'The People v. O.J. Simpson': How Accurate Was the Second Episode?

"It seems to me that they are being fairly careful to be within the boundaries— with a little bit of dramatic license — to what actually happened."
Courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/FX
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

The second episode of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story aired Tuesday and shed some much needed light on an interesting fact, former case reporter Jim Newton recalled to The Hollywood Reporter

Now a UCLA professor in the communication studies department and editor of the university's Blueprint magazine, Newton covered the LAPD for the Los Angeles Times and was the lead reporter of the Simpson criminal case.

The second episode, titled "The Run of His Life," dealt mostly with the famous car chase that unfolded on live TV as Simpson was driven around Los Angeles by friend Al Cowlings. 

The depiction of Simpson almost being shot by police that evening was accurate, Newton said. 

"SWAT did deploy to the house as portrayed in the episode," he said. "They had a negotiator, as they always do, and they had a shooter in the case that Simpson raised the weapon and threatened anyone or raised it in such a way that felt threatening to them. So in that sense, yes, he did come that close to being shot."

Still, Simpson never raised the gun and only exited the vehicle with framed pictures of his children as depicted in the show. However, the episode showed police believing Simpson had a gun when he got out of the car due to the shiny frames. 

"I don't recall there being any confusion when he exited the vehicle. I think he left the gun in the car and they were comfortable that he had," Newton said. 

One of the surprises — or at least it seemed to be by those reacting to the episode of social media — was that there were in fact two White Broncos -- Simpson owned one and so did Cowlings, who is portrayed in the series by Malcolm-Jamal Warner. Newton said he was glad that fact was addressed in the episode. 

"I am personally quite grateful that they made that point because for years I have heard from people who asked why LAPD let Simpson have his Bronco back, and of course that is not what happened," he said. "There are people out there who think that the LAPD was in some fashion complicit or sloppy in all of this. And for those people, the alleged fact that they gave Simpson back his car is evidence to that effect. But, that in fact did not happen and the show happily makes that clear."

Still, there was something about the episode Newton was not pleased with — the depiction of Robert Shapiro.

"I think he was portrayed as sort of a dandy in this episode and that is certainly unfair," he said. 

Shapiro, played by John Travolta, did not "grasp the racial dimensions" of the case the same way Johnnie Cochran did, but that did not make him a poor lawyer or one completely obsessed with his own reputation. 

"I think the show is a little cruel to Shapiro in a way that's not really justified," he said. 

Newton had to chuckle at two moments in Tuesday's episode that appear to be "inside jokes": People not knowing who the Kardashian family was and district attorney Gil Garcetti, played by Bruce Greenwood, saying he wanted to run for L.A. mayor. 

"Now the Kardashian name is so well-known, it's hard to imagine a time when no one had ever heard of them," he said "And Gil Garcetti saying that he is planning to run for mayor now that Eric Garcetti (his son) is in fact that mayor, I don't know whether either of those things are true. They could be entirely factual, but they both felt to me like they are kind of one-liners." 

Still, Newton said he was confident it was an LAPD official, not Garcetti, who publicly declared Simpson a fugitive when he did not turn himself in to police.

As with the premiere episode, Newton said he was pleased with how the latest installment was presented.

"I appreciate steps they they have taken to be faithful to what happened, but I also realize it is not a documentary and they don't have to. So these little compressions or having one person say what another person might have said, don't really bother me as a viewer," he said. "It seems to me that they are being fairly careful to be within the boundaries — with a little bit of dramatic license — to what actually happened." 

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