The O.J. Simpson Parole Hearing Was A Big Bad Drama

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large

All three broadcast networks and every major cable news outlet disrupted their normal schedules to televise the O.J. Simpson parole hearing held in Nevada on Thursday. What people saw was a 70-year-old Simpson, significantly slimmed-down since his last round of media exposure, expressing a certain amount of remorse after serving almost nine years of a 33-year sentence for robbery and kidnapping.

The media was eager to point out the heavy irony strands of Simpson’s testimony. “I have basically led a conflict-free life,” said the man who I believe killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994. “I have never pulled a weapon on anyone in my life,” he added. He testified to the parole board that the most valuable class he’s taken while in prison is one called “Alternatives to Violence,” which he explained was about “using words” rather than “beating on people” to settle conflicts. To the parole board member who asked him whether he’d been going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after he said he would during a previous hearing, Simpson said, no, “I’ve never had an alcohol problem.” He said he didn’t have time to attend AA or the other classes he’d pledged to attend because “my agenda is full here” in prison.

Primarily because of his clean record during this stay in prison, Simpson was granted parole. The cable networks went into overdrive, before and after the decision. “The most infamous inmate in recent American history!” exulted Brooke Baldwin on CNN. “Who could forget?” she asked rhetorically. “Twenty-two years ago his murder trial captivated the nation!” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called Simpson’s testimony to the board “an absolute disgrace.” Regarding O.J.’s “conflict-free” comment, Toobin said, “Put aside the murders that I believe he committed — he beat the hell out of Nicole Simpson!” Toobin said that while it made sense to grant Simpson parole based solely on the facts of the case before them, the board could have taken Simpson’s larger, longer history into account here but chose not to.

On Fox News, Shepard Smith drew on his experiences covering the Simpson-Goldman murder trial to describe the blood he saw on the street outside the Simpson home, and added details like, “He took a knife and almost cut his wife’s neck off.” Fox commentator Geraldo Rivera said that O.J. is “a race-baiting narcissist who played the race card, and I have nothing but contempt for him.” Rivera also coined a new word when, talking about Simpson’s life after prison, he said, “Whether he can stay out of trouble, I think, is very unlikely, unless he had some kind of brainectamy in prison.”

Yes, it was the overheated media frenzy you might have expected. It wasn’t until someone tweeted something about ABC’s coverage that I switched around to see that all three networks had preempted their broadcasts to carry this TV equivalent of click-bait. Good God in heaven: They’ll use their news divisions and their afternoon airtime to showcase O.J., but they wouldn’t dream of doing the same for health care law. Thanks, TV news.

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