A day without O.J. is like a day without sunshine

October 05, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

What if Judge Lance Ito really does it? What if he pulls the plug, as he threatens he might, on the TV cameras at the O.J. trial?

Ito says he will hold a hearing on Nov. 7 to determine whether or not he kicks TV out of his courtroom. We'll all be watching -- one hand grasping the remote, the other pressed to our hearts.

Where would we be without gavel-to-gavel O.J.? How would we get through the winter?

We'd have to cancel the O.J. super-trial parties. We'd have to be content to read about the case -- or something. (Let me ask you a serious question: You ever read at a party?)

Try to imagine having to follow the trial without benefit of the TV camera.

That would mean, for instance, no action shots of Kato's hair.

No pictures of (good cop or bad cop?) Mark Fuhrman on the stand. If we can't see him testify, how are we going to know if he's telling the truth?

No up-close-and-personal, inside-the-courtroom looks at O.J. We've seen enough movies to know you can tell a lot about a defendant by his body language.

Is he fidgeting, meaning he's guilty?

Is he smiling? If he is smiling, is it an ironic smile or a contemptuous smile or a sad, sad smile?

We don't trust anyone to make these judgments for us. We need to make them for ourselves.

How will we know if O.J. makes eye contact with the jury? How will we know what Marcia Clark is wearing? (I hear she's changed her hair and her outfits in an attempt to look warmer. Maybe she should go to Diane Sawyer for tips.) There are so many issues here.

The judge must understand you can't turn back now. We are in the era of Court TV. That is the name of an actual TV network. They show real-life courtroom drama. It's all they do. If history has taught us anything, it is that we are helpless in the face of technology.

Let's consider this situation philosophically. If a gavel falls, and the TV audio man isn't there to record it, does it make a sound?

You probably know why Judge Ito is considering removing the cameras. One L.A. TV station reported DNA testing of a bloody sock that apparently was never tested. Then a pool camera broke California rules by filming potential jurors.

And he talks about the letters he has received, which are running 800 to 12 against the cameras.

"It's just not helping the case," Ito has said. "It's a distraction, and it's a luxury."

Of course, the cameras are intrusive. Of course, they add a show-biz dimension to what is -- some of us occasionally forget -- a trial about the double-murder of actual people, who unlike murder victims on TV, are never coming back.

Of course, the cameras desensitize us.

Of course, they make lawyers into actors and maybe they do the same for witnesses, too.

And, of course, they've helped to make voyeurs of so many of us who are addicted to a murder case that is all about celebrity and not about anything else.

But here's what I'll bet: Most of the 800 who wrote the letters to Judge Ito will watch the trial if the cameras are allowed.

In the meantime, you'll hear a lot of high-minded talk about the First Amendment and the people's right to know, as if we had some inalienable right to put everything before the camera's unfiltered eye.

Surprisingly, the people who would seem to have the most at stake -- the major TV networks -- might secretly be pleased if cameras are barred. If cameras are allowed, the big networks have to decide how much of the trial to cover, how many soap operas to pre-empt, how much advertising money they're willing to lose in the chase for higher daytime ratings and how badly they can accept being beaten on the story by CNN and Court TV.

Ito could solve that problem for them, although he almost certainly won't.

Don't worry. We'll get to watch the trial. We'll get our O.J. fix and then some.

I just saw the movie "Quiz Show," which is about TV and how it compromises us. It's a brilliant film. Although there's no sex and no violence, I recommend it anyway. The movie explores how TV would come to blur the line between fiction and reality.

But we've gone past that now. We've reached the point where, without TV, we can't even be sure there is a reality.

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