OJ: the suits, the Bronco, and, oh yeah, the trial

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The Independent Culture
"So far OJ hasn't missed a minute of the proceedings in court," said Sue Ellicot on Sunday night, fronting The Trial of OJ Simpson, BBC2's helpful condensation of the story so far. Crikey, I thought, I would hope not. I mean if he's bored by all this stuff what hope for the rest of us? Even OJ, though, couldn't be expected to absorb all of the astonishing fringe festival of expertise that the trial has generated. CNN is best at this, occasionally delivering the equivalent of ball-by-ball commentary on the unfolding action. ("Jim, nice move from Marcia Clarke there. She's put the defence on the back foot?" "Absolutely, Tom, perfectly timed objection and Johnny Cochran wasn't ready for it. He's going to have to work his way out of this.") It would be nice if the State of California team could be described as The Offense, but that little detail apart it's often indistinguishable from the Superbowl.

The BBC has made a sensible decision with its weekly update on the trial, realising that you either watch everything (and get sucked into the addictive minutiae of American jurisprudence) or you take the highlights only. So, even though they are compressing five days taping into 50 minutes, they still find time to get outside the courtroom. OJ Simpson may display some of David Letterman's "10 signs that you have been watching too much Court TV" (sign eight in particular - "you have an overpowering urge to pay people to lie for you") but television viewers here aren't in any imminent danger. This weekend, for example, you were offered relief from the People's suit against OJ Simpson by a brief report on OJ's suit itself - apparently he leaves prison in fatigues (cue helicopter footage of man entering minibus) but is allowed to gussy up before he enters court (cue footage of Robert Shapiro, the world's most expensive valet, carrying a suit on a coat-hanger).

Usefully, for a weekly programme, the prosecution has a powerful interest in leaving the jury with a weekend cliffhanger. This week was a humdinger - Mark Ferman, the police officer who found the bloody glove in OJ's grounds and whom the defence hope to prove is a racist, ended the proceedings by holding up a large shovel. This had been found in the boot of OJ's white Bronco, along with a very large plastic bag. Way too big for a poop- scoop, you thought, mind racing wildly on such elementary conundrums as: "How long would it take a former running back to dig a hole 3ft by 6ft by 3ft?"

This is the true fascination of the OJ Simpson trial - not its elaboration of some incontrovertible truth but the endless manipulation of the facts in order to catch a desired light. The handling of Ferman was a good case in point, a tricky problem for Marcia Clarke, who has to overcome the suggestion that the policeman might have planted evidence. She began with his attendance at a much earlier disturbance on OJ's property, where he'd been called after Simpson had smashed the windscreen of his car with a baseball bat. Ferman's testimony was dull and monosyllabic, undramatic and immaterial. But it wasn't there, you suddenly realised, to establish a pattern of violence on the accused's part. It wasn't about OJ at all but about the policeman: this was his opportunity to demonstrate how scrupulously indifferent he could be to the sight of an agitated black man and a weeping white woman. "He doesn't do embroidery," you were meant to think.

But Marcia Clarke has the problem that she has to construct a coherent narrative. The defence doesn't - it simply has to introduce as much incoherence as it possibly can and hope that the jury mistake their growing confusion for a reasonable doubt. Ferman's "cross" this week should be a bravura display of distraction, an attempt to make the shape of murder disappear in a dazzle of black and white.