Nobody was less prepared for the announcement of a verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial than the people who are supposed to know it all--the media.
If there was anything the world press agreed on it was that this jury would take a long time. Theories were as abundant as the cockroaches in the Criminal Courts Building, but they all boiled down to the same thing: This jury has spent too much time with complex material to make a quick decision. The jurors are too responsible. Their task is too difficult. The case is too complex.
In fact, before I headed for work Monday morning, I sat in front of my television set, listening to predictions of tortuous deliberations, most likely ending in a hung jury.
The reporters were relaxed when Judge Lance A. Ito began his announcement. His words were delivered in an undramatic, matter-of-fact way. He could have been presiding at a routine assault-with-a-deadly-weapon trial.
Most of the courtroom reporters, in fact, were not in the room, figuring the session would be routine and procedural. As if anything has been routine in this trial.
Back at their newspapers and stations, editors and producers were holding meetings about preparations for lengthy end-of-the trial analyses. They all figured they had several days to assemble the articles, pictures, charts and videotape necessary for these complex productions.
We listened in uncomprehending silence as the meaning of the judge's words became clear. The trial was over. It was as sudden as a Round 1 knockout in a heavyweight championship fight. "I don't believe it," a colleague said. The same sentiment was repeated by journalists all over the city.
The pundits had been wrong. An uncountable number of words of opinion and analysis had just gone down the drain.
The shock quickly subsided. Adrenaline surged through journalistic veins and the reporters went to work.
A couple had received hints something was up. One writer was about to leave the courthouse for the afternoon when a bailiff asked where he was going. To his office, the reporter said. Better stick around for an hour, the bailiff cautioned.
Art Harris of CNN was in the courtroom. He said later he had a "gut feeling" something would happen. Maybe his stomach was just nervous but, for whatever reason, Harris kept his eye on the jury and on Simpson as the brief proceedings unfolded.
When court adjourned, Harris grabbed an elevator to the ground floor, sprinted across Temple Street and climbed the few stairs to the CNN platform. The network had already broadcast the news. What CNN wanted from Harris was instant analysis.
"I was watching the jury and not one of them would look Simpson in the eye," Harris reported to CNN's worldwide audience. "In my experience covering trials, when the jury can't look the defendant in the eye, it does not bode well for him."
Reporter Vernon Odom of Philadelphia's WPBI-TV had to do his interpretation without the benefit of having been in the courtroom.
He was on the ABC affiliate station platform, about to begin his broadcast for the dinner hour news, when the jury told Ito it had reached a verdict.
Speaking extemporaneously, he thought of a new introduction to his report, featuring the verdict angle. Then his anchor wanted some analyses. "I said most everyone here, experts and informed spectators, are stunned that it came so fast," he said.
His anchor said conventional wisdom maintains that quick verdicts usually mean acquittals.
Odom wasn't so sure. "I've been doing this for 20 years," said Odom, whose face reflects the wily caution of a veteran. He reminded his viewers that the jury just previously had asked to hear part of the testimony of limousine driver Allan Park, who helped establish the timeline that the prosecution said was important in proving its case.
"This could be good news for the prosecution," Odom said.
"It was instant analysis," Odom said later. "I had prepared all this material [for special shows]. Just when you think you can breathe, kaboom!"
Even though all the analyses had missed the mark, new analyses continued into the evening.
Some reporters and lawyer-pundits felt the the quick verdict meant guilty. An equal number said acquittal.
Ignore the analysis. Read a book. Have a good meal. Watch a sitcom.
For Monday reminded us of what we should never forget. This over-analyzed Simpson murder trial is beyond punditry and prediction.