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American press reflects racial divide on Simpson case

Simpson January 20, 1997
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EST

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From Correspondent Jennifer Auther

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- When the verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial was broadcast live across the nation in October of 1995, the country's racial divide suddenly seemed to come into sharp focus.

Many blacks cheered when jurors declared Simpson innocent of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. Many whites shook their heads. And now as the civil trial draws to a close, the issue is making headlines again.

But which headlines are Americans reading? It seems when it comes to the Simpson trial, the racial divide of the American public is reflected in the American press.

Headlines and content vary

Major newspapers across the country with a largely white readership, have continually focused on evidence that some believe implicates Simpson -- from blood drops containing an astronomical match to O.J.'s DNA, to contradicting testimony over Simpson's alleged history of domestic violence.

But black-owned newspapers from Los Angeles to New York tell a different story. Headlines read "(Judge) Fujisaki Continues to Allow Biased Testimony Against O.J.," and "Attorneys Badger/Accuse O.J. of Killing Nicole and Ron."

The content of the stories in black-owned newspapers focuses on Simpson's defense strategy, such as Herbert McDonnell's testimony. The blood-splatter expert testified in both the criminal and civil trials that blood was "pressed" into O.J.'s socks, more than hinting at a police conspiracy to frame the football legend.

Black-owned newspapers also play up the fact that Simpson's blood reference sample was carried back to the crime scene, and call attention to pathologist Michael Baden's two-killer theory.


Black-owned newspapers seek counterbalance


Publishers of black-owned newspapers say they want to counterbalance the mainstream press, which they see as biased against Simpson.

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"We would watch the trial on TV and then we would see how the broadcasters and the media people handled it. Often we'd remark, 'Are they talking about the same thing I looked at today?'" said Dorothy Leavell, publisher of "The Chicago Crusader."


Others say the O.J. issue, particularly the verdict of his criminal trial, goes much deeper than one man against the machine.

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"It wasn't about O.J.," said Dennis Schatzman, a columnist for black newspapers and a journalism professor. "It was about the criminal law system and how it treats black people. And O.J. Simpson had the resources to fight an obviously racist and biased system and he prevailed playing by their rules."

Closing arguments set in civil trial

Leavell says Simpson probably won't be as "lucky" with the verdict in the civil trial. Closing arguments are set to begin Tuesday and Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki has promised jurors they'll get the case by the end of the week.

The families of the victims are suing Simpson, seeking monetary compensation for their loss. Jurors will decide whether or not Simpson is responsible for the murders. He doesn't face jail time, but could be forced to pay millions of dollars in damages.

Whether the verdict is for or against Simpson, readership for all newspapers, of all ethnic diversities, promises to increase.


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