With packs of journalists beginning to fall on Tampa Bay this week as jury selection starts in the Casey Anthony murder trial, it's an easy comparison to make: This could be the next O.J. Simpson trial.
After all, The Channel Formerly Known as CourtTV (now dubbed truTV) is covering the trial wall-to-wall. News of the decision to move jury selection to Pinellas County from Orlando was carried Monday on most every major network TV and cable morning news show.
Even the judge presiding over Anthony's trial has made the connection, saying he suspects more journalists may cover this case than the 1994 case accusing sports legend-turned-movie star Simpson of murdering his ex-wife.
And there's a simple answer to this clumsy comparison: bunk.
While Casey Anthony's trial on charges of killing her 2-year-old daughter Caylee Anthony in 2008 has consumed loads of media attention, it's a long way from redefining media, race attitudes, celebrity and images of law enforcement the way Simpson's trial did.
Consider the numbers: About 1,160 journalists were credentialed to cover the Simpson trial, using 80 miles of electrical cable to create a $1-million clump of media trailers dubbed Camp O.J., according to the Los Angeles Times. With just 600 reporters credentialed so far for the Anthony trial, the media crush is substantial but must 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 the videotaping of the crime scene when blood still covered the ground to reporting the not guilty verdict in 1995.
Now covering the Casey Anthony proceedings for Newsweek and the Daily Beast web site, Dimond cautioned it was early to try comparing the two cases. And further media interest in Anthony's case won't pick up until the trial actually starts.
"But we didn't have a three-year build-up to the Simpson case," Dimond said, comparing the plodding pace of jury selection to "watching people take an SAT test."
"I think there is viewer and reader fatigue with stories like this one," she added.
Indeed, Simpson arguably was the most famous person ever accused of murder in the modern media age, arrested and tried when cable TV channels such as CNN and CourtTV had just evolved enough to feature trial footage continuously on television.
One poll estimated three times as many Americans could identify star Simpson witness Kato Kaelin as then-Vice President Al Gore, and TV stars such as Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren (then at CNN) earned worldwide fame covering the trial.
Simpson's lawyers also used anger and suspicion about racism in the Los Angeles Police Department — stressing that a black celebrity stood accused of killing his white ex-wife — to help win an acquittal four years after Rodney King was brutally beaten by LAPD officers on a video seen worldwide.
"There never was and never will be 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, where it has remained since. Popular daytime trial coverage also proved the first coffin nail for soap operas, he said.
"(Simpson's trial) had genuine sociological importance as well as tabloid importance," Tyndall said. "That's the difference."
Eric Deggans can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8521. See his blog The Feed at sptimes.com/blogs/media.