the coverage the whole way," said David Perel, an Enquirer editor. "Any detail that gives you more insight into what his life was like is relevant and important. It's one of the greatest celebrity stories we've ever seen."

Moreover, it was Newsweek that reported that Simpson allegedly attended orgies and that Simpson's father was a homosexual. "On this story, we're all tabloid," said Scripps-Howard columnist Martin Schram.

Some fringe figures, such as the salesman who sold Simpson a carving knife, have peddled their stories for cash, while others have happily basked in the spotlight. Simpson attorney Robert L. Shapiro posed barechested for People, with his wife and golden retriever, in his swimming pool.

Others have had their reputations sullied by the press. The New Yorker quoted an unnamed defense lawyer as calling Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman a "bad cop" and "racist cop" who, the anonymous sources alleged without evidence, may have planted the now-famous bloody glove found outside Simpson's home. The Enquirer, in a piece on "Marcia Clark's Tragic Secret Life," reported that the prosecutor's first husband was a professional backgammon player who was shot in the head by his best friend (accidentally, it turns out) after the couple's Tijuana divorce.

Some readers and viewers have grown weary of the story, to judge from the messages on various computer bulletin boards.

"We have to hear about it on the local evening news, then the national news, then on 'Hard Copy,' 'American Journal,' 'Entertainment Tonight,' '20/20,' '60 Minutes,' 'Geraldo,' MTV News, Headline Sports and virtually every other show that I can think of," said Alison Rosenstengel, a student at William and Mary law school.

"The amount of news coverage CNN has been forcing on us is disgusting," said Wendell Brown, a Wisconsin businessman. "The world is being OJ'd to death," said Harlene Katzman, a New York law student.

Ruth Seymour, general manager of KCRW public radio in Los Angeles, said she's had to defend her decision to intensively cover the Simpson saga.

"You have listeners who hate this story," she said. "I've had people calling up screaming. There are also journalists who hate this story because of its sensationalism." But, she said, "it's about race and sex and class and the LAPD and Hollywood -- it's got everything."