It has been 20 years since the OJ Simpson saga captivated the country, and at The Washington Post, Kent Babb has a fascinating look back at how the case shaped the American media landscape and even changed the way DNA evidence is used.
Right from the start, people were tuning in to see what was happening; 95 million viewers watched the infamous car chase on television, and they kept watching as the trial hit the airwaves. "White, black, immigrants who were from different races, women and men, rich and poor — and everyone was glued to the television," says Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor who directs the Institute for Race and Justice.
Court TV was a startup and CNN was still trying to gain traction when each decided to offer full coverage. Now, round-the-clock analysis of a situation is nothing new, and bit players (remember Kato?) still capitalize on their 15 minutes of fame. On the brighter side, DNA testing pre-OJ was fairly new, rather confusing, and extremely expensive — but because even inmates were watching the trial, many took the opportunity to ask for DNA tests in their own cases, and hundreds were subsequently exonerated. "I know there are a lot of warts and scars and everything else about what people say about the O.J. Simpson trial," says Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News host who gave legal analysis on CNN for the case. "The fact that everybody knew about DNA is huge to our criminal justice system."
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