To bleep or not to bleep at the Simpson trial

March 20, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

He has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a law degree from Yeshiva University and the dullest job in the O. J. Simpson murder trial.

Peter Aronson is the Button Man.

Mr. Aronson spends his days locked up in closet-sized room at the Criminal Courts Building, monitoring Court TV's "kill switch." That's a control allowing him to bleep out video and audio from the Simpson trial before the proceedings are beamed across the globe.

He's been on the job ever since Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito criticized Court TV for accidentally showing a juror's face during opening statements two months ago. The next day, Mr. Aronson was on a plane from New York to take charge of the switch.

"If you had to pick any one person in America who is overqualified for their job, it has got to be Peter Aronson," Court TV President Steven Brill said.

Mr. Brill prefers it that way. Court TV, which has the exclusive rights to put cameras in Judge Ito's court, has given the judge its pledge to keep the faces of jurors, as well as the attorneys' privileged conversations, off the air. The stakes are high. Judge Ito has threatened to pull the plug on TV coverage if there's another mess-up.

So Mr. Aronson, the deputy executive editor and a rising star at Court TV, sits in the tiny room from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., rarely taking his eyes off a 5-inch monitor. His fingers never are far from the two little red buttons that control audio and video transmissions.

He has an assistant, Marlene Hollander, serving as back-up. She also has a law degree.

So far, however, there has been little to kill, except for time. Mr. Aronson, 39, quips about wall-papering the room with calendars "so we can mark off the months."

He was picked to operate the kill switch because he has a reputation for being meticulous. Around Court TV's headquarters, he's known as "the office narc," a man whose duties include supervising quality control by watching countless taped hours of the network's taped broadcasts and writing critical memos to Mr. Brill. "I'm known as being anal," he admits.

In his cramped quarters here, Mr. Aronson listens for every courtroom whisper, every murmur. When the camera scans the room, he watches for new faces. He has written a note to himself and posted it near the controls. The message has become his mantra: "No jurors, no private conversations."

"If the attorneys are talking among themselves, if the defendant is talking to his attorneys, if there is a sidebar, this all has to be bleeped out," said Mr. Aronson. He has seven seconds to kill a transmission before it is made public.

"If I hear some mumbling, which I rarely do because our sound person is so careful in court, I will kill the audio."

Mr. Aronson wears a headset so he can be in constant communication with the courtroom.

"If the cameraman happens to shoot something he shouldn't shoot, he will yell 'kill,' " Mr. Aronson said.

So far, that has not happened, a fact Mr. Aronson attributes to Court TV's cameraman's diligence. On the less-threatening audio side, Mr. Aronson has had several dozen moments in which he's had to kill whispers that probably would have gone unheard by average viewers.

Mr. Aronson, who has reported or produced more than 20 trials, including the first Rodney King trial, for Court TV, tries to look on the bright side of his job.

"One thing that is very important for Court TV is to maintain the integrity of the system," he said. "It's just got to be done."

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