No News Until After Lunch

November 22, 2010

While I do my best to live in the moment, I also love to stir up the soup in my brain every once in a while. Watching that internal movie helps me remember how I got where I am, and why I think what I do. Sometimes a little scary.  Usually kinda fun.

And nothing , except for maybe great music, helps fire the neuronal activity for me like an old photo.

So I went noggin diving the other night after I came across an old image – reminding me of some of the under-publicized nuttiness of the most publicized trial in American history- the OJ Simpson Trial.

The photo I was looking at was a Thanksgiving feast we had back in 1994. On the street in front of the criminal courts building.It showed a KCBS cameraman being interviewed by lawyer Robert Shapiro!

Whoa. That’s weird.

How’d it happen, you ask?  Well, the seeds of the event were planted when the court announced that the one day in the following week, there was going to be a short day.  No actual trial.  Just some court business… requiring the presence of the attorneys but no jury.

What a perfect day, one of the cameramen thought…  for a picnic and some fun.

A picnic!

Now, it came as no surprise to me that a cameraman wanted to organize an activity involving massive quantities of  food.

It is the where that was a little out of the ordinary… directly in front of the entrance to the Criminal Courts Building in downtown LA. And the when.  Like, in the middle of the trial.

The idea got tossed around, and started to snowball, and plans were made. Someone decided on the menu. Turkeys and trimmings were arranged from Lucy’s El Adobe. Another planned the guest list… and came up with the idea to invite not only all the media covering the trial but OJ’s defense attorneys… and the prosecutors as well.

Whoa.

It was one thing to break bread with our daily news media brethren – but these guys?  Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian.

Remember, this was the same Dream Team that routinely used us to help shape public opinion as we used them to build our nightly TV newscasts. What the hell.  Invited them too.

In order to make lunch happen, we figured we would have to negotiate a truce among the reporters and photographers and producers covering the trial.

There would be no attempts to get sound bites from the attorneys during three of the four times we typically peppered them with questions each day (on arriving at court in the morning, at the lunch break, returning from the lunch break, and leaving for the day).

After all, they wouldn’t attend our lunch if we harassed them with questions about the trial. And it wouldn’t be fair to the working press preparing and serving our feast if those not involved in the preparations got sound and pictures while the cooks didn’t.

So all were invited, the truce was negotiated, and amazingly, the truce held.

The prosecutors declined to play along, so on the day of the lunch, we knew at least there would be plenty to eat.

The morning started off unlike other mornings at the trial.   When the defense attorneys arrived and walked to the top of the stairs, instead of the nattering nabob hounding the hell out of them – no one in the press moved. The attorneys coughed and lingered, in case we were sleeping. But for once in the trial – they were ignored.

Not a camera was lifted.  No microphones were thrust.

After months walking through a roiling scrum dangling every conceivable recording device and spinning every recycled question to their advantage – on this morning, nobody so much as looked in their direction…  No tape was rolling. No pictures were snapped. They walked into the Criminal Courts building like ordinary lawyers of the ordinary accused.

And in that most competitive of news markets, during the Trial of the Century, no news occurred, because those who were charged with reporting it – declared there would be no news… until after lunch.

Until someone decided the picnic itself was news… and then the truce ended, the  inevitable scramble ensued, and we went back to the madness of covering the trial.

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