O.J. Simpson goes to court in Las Vegas, where he is to be arraigned on multiple felony charges that include theft, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Simpson was seeking sports memorabilia bearing his name and likeness. All the drama has caught the attention of commentator Judy Muller.
O.J. Simpson — arrested again!
As headlines go, this one is both provocative and predictable.
Provocative because of the O. Henry-like nature of a story come full circle: a narcissistic former athlete acquitted of a double homicide allegedly brought down by a petty craving for his own sports memorabilia.
Predictable because O.J. Simpson is one of those newsmakers who return to the media spotlight with the regularity of swallows to Capistrano.
And for all those O.J. watchers of old (myself included) it's hard to resist a little adrenalin rush when yet another shoe drops — Bruno Magli, of course.
Even so, I find myself fighting the addictive pull of the predictable.
It feels tawdry, this tabloid high. I am reminded of Thoreau's scorn for the news junkies of his time — the townspeople near his beloved Walden Pond who just had to know the latest.
"If we read of one man robbed or murdered," he wrote, "...or one house burned, we never need read of another. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances? To a philosopher," he concluded, "all news is gossip."
Since I make a living at this stuff, I would never go that far. But Thoreau had a point. Some news items are downright reeking of déjà vu: Wars that turn into quagmires a la Vietnam, moralizing Republicans hoisted on their own petards, reform-minded Democrats caught up in fund-raising scandals. And, of course, O.J. Simpson, in a category all his own.
Certainly we are acquainted with the principles behind all these stories: abuse of power, hypocrisy, greed, a craving for justice.
But in feasting so often on these recycled themes, do news consumers pass up more substantive fare?
How about some health care reform! Too dry?
How about a big warm serving of climate change? A bit too depressing, perhaps, to qualify as a so-called water-cooler topic even though, of course, water — too much or too little — is precisely the point.
But that's years away. Plenty of time. Meanwhile, you can hear the audio tape of O.J.'s screaming match over his memorabilia on the Internet — right now.
Judy Muller is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. She covered O.J. Simpson's double-homicide trial in the '90's.