The OJ Simpson trial was an iconic moment in pop culture. The white Ford Bronco, the blood-stained glove, and a legal “dream team” — they all came together to create the “trial of the century.” Over the course of nine months, it spawned 2,237 news segments, one controversial magazine cover, and countless jokes on late-night talk shows. According to Paul Thaler, who wrote The Spectacle: media and the making of the OJ Simpson story, “the Simpson story is one of exploitation, of media overkill and outright pandering, of huge profitmaking, all of which undermined the trial and fueled tremendous public cynicism about the way in which justice–and the media–work in this country.”
Which is why, when I got an email asking me to sign a petition asking Judge Vaughn Walker to televise the Prop 8 trial, I hesitated. On the one hand, the trial is a landmark federal lawsuit, the civil rights battle of this century and my generation. Its outcome will not only affect the lives of thousands of Californians but will have ramifications across the country with regards to marriage equality. Of course I wanted to watch it, but I wasn’t sure that televising the trial was the best way to go about it.
The fact is that the theory behind cameras in the courtroom never coincides with the practice. In theory, they are supposed to protect against a miscarriage of justice and provide the public with knowledge and information about the judicial process. In practice, well, you get the OJ Simpson trial — a media circus that reduces the level of discourse to witty affirmations by the defense and cheap jokes on Jay Leno.
That’s why Judge Walker’s plan to show the trial on YouTube is so genius. The man understands that media coverage of a trial — and especially this trial — can be used to inform and engage when it is in the right hands. Which is why, in his words, “it’s important for the transmission to be absolutely within the court’s control.” The court has an incentive to show the nuances of the judicial proceedings, unlike corporate media, whose only incentive is to turn a profit.
Using the Internet to increase government transparency has long been an unanswered call. With a medium so democratic in nature, it’s almost offensively obvious that it should be used to further the cause of democracy. Thankfully, Judge Walker gets that.
— Megha Kohli, LAMP intern