The OJ Simpson trial happened while I was in college. I completely didn’t care except for an annoyance at how inescapable it was. When they were going to announce the verdict, I made a bet with a friend. We wanted to see who could go the longest without learning the outcome of the trial. The loser would have to buy the winner lunch. The world was different back then. Not only was there no social media, there were no cell phones, no podcasts, and there was barely even an internet. We weren’t getting alerts or updates. We simply had to avoid watching TV, reading newspapers, or listening to the radio. If only. Seemingly everyone in the world cared about the trial. Everyone was talking about it. Neither of us made it until noon. It was a draw. The only way our bet was winnable was to isolate ourselves. But, if we did that, we would have failed classes, lost jobs and gone hungry. Like I said, it was inescapable. Things have only gotten worse in the last thirty years.
The reasons I didn’t care are pretty simple (and apply to all the current criminal cases in the press). I have no connection to OJ Simpson or Nicole Brown Simpson or Ron Goldman (it’s really sad that I didn’t even have to look up their names). It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the victims or their friends and families. I’m sympathetic towards the victims of any crime. I just don’t have the bandwidth to pay attention to all of them. The trial wasn’t deciding any broad societal questions. Murder would still be illegal regardless of the outcome. And I have a basic level of ignorance, both about the law and the facts of any particular case. I don’t know what legally counts as self defense or premeditation or insanity. I don’t know what actually happened, how evidence was collected, whether gloves shrink, or anything else. My opinion on the case is less than worthless. Even if I were a legal expert, without direct involvement in the case, my opinion would still be worthless. The press doesn’t cover these things in any kind of objective, thorough, or fact seeking way.
The thing is, following criminal trials isn’t a form of civic engagement or a way of being informed. Depending on the trial, it’s more like being a busybody or watching a spectator sport. When people have a rooting interest, it doesn’t matter anymore what actually happened or what the law says. With the high profile cases, it’s turned into a type of outrage porn. It’s unseemly at best and usually much worse than that. I know I would be much better off without all the media attention on criminal trials. I’m pretty sure everyone else would be, too. More on this some other time, but it’s a decent sized factor in why justice is no longer even a possibility in American criminal courts.