THE JACKSON TRIAL: Looking Back
By Peter Shaplen/Santa Maria Courthouse Producer & Media
It was time.
When it came time to leave, we left though more quietly
than might have been expected.
For those in the media who covered the Jackson trial, when
the end came, the trial ended without the bang that was so
Not guilty on all counts meant quite simply, "Game Over."
Like that. There would be no remand, or probation and sentencing,
or appellate filings, c'est finis.
More than a year of work from indictment to pretrial, from
jury selection to trial to deliberations had simply concluded.
Like that. Period Not so much a boom or a bang as it seemed
to me to be the sound of air escaping from a rapidly deflating
For those in the media community who had become so fond of
one another as colleagues and confidants, 6 months of trial
ended with as sudden and swift a blow as an executioner's
Jim Moret of Inside Edition compared it to "the end of
summer camp." The last dance the last flirtatious
grin the last exchange of email address and cell phones
and promises to "stay in touch" and "see you
OJ was more than a decade past.
Peterson though more recent was an ersatz event.
Each guilty verdict reverberated in the cheers of the Jackson
fans that was clearly heard in the courthouse lobby, and the
media's remaining time could be measured with a stopwatch
with the minutes ticking away in double-time.
The fans - loud joyful euphoric but then,
as soon as Mr. Jackson was whisked away in his black SUV caravan,
they too vanished.
Off to the gates at Neverland or back to their lives, they
were gone from their sentry posts along the chain link fence
that served as their barrier at the county complex.
Their absence was as eerie as it was complete.
Then it was our turn.
Within hours, reporter's packages edited and sent for broadcast,
their live shots completed, the first media left too. Back
to Los Angeles for flights to Europe or to Mexico City or
the east coast but certainly to homes far away.
Reporters put away their notebooks. Producers their kits.
Crews and engineers packed their gear, the cameras and lights
and tripods, and off they went.
Within hours satellite trucks had disengaged their tangled
mass of cables and had left for the next assignment. Global
Link, then three from CNN. NBC's Cowboy was off to Ft. Worth;
Beach Boy was not long in lifting its anchor. Trucks returned
to Boston; camera crews to their ports as far away as Seattle
and San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, Denver &
BBC regrouped as staff dashed to Los Angeles, Washington
and London; Heathrow was home for SKY, INT among others.
And with each departure, there was an echoing silence at the
courthouse in Santa Maria, except for the birds.
Hundreds of them. Noisy too. We had heard them in the courtyard
at a few quiet moments but the din of journalists and the
artificial noise of generators and the vibes of so many individuals
tended to overwhelm the birds.
But no longer.
Last week in the days following the verdict, the birds
were determined to reclaim their courtyard, their trees, their
homes. They demanded to be heard. Their songs had been silenced
too long. Their chirps and calls filled the skies.
Now, after the end of the People vs. Michael Joe Jackson,
there isn't much evidence of a story that brought 2,300 journalists,
hundreds of fans, and millions of dollars to the community.
Gone vanished with little trace of our presence
except memories and unfinished expense reports.
Work crews last weekend cleaned up the remaining miles of
cable, fiber, and garbage including broken chairs, discarded
pizza boxes and barrels of recyclable soda cans and bottles.
Six dumpsters were sufficient to eliminate any trace that
we had been there that we had occupied a parking lot
and declared the plaza was a media work area.
Not that the media went slinking away; not that we were skulking
that the story had failed to end with a bang of a conviction
or had petered out with an acquittal, we just did our jobs
Reporters and crews and editors to their next story; truck
ops to their next assignment; specialists and experts back
to their private practices or school posts; all returned to
their lives as if the interruption of the Jackson trial was
merely a momentary distraction.
In the geologic time of many individual's careers, it was
far more momentous. When viewed in the course of news
or of justice
it is little more than a blip. Viewed
individually it is far richer
Yes, there were individual events to be savored. Within the
media community, several romances were kindled; a few ended.
Other events might as well be forgotten, though some time
will be required before that might be achieved. There were
at least two arrests. Several individuals lost their jobs
at least 3, perhaps others.
It was an encampment 6 months of the richest of moments,
accomplishments, story coups and jobs well done for the most
The encampment has ended the tents folded and stored
in the bowels of gargantuan trucks or field shops that look
more like the set in the last scene of "Raiders of the
Lost Ark" all awaiting the next assignment.
Memories rich and textured and experiences
complex and yet to even be sorted out promotions garnered
and soon to be announced moments shared.
A final word: thank you. Thank you for the graciousness you
all shared with one another. May we have the opportunity to
share such an experience again soon and often.