Here's why the Casey Anthony prosecution really isn't much like the O.J. trial, media-wise
It's been said so often, some commentators are repeating it like a mantra: the prosecution of Florida mom Casey Anthony for murdering her 2-year-old daughter could be the next O.J. Simpson trial.
Mostly, it sounds like an excuse for journalists to explain the exhaustive coverage already provided of this crime. On Monday, The Channel Formerly Known as CourtTV (now dubbed truTV) is covering the court sessions wall-to-wall, with experts and anchors in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando, where the trial will occur.
Reports on the decision to move jury selection to Pinellas County was carried on every major network TV morning news show Monday, the same way news traveled 16 years ago that Simpson was tooling along a highway in his Ford Bronco, trying to delay his inevitable arrest for killing his ex-wife and her male friend.
But even though the judge presiding over Anthony’s trial has reportedly made the comparision, saying he expects more journalists may cover this case than Simpson’s landmark 1994 proceeding, there's a simple answer to that clumsy comparison.
Anthony’s trial on charges of killing her daughter Caylee in 2008 has consumed loads of media attention and coverage -- catnip for TV outlets drawn to photos and video of a beautiful, middle class-looking young white mother accused in the horrible crime of killing her equally cute child. But it has a long way to go before it will redefine media, race attitudes, celebrity and images of police or the courts in the way Simpson’s trial accomplished.
Even in pure numbers, the comparison is a stretch. About 1,159 journalists were credentialed to cover the Simpson trial, using 80 miles of cabling for TV and radio broadcasts, leading to a $1-million clump of media trailers and vans dubbed Camp O.J., according to the Los Angeles Times.
With just 600 reporters credentialed for the Anthony trial so far, the media crush is substantial, but would have to double to reach Simpson’s level.
“The scene in Clearwater seems almost tame to me…maybe it’s the heat (of weather) or lack of heat on the subject,” said Diane Dimond, a former correspondent for Hard Copy, Extra and Court TV who covered the Simpson trial from videotaping the crime scene when blood was still covering the ground to reporting the not guilty verdict more than a year later.
Now covering the Casey Anthony proceedings for Newsweek and the Daily Beast website, Dimon cautioned it was early to try comparing the two cases – media interest in Anthony’s proceedings won’t pick up until the trial actually starts. But with so much Anthony coverage already aired, the public may have already have decided how they feel, she said.
“We didn’t have a three-year build-up to the Simpson case,” Dimond added, noting that the plodding pace of jury selection can feel to journalists like “watching a roomful of people taking an SAT test.”
“I think there is viewer and reader fatigue with stories like this one,” added the reporter, who also covered allegations of pedophilia against pop star Michael Jackson. “I don’t see the fervor that was there with O.J. or Michael.”
Indeed, Simpson’s trial fell in a supercharged nexus of influences. He was arguably the most famous person ever accused of murder in the modern media age, arrested and tried at a time when cable TV channels such as CNN and CourtTV had just evolved enough to feature footage from the trial continuously on television.
One poll estimated three times as many Americans could identify star Simpson witness Kato Kaelin than then-Vice President Al Gore, and TV stars such as Fox News Channels’ Greta Van Susteren got early boosts from their exposure covering Simpson’s trial.
Simpson’s lawyers also used anger and suspicion about racism in the Los Angeles Police Department – highlighting that a black celebrity stood accused of killing his white ex-wife -- to help win an acquittal for their client, four years after Rodney King was brutally beaten by officers on a video seen worldwide.
“There never was and never will be a another trial quite like the O.J. Simpson trial,” said media analyst Andrew Tyndall, who added that NBC’s “shameless” insistent coverage helped vault its Nightly News show into first place among viewers, where it has remained since.
“Simpson happened to be the beneficiary of deep, justified suspicion about the LAPD in the city’s black communities,” Tyndall added. “It had genuine sociological importance as well as tabloid importance.”