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Ball State prof: OJ Simpson death spotlights lasting changes in news coverage

Ball State prof on OJ Simpson legacy

Media Professor D. Dom Caristi weighs in on lasting impact of OJ Simpson case

MUNCE, Ind (WISH) — OJ Simpson’s death this week ends an extraordinarily complicated life, but its lasting impacts include the way the world consumes news.

That’s a key conclusion from a WISH-TV Daybreak conversation with an expert.

“This was what everybody was glued to,” Dr. Dom Caristi, professor emeritus of mass media at Ball State University, said Friday.

At the time Simpson was accused of the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, OJ Simpson had parlayed a Hall of Fame football career into Hollywood stardom.

“He had done television commercials. He’d been in movies. So this guy was a mega-star.”

The slow-speed chase across countless miles of southern California streets and highways leading to Simpson’s arrest introduced “white Bronco” into the world’s lasting lexicon and displayed television’s singular capacity for capturing news as it is happening.

“NBC was carrying an NBA playoff game and they went split screen! They had the white Bronco on one side and the New York/Houston game on the other side. It was television like people were not used to, following this live event for hours,” Caristi said.

In 1995, CNN was the sole 24-hour television news network. Others would follow soon after. Caristi draws a straight line between the Simpson case and the rise of competitors like Fox News and MSNBC.

“(CNN) had hours and hours of content. And not just the content, but then the wrap-ups, and the discussions, and the analysis. And they were able to program many hours thanks to the activities of first the case itself, the Bronco, and then the trial,” Caristi said.

Simpson’s trial coincided with the rise of cameras in courtrooms. Just a few years earlier — and still to this day in many other jurisdictions — the country would have only seen sketches and heard descriptions about what went on behind a closed door. With cameras allowed, the strategy of the attorneys, the decisions of the judge, and key moments from Simpson himself played out in real time.

“The OJ trial wasn’t the first trial to do this, but without a doubt, it was the biggest,” Garisti recalled. “People were glued to the trial, and if not the full-time coverage, they were glued at least to the wrap-ups every night on the news.”