There's an easy way out of Simpson media circus

September 28, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

Sometimes it's hard to tell what information-seeking Americans really want from the countless voices they lump together as "the media."

On the one hand, we have the TV ratings that clearly tell us the O.J. Simpson murder trial is still the hottest of news stories. It is bigger than Haiti, health care or even Monday Night Football.

Whether it is the trial itself, or the droning of hired legal experts, the panting TV tabloids, or Larry King and the other talk shows, if the subject is Simpson, the ratings soar.

On the many computer services, the Simpson babble boards are running second in message volume only to the always-popular creepo sex-dating forums.

We already have Simpson books that are selling almost as briskly as cookbooks by celebrity chefs. And Simpson CD-Roms are being marketed for those computer nerds who are both technically proficient and prurient.

Radio talk show hosts report that nothing brings in the volume of calls that the Simpson case does. ("Hi, it's Joe from Cicero." "What 'ya say, Joe?" "I say that if O.J. didn't do it, who did, huh, wha', hey?" "You make a very good point, Joe. And now Emma from the West Side." "Well, I say that if he did it, he had a good reason." "That's a very keen point, Emma.")

The supermarket tabloids have never had it so good, printing everything from hints that space creatures are hot suspects, to the blubbering of daft females who say that whether or not O.J. did it, they love him just as much. And I'm sure they do. If he's convicted, he'll probably get 10,000 marriage proposals.

When he was the greatest runner in football, and later as a TV pitchman and Hollywood actor, Simpson was not nearly as hot a commodity as he is as an accused fiend. The big difference is that now he won't earn $10 million; he'll pay it in legal fees.

Yet, the polls tell us something else. The majority of Americans are disgusted by what they see as a sensational media circus.

If so, they have good reason to be disgusted, because it is a sensational media circus, and before it's over it will outdo anything Barnum & Bailey dreamed of.

But this means that Americans are suffering from a split personality.

We can't expect to have it both ways. We can't say that we are horrified by the excesses we see on TV and in print (but mostly on TV), while sitting glued to the tube and saying, in effect, "Gimme more, gimme more."

Actually, I suppose we can have it both ways, which is a growing American tradition. Almost an entitlement. If a pollster calls, just make yourself feel virtuous by saying: "Yes, I am appalled by this sickening media circus, the overcoverage, the sensationalism. Horrible, I say. By the way, I had to run to the bathroom just now -- did I miss anything?"

This afternoon I heard a guy loftily decry the amount of TV coverage of Simpson. Where was he when he decried it? He was part of a TV show audience that was adding to the coverage. He'd probably stood in line since dawn to be there.

No, the ratings don't lie, so we're getting what we want. Just check your TV listings -- there are all sorts of non-Simpson shows available at any hour. If you subscribe to cable, as the majority of American gawkers now do, you have old and new movies, clean or dirty movies, popular or obscure sports, congressmen talking of great issues, country music, classical music and those neat little local access message boards that tell you not to let scruffy solicitors into your house.

And you don't have to turn your TV set on. There is, after all, life beyond the tube. You can spend the evening talking to your best friend. Or making love to your wife. Or making love to your best friend's wife. It is not required that you wallow in Simpson's trial.

Unless, of course, you choose to wallow like the piggy-wiggy you might be. Then you should not complain about the media circus, since there would never be a circus unless there was an avid ticket-buying audience.

But if you truly believe that we are being dragged against our will into being part of the mass who wouldn't qualify as jurors, then I have a suggestion.

Consider the source of the media circus problem. It is TV. The fact is, newspapers are incapable of being sensational. We are dull. It is part of the evolution of communications. Those of us who write cannot crook our brow or sneer. We can, but you can't see it. And we have no background music. Just the dull printed word, which is not multimedia or interactive.

It's the TV coverage that makes the circus. That being the case, let us have a movement to be spared the coverage.

Judge Lance Ito might have the authority to ban cameras from the courtroom for the entire trial, just as he did with jury selection.

So if you feel that you are being overexposed, just drop a line to him and plead that he cut off all TV coverage.

Address it to: Judge Lance Ito, Criminal Courts Building, 210 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, Calif., 90012.

Do your civic duty. And remember, if you need a Simpson fix later, you can always pick up the latest National Enquirer.

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