I swear I didn’t want to write this. Really. And the fact that I cannot but do so is a terrible, horrible sign of things to come.
I had wanted to kick off my new column in this space by regaling you all with frothy tales of Steve Wynn dissing the entire south end of the Strip as “down market” and challenging the sales figures of a highly touted night spot near his resort. It’s good stuff. But it’ll have to wait. So I apologize in advance. Forgive us, good people, for we in the media know not what we do.
You probably don’t believe me when I say there is nothing I want less than to have to cover the arrest, the endless court hearings and, inevitably, the trial of O.J. Simpson in Las Vegas. You sit there thinking, “Oh, please, you media jackal. You live for this.” Some may. I don’t. And thus far, I’ve not spoken to a single real journalist on the ground in Vegas who thinks this is great news. That, of course, does not include the happy faces on cable news who are popping popcorn and getting ready for a new national spectacle.
No, I’ve been trying to figure out a way out of all this from the moment early last Friday when my editors at the New York Times forwarded me the first Associated Press piece headlined, “O.J. Simpson questioned about break-in involving sports memorabilia at Las Vegas casino.”
I knew what that meant, what the future could hold. My plans to power down and focus on some household projects after two weeks of covering the search for still-missing aviator Steve Fossett were canceled. I might have declined the Times (yeah, right) but then I’d have had to also rebuff Newsweek, Reuters and the Chicago Tribune, all of which called subsequently asking for my services. As my editor at the Times told me later as we commiserated over the fact that O.J. Simpson was back in all our lives in a big way, “It’s the kind of story that will do nothing for your career, but if you don’t do it, you’ll damage yourself.”
Still, on Friday and Saturday I hoped and prayed that, however unlikely, there was a reasonable explanation for why O.J. Simpson would storm a hotel room with a group of gunned-up thugs and depart with a treasure trove of sports memorabilia, some of which had nothing to do with the former football great. I’m betting Metro and the Clark County district attorney’s office felt the same way. There must be some way we can all avert this meteor heading right at us, right? O.J. seemed so calm and confident that all this was nothing much; how we all hoped he was right, not for his disgusting sake but for ours.
Alas, everyone but O.J. knew better in their heart of hearts. This story wasn’t going away. No matter how it was sliced, whether O.J. was retrieving his own property, or one of his accusers backpedaled and said he wouldn’t testify against Simpson, it was an absurd and quite probably criminal situation.
Oh, but won’t this be one of those big stories that journalists thrive on? Well, maybe, but there is a motif to O.J. coverage that is both daunting and predictable. Those who did this in the mid-1990s have a definite advantage, having well-worn paths to the likes of Mark Fuhrman, Marcia Clark, Fred Goldman, Denise Brown and even O.J. himself, which explains how the AP’s Linda Deutsch got him on the line to incriminate himself for the world to see. I was able to wave the New York Times name here and there and scootch to the head of the line—I chatted with Goldman on Sunday as O.J. was being arrested—but that really only helped me stay even with my competition.
What’s so frustrating is how much effort we will pour into something that really matters very little. In 1995, I was as fascinated by the O.J. murder trial as anyone else—and happy not to be covering it. And, ultimately, the sudsy soap opera ended up having some relevant social meaning in terms of exposing, with reaction to the not-guilty verdicts, the racial schism that persists in America.
But this? The people involved here are, after all, the same gross people who believe that the sports memorabilia of a man who probably hacked to death the mother of his kids has real monetary value. Ew. Not a sympathetic one in the bunch. And falling back on our sympathies for the Browns and Goldmans to get emotionally engaged in this case is about as hollow as voting for Hillary because we miss Bill. It’s just not the same.
Of course, as with any good international story playing out here, the inaccuracies and stereotypes abound. O.J. got the ball rolling by telling some friends that he thought what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. For that alone he ought to be jailed. Several times I heard on cable TV that either Palace Station or the Palms are on the Strip. And some crazy lawyer on CNN said Simpson ought to fear a jury trial where he’d face “the conservative people of Las Vegas.” Huh?
Sigh. Whether we like it or not, Cirque du O.J. is on, and we’ll all play our parts. I’ll be there for the Times and whoever else will pay me enough when the Times gets sick of it. The cops and lawyers will leak bits and pieces to whichever reporters they favor that day. The cable talking heads will offer endless gossip and speculation. And you will all shake your heads in disgust while all the while tuning in.
Avenue Q lasted eight months. Hairspray lasted four. The Hans Klok debacle will last however long they can pretend Pam Anderson is his girlfriend.
But Cirque du O.J.? It’s here to stay. Finally, Oscar Goodman has a Downtown attraction that might stick around for a while.
Read Steve Friess’ daily blog at TheStripPodcast.blogspot.com and catch his weekly celeb-interview podcast at TheStripPodcast.com. He can be reached at [email protected]