Ex-prosecutor adjusting to role covering Simpson case


LOS ANGELES -- Twelve years after Marcia Clark heard jurors pronounce O.J. Simpson innocent of murder, the former prosecutor carried her enduring guilt into another courtroom with the ex-football star.

This time, Clark was the most startling member of the media pack covering Simpson's Las Vegas felony arrest. As legal correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," she had the chance to tell the world what she thinks of Simpson -- and she used it.

"Just seeing him back in court again, facing charges. I can't believe it. It's just surreal," she said in an interview. "He skated on two murder charges, and he managed to get out of other charges of much lesser gravity since then. How did he manage to get himself back in trouble again?

"How stupid do you have to be?"

On the air, Clark's voice drips with more disgust. She dismissed Simpson's book, "If I Did It," as "hideous" and "all a lie." Indirectly addressing his girlfriend Christine Prody, a Nicole Brown-lookalike who stood by him in court Wednesday, Clark said: "It made me sick to my stomach. Do you not realize you could be next?"

Even with the elastic boundaries observed by TV entertainment news shows, Clark's history with Simpson makes her a unique figure -- and, according to journalism experts, someone playing a questionable role by acting as reporter as well as analyst.

Calling on Simpson's onetime prosecutor to offer opinion is one thing, they said; detached reporting is another.

"It's not hard, no matter where one stood on the murder trial, to question how she could be an independent and fair reporter," said Bob Steele, a senior journalism ethics faculty member at the Poynter Institute.

The TV programs she's working for represent nontraditional news outlets, acknowledged Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"Clearly, 'Entertainment Tonight' is a good example of the 'infotainment' culture that doesn't necessarily abide by what we consider to be the harder and faster rules of mainstream journalism," Jurkowitz said.

But that doesn't absolve such shows of adhering to key journalistic principles, he said. Steele concurred.

"When they're reporting on legal matters ... they should measure up to the highest standards in terms of professionalism and ethics because the stakes are great," Steele said.

Clark said it's fair to question whether she can be impartial about Simpson; she acknowledged that she constantly feels "terribly guilty that I lost" the murder case.

A jury found Simpson innocent of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. In a subsequent civil case, he was found liable for their deaths and ordered to pay $33.5 million.

But Clark said she separates her feelings about Simpson from her reporting for "Entertainment Tonight" and its sister show.

Clark, who represents defendants in California appellate cases and is at work on a novel and TV pilots, said her legal training allows her to view any case with an open mind.

"I have the ability to stand back as a lawyer and be objective about the case and say, 'You've got him or you don't got him. You've got the evidence or you don't,' " she said.

Linda Bell Blue, executive producer for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," defended Clark's work.

"Marcia Clark has strong feelings about O.J. Simpson. That being said, Marcia is a former prosecutor who knows the law and believes the accused has a right to a fair trial. She would be the last person who wants someone innocent convicted of a crime they did not commit," Bell Blue said in a statement.

Clark has covered other celebrity cases for "Entertainment Tonight," including Robert Blake's unsuccessful prosecution for his wife's murder.

Reporting on Simpson was far different. (Whether her work on the case continues is up to the show's producers, she said.)

"It was like standing outside myself, saying, 'Wow, this is what other people saw when I was in trial, this is the other view of him,' " Clark said after attending Simpson's bail hearing Wednesday.

"I did wonder what it was like from the point of view of everybody else -- the courtroom, the families, the press," she said, recalling Simpson's nation-enthralling murder trial.

She had no doubt about what the verdict should have been in 1995. In Simpson's new case, she said, she isn't sure.

"The tape is very damning," she said, referring to an audiotape of Simpson's confrontation with those he's accused of robbing. "My attitude is, 'Let's see what else you've got.' "

 

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