Yesterday morning I woke up and switched over to the (Australian) ABC News radio station to catch up on the local news.

Close to the top of the half-hourly news update was a breathless piece exclaiming that Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson was dead.

Something small inside me whispered “Good. Now fuck off and we don’t ever need to hear of you again.” I had one of those moments where you’re unsure if it is bile or a small vomit rising in your throat.

That the local ABC would report on the passing of a major league NFL player and minor league actor was unremarkable—other than the usual “both sides-ing” that portrayed Simpson as some kind of flawed minor deity.

A few hours later I was out doing chores and the same ABC station was on my car radio. Over the next few hours of toing and froing around Darwin I heard the same bulletin several times, with the piece on Simpson’s passing presented with the same prominence and tone.

I still felt queasy. Shouting at the presenters through the windshield didn’t help at all.

Much of the domestic print, television, radio and online coverage was of the same ilk – concentrating largely on Simpson’s trial for the killing of his wife and her friend and treating his wholly underserved acquittal as some kind of vindication rather than a manipulation of the American legal system.

Simpson’s 2007 arrest and subsequent imprisonment for seven years in Nevada on armed robbery, conspiracy and kidnapping charges was but a short fall from grace of a beloved – if slightly flawed – hero.

As I write this Simpson’s death is still at the top of the ABC News radio webpage.

If you weren’t alive in the mid-nineties then you’d likely be unaware of the Mansonesque horrors visited upon Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman by Simpson at his ex-wife’s Brentwood condominium on a mid-winter evening in 1994.

You might know a bit more of the legal circus – ‘if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit’ – and the relentless flow of bullshit from the media that surrounded that event and following.

I’m mainly familiar with Keith Olbermann’s storied history as a journalist, sports commentator and political broadcaster through listening to his iHeart Radio podcasts at “Countdown” for the past few years and his shameless and laugh-out-loud self-promotion of his past heroics and occasional failures.

Olbermann can be engaging, enthralling and occasionally appalling but he tells a bloody good tale and he’s had a decades-long broadcasting career and has, as they say, “been there and done that.”

In spades.

By 1992 Olbermann had already been based in Los Angeles for a few years before he took up co-hosting duties that year with ESPN’s SportsCenter through to 1997. Olbermann has a prodigious memory and is never short of an opinion, fact or comment so I was pleased to see that yesterday’s piece at the Countdown podcast looked at the Simpson brouhaha.

I wasn’t disappointed.

These excerpts give more than a mouthful of the flavour of Olbermann’s thoughts on O.J Simpson’s character and deeds and for mine represent a rare commentary on Simpson’s evil nature that dare to speak truth to unspeakable power.

In the SportsCenter computer I read something that made my blood run cold. It was one line in a preliminary script for the 6:30 PM SportsCenter for Monday, June 14, 1994. O.J. Simpson’s wife and a man with her had been murdered. The script noted “Simpson is NOT a suspect.” What made my blood run cold was not the news of the murders. It was that phrase. It might as well have been “of COURSE Simpson is not a suspect.”

The problem was, I knew Simpson was a suspect because I had not a doubt in my mind that Simpson had butchered them because I knew what all of us who worked – or had worked – in L.A. media knew – that the O.J. Simpson known to the public, to TV audiences, movie audiences, sports audiences, was an utter fabrication. I knew he had hit his wife.
I knew the authorities in Los Angeles had done nothing about it. I knew the sportscasters in Los Angeles – including me – had done nothing about it, though I wondered then and have known since that there was almost nothing WE could have done about it, legally.

I called a police source in L.A. and he was emphatic:: “whatever you do, DON’T say he’s a suspect. We’re terrified he’s going to run. This guy has make-for-the-border written all over him. Or off himself maybe. But yeah, maybe…” and he had had to stop himself from laughing… “maybe you want to drop that part about NOT a suspect. Jesus. Not a suspect? HE’S OUR ONLY SUSPECT.”

Do yourself a favour and listen in – and subscribe – to Keith Olbermann’s Countdown podcast.

Its well worth it—if only for the masterclass in snark—and great journalism.

I then had to explain it to executives – representative of the America of 1994 – who were still saying aloud “Poor O.J.” There is no comparison to Simpson’s fall in American history. And the system of the time was designed to protect him, the way the system of today protects similar scumbags.

Olbermann’s comment yesterday that “The bastard is still getting away with it, isn’t he?” rings as true now for Australian media as it did for Los Angeles media in the mid-nineties.

Yes Keith, the bastard still is getting away with it …


Despite my comment above about the apparent sympathy of much of the mainstream media towards O.J. Simpson, there are a few commentaries that provide a better perspective, including the following, both in the New York Times.