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TV News Anchors Question O.J. Simpson’s Sincerity at Parole Hearing

Variety logo Variety 7/20/2017 Brian Steinberg
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Four members of a Nevada parole board agreed to grant freedom to former football great O.J. Simpson on Thursday, but the controversial figure known as “The Juice” might be thankful they weren’t watching any of the TV news coverage of the hearing. Anchors and analysts ranging from George Stephanopoulos to Lester Holt to Geraldo Rivera openly questioned whether Simpson sounded contrite enough, or was overly combative.

Both Stephanopoulos, who was anchoring a special report for ABC News, and Holt, who anchored a report for NBC News, wondered aloud whether Simpson was attempting to, as Stephanopoulos said, “re-litigate” the case, based on a 2008 sentence for robbery of sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel room. Simpson appeared “unprepared,” noted Stephanopouolos. On NBC, Holt wondered if Simpson’s combativeness early on in attempting to explain the circumstances of the case to parole board members, would be mitigated by an air of contrition that only appeared during some of his late remarks to the officials.

Many on-air correspondents prefaced the hearing suggesting a decision for parole was Simpson’s to lose. On MSNBC, Cynthia McFadden listed criteria that parole board members would use, noting that Simpson had met many of them. Even Rivera, who on Fox News Channel noted that Simpson in his view remained “a race-baiting narcissist” and that “I have nothing but contempt for him,” acknowledged parole was likely.

Simpson was acquitted in the infamous 1994 murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman. The case captured international attention for months, but left Simpson living in disgrace, with many observers believing the one-time athlete would have been convicted if not for the work of a high-profile team of lawyers during the high-profile trial that had viewers fascinated by every twist and turn. Simpson in 1997 lost a civil lawsuit filed by the Brown and Goldman families and has only paid a small portion of damages awarded that total approximately $33.5 million.

The fury of coverage around the parole hearing sent TV news outlets scurrying from one can’t miss story cycle to another, as CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and even CNBC put aside the usual wall-to-wall coverage of controversies swirling around the Trump administration in favor of a new look at a decades-long tale that has continued to intrigue.

Even after the parole hearing had been handed down in Simpson’s favor, TV anchors and analysts wondered aloud if the celebrity would be able to stay out of prison. “His life will be more seedy and less luxurious,” said CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin, author of a book about Simpson’s legal woes. He said he expected Simpson would live his life surrounded by memorabilia “leeches,” upon whom he would rely for regular income. “I think he can’t personally stay away from the limelight,” said ABC News’ Dan Abrams.

But Simpson’s senior-citizen status could help keep him out of trouble, said Christopher Darden, a former prosecutor in the murder case who offered analysis on Thursday to NBC News and MSNBC. “The best indicator he could be successful in his parole is his age,” he said.

No matter the network, most anchors acknowledged Simpson’s story might have reached a new and final chapter. “A long, long sentence will be ending,” said CBS News anchor Anthony Mason.

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