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Oklahoma shows where our attention should really be


Remember Kato?

OK. You remember him. You just don't care about him anymore. Or about rogue cop Mark Fuhrman. Or rogue criminalist Dennis Fung. Or rogue juror Jeanette Harris.

It doesn't seem to matter these days whether kindly Judge Ito has turned into nasty Judge Ito or even into one of the Judge Ito dancers.

For better or worse, O.J. mania is over, at least for now.

And, if we look back at it, our obsession seems silly, small, almost shameful.

We've moved on from O.J., which is less a murder trial than a celebrity soap opera and also an indictment of the nuttiness that is Los Angeles. We've moved away from trial-as-spectacle to Oklahoma City and the bombing, which seems to be about a pathology of hate that could threaten us all.

Two weeks ago, you couldn't possibly have imagined a news story that would move the O.J. trial so far from our minds.

But even as the sequestered Simpson jury seemed ready to implode, the story retreated to the back pages. CNN switched from the courtroom to the death scene. It would be hard to go back.

Yet, there are similarities between the two stories, most of which say regrettable things about us. The most important similarity is the voyeurism central to both. We are, if nothing else, a nation of voyeurs.

And the media -- yes, I know, I'm a card-carrying member -- are oh so willing to oblige this craving. On the most recent cover of Newsweek is a full-blown color picture of a blood-splattered baby. The magazine's philosophy must be that the audience wants to see everything, and see it immediately.

That must have been the same philosophy that drove the Michigan TV station to show the raid on the Nichols' farmhouse live. There was, apparently, a real chance of bloodshed after all.

There seem to be no limits, or even guidelines, in matters of taste. In the early aftermath of the bombing, the rescuers would come on the air to give us periodic updates. And the newscasters, serious newscasters, even the sainted Ted Koppel, would demand from the rescuers word pictures of the scene, where the cameras weren't yet allowed.

You know what they were after. They wanted somebody to say there were body parts dangling here and there was gore splattered over there. Interestingly, the rescuers wouldn't play along. Maybe that says something good about us, or at least about the kind of good people who spend their lives rescuing others.

But Oklahoma City is not simply about pictures and funerals and speeches. The bombing, we soon figured out, was about something important, about something essential.

And then, of course, there were the babies. Always the babies. Could we ever begin to understand anyone who would blow up a building knowing there were babies inside?

One theory has it that if this was revenge for Waco -- in which many children died -- the bombers wanted a literal eye for an eye. Meaning they knew of the day-care center. Knew there were children. Knew babies would die. Wanted babies to die.

From the beginning, the children made this story impossible to put aside.

Now is the time of the funerals. It's also a time to examine the para-military groups that exist on the fringes of our society. And the hateful words that exist everywhere in our society. And questions of security vs. freedom, always a hard balance to strike and maybe more important than whether Mary Anne Gerchas ever passed any bad checks or if a white juror once stepped on a black juror's foot.

What has marked the O.J. trial is that no detail has been too small for someone to notice. How seriously do you take a trial when the prosecutor's hairstyle becomes a running story?

You may have noticed that to this point I haven't mentioned Nicole Brown Simpson or Ronald Goldman. Their murders were important, of course. But there are thousands of murders every year in this country. The Simpson case was never really about the victims. That's why late-night comics can do O.J. jokes. There's no humor available from Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma City bombings were all about the victims. And the reason this story won't let go is that, even as we watch the rescue squads comb the bombed-out building and even as we pray over the dead, we know that somehow we've all been victimized, too.

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