These days, it’s not enough to win a courtroom victory.
No matter how one-sided the win, you’ve got to follow up immediately with a press conference to make sure the media sees it your way. This was the case Wednesday when O.J. Simpson’s Dream Team met with reporters after the court session.
Lead attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. couldn’t have won a bigger victory than when former Detective Mark Fuhrman invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination three times, including when he was asked, “Detective Fuhrman, did you plant or manufacture any evidence in this case?”
Television and radio quickly carried the news to the pro-O.J. crowd outside the Criminal Courts Building. People cheered. It was a celebration. There weren’t many, if any, lawyers among the O.J. fans, but they knew a legal victory when they saw one.
But that didn’t satisfy the Simpson team. When court ended, we received word in the pressroom that Cochran and the other defense lawyers would hold a press conference in the Criminal Courts Building lobby. They wanted to put their own spin on the day’s proceedings, making sure the press saw it in the same way the defense did.
They were solemn celebrants, these defense lawyers, as they marched from the elevator to the lobby where a television camera is stationed through the day for the unexpected news conferences that are part of this trial.
Most of the Dream Teamers were on hand--Robert Shapiro, Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Robert Kardashian, Carl Douglas, F. Lee Bailey, Gerald Uelmen and Cochran himself.
Shapiro was the first spinner. Since the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman, he said, the defense has asked the media and the community to withhold judgment until all the evidence was in. “We are now at that point,” he said.
He spoke in an agreeable manner, his voice strong but not unfriendly.
Cochran, on the other hand, approached the session with a sharp edge, a quality he has developed during a long climb to success, a difficult task for an African American lawyer of his generation.
His edge has been honed to even deadlier sharpness by his many battles on behalf of clients who charged that they had been abused or framed by the Los Angeles Police Department. In taking on Mark Fuhrman and the LAPD in the Simpson case, Cochran is walking familiar ground.
These charges, by the way, were often met by stony media skepticism. This history perhaps has influenced Cochran’s view of the Simpson coverage. Last month, in a speech to a national convention of black journalists, he complained that the white-dominated media tilted toward the prosecution side.
As Cochran faced the mostly white Simpson press corps Wednesday, he appeared to consider his audience overly skeptical, if not hostile to his client.
O.J. Simpson, he said, has been in jail since last June “for crimes he did not commit.” His innocence, said Cochran, should be clear to anyone after Fuhrman invoked the 5th.
Reporters, he said, must “evaluate your consciences,” examine the evidence, look at the case with a fresh mind, understand the significance of Fuhrman’s action.
The Dream Team took no questions. The sight and sound of their spin reached television well in time for the dinner hour news and the early evening Simpson trial summaries.
Their message was simple: Fuhrman’s taking of the 5th ended the case. Simpson’s acquittal was assured.
The only dissenting voices came from some legal commentators, who correctly pointed out that refusing to testify on 5th Amendment grounds is not an admission of guilt.
At Wednesday’s news conference, the defense lawyers noted that the prosecution started the spin war shortly after Simpson’s arrest, with press conferences, interviews and leaks trumpeting their evidence. Let the defense come up with something, the prosecution sneered.
The defense fought back with intensity and skill, taking the out-of-court legal battles to new heights--or depths--as Wednesday’s press conference showed.
But it didn’t have anything to do with the law. Fuhrman’s actions will have an effect on the jury, but not even the Dream Team knows whether Wednesday’s dramatic day in court will be decisive. The Simpson lawyers hope, but they don’t know.
But the jury wasn’t the target of the press conference unless, of course, word of the Cochran interpretation seeps through the jurors’ sequestration wall during a family visit. It couldn’t have been lost on Cochran that Wednesday is conjugal visit day.
The main target was the vast audience watching on television and reading the newspapers. For if Wednesday was not as decisive as Cochran says, and there is another trial, this audience will provide the next generation of O.J. Simpson jurors.