It is tempting to compare the Bill Cosby trial to the OJ Simpson trial. Cosby is a mega-celebrity. He’s got a lot of money and before his fall and disgrace he was much admired by millions as a man who embodied the best in fatherhood.
This is where the similarity with Simpson ends, in and out of court. There was allure to Simpson’s film and celebrated football career. But he didn’t come close to attaining the wealth and universal fame and admiration the public had for Cosby.
It was really the heavy-duty charges and their sensationalism that gripped the media and much of the public in the Simpson case for months on end. He was charged with double murder. One of the victims was his estranged wife; his white estranged wife. It was this clash of race and gender that insured that the case would be the subject of endless debate. It was the first time that a major celebrity figure had faced a double-murder charge, a capital crime. This further raised both the legal and the media stakes in the case. The TV cameras in the court captured the legal wrangling and drama in the case. This gave millions their first real glimpse into the inner workings of the court system.
Simpson’s attorneys, most notably Johnnie Cochran, had already made names for themselves in other high-profile cases before the Simpson trial. But the trial now transformed Cochran and the other principal legal combatants into major media celebrities almost overnight. It also turned the slow drift of much of the mainstream media toward tabloid sleaze sensationalism into a headlong rush. Staid mainstream publications that in times past would have back-paged a murder case, even a celebrity criminal case, morphed into the National Enquirer, Star and the legion of other tabloids. A gaggle of daytime gossipy talk shows has since successfully parlayed innuendo, rumor, half-truths and outright lies into hugely profitable ratings bonanzas.
Cochran also understood that attorney star power had colossal value in giving him the ability to spin the defense’s case and give it a positive edge. His seemingly impromptu press conferences outside of court were masterpieces in media spin.
The Simpson case dragged on so long that it spun off yet another growth industry. An array of legal and media pundits became familiar faces on nightly TV, dissecting, debating and endlessly speculating on every racial and legal tidbit of the case.
Then there was the racial divide. The Simpson case institutionalized that term. It became the requisite standard that packs of pollsters, commentators and researchers would use to quantify and analyze everything from trials to political campaigns in which a racial angle could be gleaned.
The Simpson case didn’t die after his acquittal. The mere mention of his trial more than two decades later still generates fierce debate over his guilt or innocence. A 2017 Academy Award-winning documentary stirred just as much debate over Simpson’s guilt or innocence, and the racial passions that the case ignited, as if it was yesterday.
The Cosby case didn’t come close to matching that. He was charged with sexual assault. This is not a minor charge, and he has drawn the righteous wrath and condemnation of women’s groups and sexual abuse victims. But it’s not double murder, with one of the victims being a white woman. Thus, the case has not stirred anywhere near the level of public fascination and rage as in the Simpson case.
Cosby was not jailed for months before the trial as Simpson was. His pockets were deep enough to string the start of his trial out for more than a year. During that time, he stayed virtually invisible from the media and the public eye. His legal team was a crack team. But they do not have the celebrity, and name recognition cachet that Simpson’s attorneys had.
The OJ case was the complete social, racial, celebrity, gender and tabloid package. The murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman allegedly by OJ heightened racial tensions, as well as public awareness about domestic violence. It stirred fury against the double standard of wealth and celebrity privilege in the legal system. It elevated celebrity murder cases to media tabloid sensationalism. And, it sparks furious debate about these issues, and Simpson’s guilt or innocence, decades later.
The Cosby trial has none of those things. It came and went, with the public quickly moving on. Cosby is not OJ.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author, political analyst and an associate editor of New America Media. He is author of “Cosby: The Clash of Race, Sex and Celebrity” (Amazon Kindle), weekly co-host of “The Al Sharpton Show” on Radio One and host of the weekly “Hutchinson Report” on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network. This story first appeared at huffingtonpost.com.