Who cares if O.J. did it?

February 08, 1997|By Harold Jackson

IT'S THE media's fault. I never thought I'd say that, but it's true. Other than the family and friends who knew them, few of us really care whether O.J. Simpson killed his former wife, Nicole, and an acquaintance, Ron Goldman. It's the media's fault that people say they care, but don't.

Los Angeles police were still sloppily searching for clues when someone decided this news story wasn't about the victims, it was about race. If any crime involving people of different colors could have been reported as though race didn't matter, this one was it.

Football hero O.J. Simpson years ago became race-neutral in the eyes of America. Whenever he appeared in movies or commercials, people saw O.J., not a black man. Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson enjoy the same status.

But as strong as the Brown/Goldman murder was as a news story, someone decided it would be stronger by injecting race. Polls were taken along racial lines, asking respondents whether they thought O.J. was guilty.

The way the questioning occurred suggested the persons being queried should have an opinion based on their race. Asked to decide whether they had a black opinion or a white opinion, many decided to stick with the crowd, whichever crowd that might be.

All of sudden, O.J. became more than just O.J.

This raceless rich man who had shown only small interest in reaching back to help the brothers and sisters in the 'hood was transformed by the way the media chose to report this story of domestic abuse and murder into ''every black man'' struggling against a racist criminal-justice system.

Football fans, especially Buffalo Bills fans, were also more likely to believe ''The Juice'' was innocent in those first days after the crime when the evidence was still being compiled. But that didn't get the same news coverage as the racial divide on O.J.

The darkened image

Time magazine was so afraid people wouldn't recognize the change in O.J.'s status that it darkened a cover photo of him. When word of that stunt got out, it only helped to intensify a feeling among African Americans that O.J. was one of their own about to be sent to judicial slaughter.

As the first trial progressed and word got out about investigating police officer Mark Fuhrman's blatant racism, even black people who felt O.J. was guilty hoped he would be acquitted.

And white people who also know a thing or two about recalcitrance persuaded themselves to ignore the possibility that anyone else could have done the crime.

In the end, neither side cared about anything other than being right. A lot of black people cheered after O.J.'s acquittal. A lot of white people cheered when he was found liable. It didn't really matter that two people are still dead.

It's fitting that the last word on this case will involve money. That's been the engine pulling this train for some time now. The O.J. industry has put ducats into a lot of people's pockets; not just the lawyers and consultants, not just some jurors, but also the media that sell ads and commercials whenever they tell the tale. And they will keep telling it.

It's unfortunate that the people hurt most by this crime will benefit least from all the litigation. I'm talking about the children. Even if someone does toss a few coins to Sydney and Justin, it won't bring their mother back. It won't keep them from learning that their father is believed to have killed her.

They will have to deal with that. The rest of us, we don't really care. We based our feelings about this crime on what the media told us matters most, and we're not going to change our minds just because evidence, or the lack of it, or some jury made up of people who don't look like us either told us what we wanted to hear, or didn't.

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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