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

"What I was most impressed by with the actual Marcia Clark was how strong she seemed to be," said the former lead cops reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Courtesy of FX
'The People v. O.J. Simpson'

Prosecutor Marcia Clark was under a tremendous amount of pressure during the O.J. Simpson criminal case, but she never cried openly in court, according to the reporter who most closely covered the case.

The sixth episode of FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which aired Tuesday night and was titled "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," showed a frazzled Clark — played by Sarah Paulson — who lost control of her emotions in the courtroom. And while the episode did a fantastic job of "humanizing" the character, it did not fully capture the actual person, Jim Newton, former lead cops reporter for the Los Angeles Times, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"What I was most impressed by with the actual Marcia Clark was how strong she seemed to be. That, despite being buffeted from all kinds of directions in the middle of a case that was of such interest, ... she really seemed to hold her own and be strong and give as good as she got," says Newton, now a professor in UCLA's communication studies department and editor of the university's Blueprint magazine. "So, I felt that moment of her breaking down [in court] was humanizing in the show, but I actually think she is stronger than that suggests. Did she sniffle in a corner and I missed it? Maybe. But to me, it is not in keeping with the person whom I saw day in and day out be very strong and hold her own." 

But it is true that Clark was bombarded both in and out of the courtroom, Newton says. 

"It was never easy going against [Johnnie] Cochran. And Cochran was never as tough as he was in this case, at least in my experience," he says. "There was a very thick veneer of sexism in a lot of the coverage of [Clark]. I mean, the idea that we are actually going to have national conversations about her haircut — it was hard to believe at the time and it's hard to be reminded of it." 

Cochran is played by Courtney B. Vance in the series. 

Another aspect of the latest episode that didn't sit quite right with Newton was again the presentation of the Mark Fuhrman character, played by Steven Pasquale.

"I remain mystified by the way [the character] has come on only because ... there was never a serious debate, as far as I know, about the risks of putting him on [the stand to testify]," Newton says. "They clearly knew from the prelim on that he was a charismatic witness, but that he had these very troubling set of statements and a history that was all going to come in. So this notion of risking it, not knowing whether he's vulnerable or not, is just not true because he had testified at the prelim."

The pieces that ultimately set the character up to implode seem to be in place, but events are out of order, Newton maintains. Not showing Fuhrman on the stand during the prelim remains the largest qualm for Newton, he says. 

"I think there was legitimately a question of whether [the prosecution] would call him [to testify] at all," Newton says. "The problem with not calling him at all is then how do you introduce the glove, because he found it. So there are strong reasons to want him there because they wanted that glove in evidence. But they also knew that once they put him up there, the defense was going to go after him on the N-word and other things, so they took a gamble. And it doesn't feel to me that exact sequence of events has been captured correctly here."

However, that is not to say there are inaccuracies, Newton adds. 

"I do think they are capturing the essential fact of Fuhrman in the sense that he did get in the middle of the case, he did find the glove and he did blow up on them. That is all coming on correctly, but not coming in the way it actually unfolded."

As for the housekeeper not doing well on the stand, hurting the defense, that is accurate, Newton says. 

"It was not a good day for [the defense]," he adds. The actual testimony was longer, but the result was the same, he says. 

It is also true that reporters were looking into Cochran's past and allegations of domestic abuse, Newton says.  

"I do vaguely remember that issue coming up, and the reason I do remember that is because it was the first time I realized Cochran had been married before," he says. "Is it possible that someone at [the Times] was looking into that? Yes, absolutely."

As for the attorneys being hounded like movie stars when there were outside the courthouse, this is also accurate, Newton says. 

"There came a moment in this case where these people transcended being lawyers and became American cultural figures," he says.