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American Crime Story‘s handling of a central figure in the O.J. Simpson murder trial is puzzling to the reporter who most closely covered the case.
Jim Newton, former lead cops reporter for the Los Angeles Times, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the presentation of Mark Fuhrman seemed somewhat off in the fifth episode of FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, titled “The Race Card,” which aired Tuesday.
“The reason that Fuhrman’s ultimate self-destruction was so significant in the real case is that he had emerged as such a central figure in the prelim,” says Newton, now a professor in UCLA’s communication studies department and editor of the university’s Blueprint magazine. “I am surprised and a little bit puzzled as to why they skipped that step and why we’re getting our glimpses of Fuhrman in the order we’re getting them.”
Fuhrman, played by Steven Pasquale, was the LAPD detective who found one of the bloody gloves. His part in the actual case was small in comparison to the rest of the featured characters in the show, but he was perceived as a central figure by the world because he had a strong performance on the stand during the prelim, which was followed by an article — written by Jeffrey Toobin who also wrote the book the FX series is based on — exposing Fuhrman as a racist.
“It is not so much that [the show] is inaccurate, it’s more that it’s puzzling to me because they skipped what seems to be an easy step in the process, the prelim, and by doing so, they kind of wiped out the context for his character,” Newton tells THR.
As for that closing scene of the Fuhrman character cleaning his Nazi memorabilia case, that seemed like a little much, according to Newton.
“I don’t really know how demented Fuhrman was or is. He was a bad police officer. He created real problems for this case. But did he actually polish his swastikas on the weekend? I sort of doubt it. I don’t know, but it felt over the top to me,” he says.
Another over-the-top moment in the episode was the courtroom collapse of prosecutor William Hodgman.
“I think my recollection is that he had some sort of pains after one of the day’s proceedings, but I would have remembered if he’d passed out in court,” Newton says. “It’s true in the fact the he was suffering from regular stress, and it’s true he needed medical attention at one point, but I think they dramatized it to make it happen in front of you.”
However, another courtroom scene was perfectly nailed, according to Newton: The argument whether to allow the N-word to be used during the trial. It really happened, and it was profound, especially for Newton, he remembers.
“That hearing was a powerful one for me,” he says. The late Times reporter Andrea Ford, an African-American, worked with Newton on the case. Newton recalls the two colleagues having different reactions to the hearing.
“When I first heard [Christopher] Darden’s argument, I found it persuasive,” he says. “I thought that the word was so vile, that it would be distracting to have it in the courtroom. And Andrea came out of it with exactly the opposite impression, that it was condescending to assume that African-Americans couldn’t hear the word and still be fair. And I think that she was right and I was wrong. And it was a reminder that we could hear the exact same words and contextually really hear them very differently.”
Along those same lines, Darden, played by Sterling K. Brown, and Johnnie Cochran, played by Courtney B. Vance, really did have a good amount of tension between them. But maybe not quite as much as the episode suggests, Newton says.
“I don’t recall it being so grossly confrontational as the show portrayed it,” he says. “It is certainly true that Darden was uncomfortable in the position he was put in and that Johnnie really rubbed that in. Johnnie styled himself as the defender of the black community in this case, … and since Darden was on the other side of it, that put him in the uncomfortable situation of Cochran being able to bait him. So that notion that the two were at odds, and that was at the center of it, is absolutely true.”
Newton says he still sees Darden from time to time.
“He is still pretty unhappy about the outcome of the case and the way it was portrayed in the press, the way he was portrayed in the case,” he says.
It is also true that Cochran altered Simpson’s house for the jury visit, Newton says.
“Johnnie put some of his stuff in the house,” Newton recalls with a chuckle. Although he was not there that day, Newton says Simpson likely went with the jury to the house as was his right to be present at all proceedings. However, it is unclear if the confrontational bench interaction between Simpson and Darden actually occurred.
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