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Dead Tree Alert I: O.J., the Threequel

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The front Briefing section of TIME opens with something called The Moment, which is sort of like a blog entry in print—a riff of a few paragraphs about an image or incident from the week’s news. I wrote this week’s, on the class reunion of the O.J. Simpson media industry, and I may as well reprint the whole thing here:

History, they say, plays the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. But what about the third time? In the O.J. Simpson case–recalling his 1995 trial and O.J. 2, its 1997 civil sequel–it became nostalgia. As the Juice and his cronies stood accused of robbing a memorabilia collector at gunpoint, the coverage–O.J. 3: What Happens in Vegas–had the misty tone of a high school reunion. My, his daughter has grown! Doesn’t his girlfriend look like Nicole? “A lot of these people I know from many years ago,” said Dan Abrams on MSNBC almost wistfully.

There was the class of ’95–Greta Van Susteren, Fred Goldman, Marcia Clark (reporting for Entertainment Tonight)–with thicker makeup and deeper laugh lines. There was O.J., menacing and pathetic on the leaked audiotape, a 60-year-old man allegedly staging a geezer commando raid to literally recover his past. The reminiscences, the gray hair, the reduced stakes–it’s as if you had reunited the Greatest Generation in 1957 to liberate Luxembourg.

O.J. made today’s media, after all–not just individual careers but entire channels, as well as cable’s flood-the-zone philosophy. (Natalee Holloway, Britney and K-Fed–all bigger because of O.J.) O.J. 3 was also a showcase for the outlets that sprang up after O.J.’s first trial, each, like new species of velociraptor, sharper-toothed than the last and eager now to take a bite. Fox News and MSNBC didn’t even exist circa O.J. 1, while O.J. 3′s big scoop, the hotel-room tape, was reported (i.e., purchased) by muckraker website TMZ.com (owned, like TIME, by Time Warner)–which just happens to have launched a TV spin-off show on Sept. 10.

Court TV begat Fox News begat TMZ. O.J. begat Monica begat Paris begat … O.J. again. This circle-of-life chain was a reminder of what had changed and hadn’t, not just in the media but in the audience and the world. Yes, O.J. 1 was a freak show and a painful racial divider–and two people died–but it was also an artifact of that peacetime boom between the falls of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers. Then, at least, we had the luxury of wondering whether we didn’t have bigger things to worry about. Today we know we do. And we watch–and cover–O.J. anyway, a dozen years older, not necessarily wiser.

There’s also a big pretty picture, but evidently you have to shell out for the print magazine to get that.