Facts fall away amid court circus


I had this bizarre dream the other night. There I was, watching an agitated Marcia Clark forcefully arguing her case É only to be followed up by an equally animated Geraldo Rivera pontificating on the ways of the criminal justice system.

Then I woke up to a full-fledged nightmare: Marcia and Geraldo were babbling away on the Fox News Channel, with all the shrill volume they displayed during the O.J. Simpson trial.

Welcome to the Kobe Bryant case, also known as 'The Curse of O.J.'

We've got to get ready, because the all-news cable channels are on red alert. They learned their lesson eight years ago: When there's a high-profile case involving a high-profile athlete Ñ with sex and violence Ñ there's no holding back. Get ready for growing audiences, bigger ratings and bulging panels of instant experts ready to deliver their verdicts before the commercial break.

Yep, it's going to be all Kobe, all the time and overtime. It'll be must-see TV, because the only channel that won't be covering the case will be the Home Shopping Network. And in this day of 24-hour, wall-to-wall news coverage, merely airing the facts and confirming the information Ñ in other words, reporting the story Ñ isn't going to get it done. Who needs mere facts when audiences and producers have grown to love and expect loud, lively, time-filling speculation?

Or, as faux correspondent Ed Helms put it while 'covering' the story for 'The Daily Show' on Comedy Central: 'I intend to put on reports in the morning that will be discredited by noon. É No source can be too unreliable.'

In this era of reality shows, there is no more effective programming than a real criminal case and ensuing trial. But this time around, I'm going to assume the judges also learned from Simpson.

Surely, no sane judge would allow the Bryant trial to be televised unless he or she wants to become the latest incarnation of the Dancing Itos. That should mean we can forget about the return of the Big Blue Dot, developed by Court TV to cover the accuser's face in the William Kennedy Smith rape trial. Nor is it likely that Wolf Blitzer will be forgoing international affairs for courtroom play-by-play.

At least, that would be the smart thing. But there is a force at work here that is stronger than any Bill O'Reilly smirk or Larry King suspender. Humans have an insatiable need to be on television. Otherwise, why would the friends of Bryant's accuser, Bryant's ex-girfriend, and even Eagle County prosecutor Mark Hurlbert total up more face time than a 'Law and Order' rerun? Sociologists probably know this, but people who appear on TV Ñ whether it's 'Survivor' or 'Jerry Springer' Ñ think they have a good chance at celebrity. And a lot of people think that celebrity counts for a lot.

Even celebrities can't resist, as we saw last week. Forgive the expression, but the jury is still out on whether it really was a strategic coup for Bryant's lawyers to have Bryant himself displaying on-camera remorse fresh off a happy, laughing appearance at the ESPN awards a couple of nights before.

Ah, but I'm theorizing again: That Kobe coverage must be rubbing off.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..