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Howard Rosenberg / Television

Judge Ito Feeds the Hand He's Bitten

November 16, 1994|Howard Rosenberg

The following column should not be read by jurors or prospective alternate jurors in the Simpson-Goldman case because it could prejudice their opinions about the judgment of the judge. So this is what KCBS-TV Channel 2 means by "team coverage."

The surprise is that the newest member of the "Action News" team should turn out to be Judge Lance A. Ito, the Superior Court jurist and blistering media critic who on several occasions has sternly admonished some of the press for shabby, sensational, tabloidesque coverage of the case that finds O.J. Simpson about to be tried for the knifing murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

Yes, unpredictably, unimaginably, inconceivably, here come de judge. Ito's taped appearances this week as an affable interview subject on "Action News" at 11 p.m. (they started Sunday) delivers quite a different message from the one the public is accustomed to hearing from him in the courtroom. If you can't suppress 'em, join 'em.

To put it another way, there's an ancient Japanese word that describes anti-polluter Ito's decision to appear on Channel 2 this week and merge himself with the polluters: chutzpah .

The interview of the century with the judge of the century regarding the trial of the century on the Los Angeles television station of the century? Oh, stow it! This was nothing more than typical hype of the century from "Action News," which on Monday night fit Ito and Arnold Schwarzenegger into the same newscast.

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In other times, Ito's chatty sit-down with worshipful anchor Tritia Toyota ("They have to be very proud of you," she commented to the judge about his parents Monday night) would have come and gone without comment, just one more November ratings sweeps trifle barely admissible as news. Yet as someone who has publicly pronounced his contempt for some of the press--at one point even speaking of possibly "terminating the media coverage of this case"--Ito's curious partnership with Channel 2 has him exchanging judicial garb for the robes of a hypocrite. You'd think that he was taking lessons from Michael Jackson or Tom and Roseanne by using for self-aggrandizement the very media he complains about.

If he were to favor any television news operation with his presence, you'd think he'd offer himself to one with a better record. Heading the list would be "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" on PBS, just about the only newscast anywhere not to have shrilly exploited this case in one fashion or another.

Instead, by agreeing to be interviewed on Channel 2 by Toyota (they're old pals, former Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Robert Philibosian said on ABC's "Nightline" Monday), Ito is rewarding a station whose coverage of the Simpson-Goldman case has at times been among the city's most frantic and irresponsible.

Talk about your controversies. Why, "Action News" hasn't received such attention regarding this case since it broke--and failed to correct--the erroneous blockbuster that shortly after the murders of his ex-wife and Goldman, O.J. Simpson had taken a bloody golf bag with him on a flight to Chicago. Or was it the time, more recently, that "Action News" was forced to apologize on the air for erroneously reporting--and repeatedly swearing on a stack of Bibles--that Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark had likely compromised much of the prosecution's case by an appearance she made at O.J. Simpson's Brentwood estate during an early search of the house and grounds?

It turned out that not only was Channel 2 way off about the time of Clark's appearance, but it also had vastly overstated the implications even if she had arrived at the Simpson place when it said she did.

So . . . this is the station that Ito has selected for his "exclusive" interview debut, rewarding it for past reporting indiscretions matched in this case only by the sometimes shoddy work of KNBC-TV Channel 4.

In doing so, he's boosted Channel 2 during the sweeps, one of those four months a year of intense audience measurement that help set advertising rates.

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Dribbled out like a trail of bread crumbs for viewers to follow, Ito's interview has been deployed as a sort of sweeps serial, accompanied by the inevitable gaudy promotion, ranging from full-page newspaper ads to on-air glorifications.

Thus, Channel 2 has shrewdly used the Ito interview to juice its 11 p.m. newscast, an especially critical half hour because of its position preceding "Late Show With David Letterman." Theoretically, the better the 11 p.m. newscast does in the ratings, the more viewers it delivers to the Letterman show.

The in-house verdict on the Ito appearances from ever-prim 11 p.m. anchor Ann Martin, who always sounds as if she's doing the news with a teacup balanced on her knee?

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