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O.J. gets an early release, but the real guilty party is the fawning media:
James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist July 20, 2017
O.J. Simpson said
he's ready to '"spend as much time" as he can with his friends and family
while on parole. He was granted parole by a Nevada parole board. USA TODAY
Watching TV, it seemed like we were swearing in a new president of the
United States, not gawking at a convicted felon.
Now that O.J.
Simpson has won his bid for early release from prison, after having served
less than a third of a 33-year sentence for armed robbery, just one question
remains: How high will the ratings be?
The Nevada Parole Board's
decision came as little surprise in light of the 70-year-old's age, his
family support and his conduct while incarcerated. What is quite astonishing
is that the hearing and the board's quick decision were broadcast on every
major television network, including sports-oriented ESPN. And for anyone who
wasn't near a television set, the proceedings could be streamed live over
the Internet, even from a link conveniently provided on the parole board's
If you didn't know better, it would seem, given the
pervasive attention, that we were swearing in a new president of the United
States, not gawking at a convicted felon. At least the hearing wasn't
scheduled for a prime-time audience.
As with other notorious
criminals who seek early release from custody, Simpson's parole hearing is
certainly newsworthy. The outcome should make headlines. But the level of
overexposure rings more of entertainment than news.
It is one thing
to televise trial proceedings involving a celebrity defendant, as he or she
remains innocent by presumption. It is quite another to broadcast a parole
hearing of a convicted criminal, no matter how extensive his or her
achievements before the crime.
The level of attention given Simpson's
hearing also reflects the fact, documented by polling, that countless
Americans recognize the difference between being acquitted and being
innocent. A majority of Americans, white and black, say O.J. Simpson was
guilty of the 1994 double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her
friend Ronald Goldman. Presumably, many would have preferred he stay behind
bars so as to achieve some measure of justice for that crime. In a March
poll, only 20% said he should be paroled.
At this juncture, O.J.'s
notoriety is not so much about his football career, his movie roles or his
running through airports in Hertz commercials; it's about his association
with double murder, despite his acquittal. As such, the televising and live
streaming of his parole hearing added insult to injury (literally) for the
Brown and Goldman families.
There is a movement afoot by a group of
criminologists as well as some journalists, including CNN's Anderson Cooper,
to refrain from identifying individuals charged or convicted of multiple
homicide. According to this view, the names of those who are implicated in
unspeakable crimes should be unspeakable. In my mind, such a prohibition
would go a bit too far, as these crimes and those who are alleged to have
committed them are newsworthy. It is OK to shed light on a crime, but not a
spotlight on a criminal.
There is an important line beyond which the
news coverage of criminals can become excessive and offensive. That line was
James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on