Last month’s Oscar ceremony will be remembered for the controversy and farce that was inevitably called ‘Envelopegate’ by the press. Despite the Best Picture award eventually being handed to the most deserving of the nominations: Moonlight, the most notable other winner of the night in the documentary category. O.J Simpson – Made in America was for me, despite its 8 hours of running time, the most watchable. Hard to believe it is more than 20 years since America was gripped by what would be called the trial of the century. I spent three weeks in Florida during the eight and a half month long event and remember that everywhere you went, especially bars or restaurants the trial was unfolding on TV.
Photo by Hendrik-Jan Grievink
To be absolutely honest I was not really interested back then, I was in Florida for the sunshine not some boring TV court case, although even I was a little surprised when the not-guilty verdict was announced some weeks after I returned to London. I will not spoil it for anyone who wants to watch the documentary if I say it showed how escaping justice by manipulating a jury was possible in America if you had enough money and you know how to play up to the media. Simpson, who had brutally murdered his ex-wife and her lover, left footprints, his own blood at the scene and had famously even carried the blood of his victims back to his house on a single glove that became the most important piece of evidence for both the inept prosecution and the defence team.
Despite O.J Simpson having very few black friends and seemingly no interest whatsoever in the civil rights movement, his team of high priced lawyers shamelessly and relentlessly played the “Race Card” to the predominantly black jury. Almost all of the jurors came from the parts of Los Angeles that had been beset with racial unrest and riots – most notably after the video recorded beating of Rodney King just a few years earlier. So the trial verdict was never about whether Simpson did or didn’t cold bloodedly murder two people. It became, under the careful manipulation of the Jury by the top lawyers in the land, nothing less than all oppressed black people verses LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department). The most nauseating part of which, was during the summing up where the civil rights lawyer Johnnie Cochran all but told the Jury that this was probably the only time in their life that they could give the LAPD a bloody nose and also suggested that if they found Simpson guilty then they would have probably sided with Adolf Hitler in World War Two.
O.J Simpson was acquitted but the jubilation of the legal dream team did not last long as it dawned on them that outside of black dominated city downtown areas, the rest of the country rightly believed that Simpson was as guilty as hell. This would to a certain degree tarnish these lawyers reputations, mark them out as a little bent. But what happens when you completely control the media and have no worries about attracting future business or qualms that most of your lies and embellishments will ever be exposed?
If the media machine in Russia is to be trusted about 80% of Russians believe Vladimir Putin is doing a good job… that is 80% of Russians approached in the street by strangers asking them, usually in front of a small crowd of people waving patriotic flags: “do you or don’t you approve of our president?” Nothing untoward affecting the impartiality there then… Such is the careful manipulation of Putin’s macho image that an online poll of Russians in January suggested that almost half of the people questioned believed that the photo below was not actually photo-shopped!
Photo care of The Noyendov Trust
However, what is more surprising in a country where most forms of dissent and criticism are ruthlessly crushed is the result from the question asking about the next presidential election. When asked by GALLUP: “Are you confident about the honesty of elections in Russia?” less than 36% said they were, and this despite the above flag waving scenario playing out around them. So what I wonder would be the answer if people were asked these same questions and allowed to answer anonymously like in a secret ballot or any other normal election around the world in countries whose leaders are not ruthless dictators? My suspicion is they would be just the same, because it is often not the voter that counts in a dictatorship but rather how the votes are counted and by whom.
Dictatorships often thrive under the legitimacy afforded them by a thin veneer of democracy. Even Saddam Hussein had elections, albeit with only one name on the ballot, but elections that in 2002 returned almost 100% support for him. A lot of African dictators do the same thing, perhaps most notably Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who despite turning his country from the breadbasket of Africa into a basket-case economy for decades, still holds onto power by winning apparent landslide majorities. This is because crucially he clings onto the election process by banning foreign journalists and the election monitors he cannot manipulate. Such is the man’s megalomania and arrogance that only last month his wife declared, with some confidence that Mugabe, who at 93 displays clear symptoms of age related degenerative mental illness, would still win the next election even if he was dead.
Photo by j-No
Turkey, despite its ongoing state of emergency and its ever more polarised population remains a democratic country. However, with mainstream media cowed by draconian government restrictions in recent years most news channels seem to be saturated by appearances and speeches by President Erdogan and other government ministers hectoring Turks to vote ‘Yes’ in next month’s referendum, which could see parliament’s executive powers handed over to the President. So with most opposition media effectively shut down or gagged the battle for votes is increasingly being waged online. “Unfortunately the ‘No’ supporters don’t have much opportunity to get their message across on television channels or other media,” said actor Baris Atay, who was castigated by pro-government newspapers for a social media video in which he says “no to one-man rule, fascism and dictatorship.” It seems “Saying ‘Yes’, siding with Erdogan, and being a nationalist is thinking of the country’s future, but saying ‘No’ is being a provocateur, a traitor and a terrorist – this is the perception they’re trying to establish,” he told Reuters.
Things have changed dramatically since the days of the O.J. Simpson trial and one only wonders how his ‘dream team’ of lawyers would have harnessed today’s 24/7 online media if it was around then. There was a time many, many weeks ago, when free thinkers and people opposed to the worlds troubling slide into Putinesque dictatorships, would have looked to the US President for a calm and measured lead. But it seems Donald Trump has failed to cure himself of the Twitter incontinence/ incompetence that was a feature of his election campaign. He still uses it to distract us from his many failings and bullying nature with an avalanche of fake news. Back In the old days… (2016) we used to call fake news, what it really is: lies.
When we hear more and more disturbing revelations about his ongoing ‘bro-mance’ with Putin or how Donald and his family are cashing in big time like at his Florida club, where he spends most weekends, by doubling its membership fees; all he has to do is create yet another smoke screen, with 140 characters of Twitter nonsense to throw the media off the real story yet again. Last week he sent the ever more gullible US press corps down yet another rabbit hole chasing a ridiculous story that tried to suggest that Barack Obama had conducted a covert Watergate style surveillance operation against him without offering a sliver of proof. So with that in mind I was almost surprised that he didn’t at least attempt to spin that silly Envelopegate saga around until it somehow implicated Obama… although in this un-Brave New World of lies, fake news and wannabe despots, there is still plenty of time of course.