About 2,200 members of the media have received credentials to cover Michael Jackson’s trial — more than the O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson murder trials combined and enough to form a vast, humming tent city outside the modest courthouse.
Reporters from every continent but Antarctica are covering a story that has attracted perhaps the largest-ever media contingent for a criminal trial.
The satellite trucks and portable toilets function at all hours, since foreign correspondents must file past midnight to meet deadlines an ocean away.
Major TV networks have committed dozens of staff members. Nearly four miles of television cables snake around the complex. The explosion of phone calls that a verdict will trigger prompted some news organizations to install land lines for fear the region’s cell networks could become jammed.
The reporters do their work as Jackson fans crowded behind a chain-link fence hurl insults. On Thursday, Court TV anchor Diane Dimond was granted a restraining order barring an 18-year-old man from interfering with her work.
As jury deliberations in the child-molestation case reached the one-week mark Friday, about half of the credentialed crew of media members milled around outside.
The crowd of reporters is distinctly international, a reminder that Jackson’s popularity remains intense outside the United States. News organizations from more than 30 countries are here.
“This trial is the perfect intersection of sex, crime and celebrity,” said Jonathan Wilcox, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism. “It makes it very much one-of-a-kind for the media.”
'Insatiable'The salacious details are selling newspapers in Britain, where Jackson has a large fan base.
“The appetite for Michael Jackson is insatiable,” said Graeme Massie, who has covered the trial for Splash, a British news agency. “In the U.S., people may believe that Jackson’s star has fallen, but in Europe it still shines brightly.”
The case is also being watched closely in Japan, which is considering using a jury system.
“People in Japan are interested in the King of Pop, but they also want to know how the jury will treat celebrities,” said Wataru Ezaki, who works for a Japanese news organization in Southern California. “They want to see if jurors can be fair. It’s a very unique case.”
Time for farewellsThough the press corps has swollen since the case went to the jury last week, many reporters relocated to this city of 88,000 for all the trial’s four months.
For them, there is a weekly poker night, where one Los Angeles Times reporter has cleaned out his colleagues. Other diversions have included karaoke and mechanical bull riding, a challenge one female British TV producer mastered better than her American counterparts.
Reporters also have come to rely on eatmj.com, a gastronomical guide of eateries around town, created especially for the media.
Although many reporters look forward to the trial’s end, some admit they will be sad to see their colleagues go.
“It feels a little bit like the end of summer camp,” Massie said. “It’s a long time to be away from home, but you also get to meet people from different walks of life and get their opinion on things.”