Patterico's Pontifications


The O.J. Posts — Part Seven: The Microscope Effect

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:00 am

[This is Part Seven of a series of posts on the O.J. Simpson trial. Part One is here; Part Two is here; Part Three is here; Part Four is here; Part Five is here; Part Six is here.]

I have a theory: put anything in life under an intense microscope — anything — and you can find questions. Especially if you want to find them, and you proceed off of incomplete information and jump to conclusions.

The JFK assassination is a perfect case in point. It seems clear to me, and I think to most rational people who have looked at the evidence, that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. There is no tricky magic bullet theory. Conspiracy theorists who channel Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone and argue that a bullet had to defy the laws of physics — well, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

But such a microscope has been put to the JFK case that there are a million theories floating out there. Many rely on misstatements of the evidence and misunderstandings of the basics of the case. But when there are a gazillion theories floating around, and a gazillion people talking about the case, you’re almost certain to pick up misinformation along the way. When there is a feature film devoted to twisting the available facts, it certainly doesn’t help matters.

I call it the Microscope Effect. If you put anything under a microscope, you can come out with the wildest theories.

The O.J. case, in my opinion, suffers from a huge case of the Microscope Effect. One way you can tell is that people ignore simple theories based on basic evidence in favor of huge, unwieldy conspiracies that could never be kept together in real life. Or they focus on one piece of evidence at a time without looking at the big picture.

Look at the comments over the last few days and you’ll see examples of this.

It’s the Microscope Effect. It happened with JFK and it happened with O.J.

17 Responses to “The O.J. Posts — Part Seven: The Microscope Effect”

  1. Nice series of articles, P.
    For myself, pulling back from the microscope, and in addition to the evidence heard at both trials, one thing always stood out:
    USC hero…Heisman trophy winner…
    NFL season rushing record holder and Hall of famer…highly charismatic by virtually every standard…this appeared to be a man without a speck of a self-esteem problem…
    …A heralded retirement from football into a nice life of acting and being “O.J.”, along with a family in LA., and being adored by all, including, apparently some of the LA cops who responded to his house on the previous domestic incident(s).
    This is a guy who pretty much had his way all of the time from his USC days…

    And then after his wife is brutally murdered, he evaded the police during “the chase”, while putting a gun to his head and threatening sucide.

    Not the actions of an innocent man.

    AB (f4bde8)

  2. patterico’s post actually tells us very little, there’s something called a microscope effect, seen in the o.j. case, comparable to the jfk assassination. i don’t think the two cases are comparable at all.
    i was a small boy when jfk was shot, but i remember it. along with the rest of the country, i learned a lot that day. retrospectively, it appears as a significant loss of collective innocence in america, the day things started to go south.
    the jfk assassination was actually important. o.j. was high-profile and endlessly titillating, but this does not equate to importance. at the end of the day, it was just a real-life opera played out for our amusement and distraction, with a cast including one of the world’s most famous professional athletes. west-side swells coking, whoring, and finally cutting. the legal resolution was interesting, answering the core question of legal observers: is it possible that someone so obviously guilty of murder could be acquitted anyway, and if so, how?
    the case for oswald acting alone isn’t as strong as the case for o.j.’s guilt. oswald had been to the soviet union at a time very few americans had travelled there. we don’t know who put him up to what, and the clearest conclusion in 2006 is that we will never find out.
    i don’t have a lot of respect for oliver stone, i skipped that movie because i saw no potential for elucidation. the story eventually overcomes the truth on this planet. the closest we can ever come to finding the truth is by examining the wavefront propagating from the event at the speed of light. a good story fills the void and becomes accepted as truth, the way we accept that mark antony got up before the roman senators and riled them against the conspirators after the death of julius caesar, and that richard iii really did kill the little york princes and all those other people. shakespeare said it, i believe it and that settles it. oliver stone is no shakespeare.

    assistant devil's advocate (f3c2ab)

  3. Your efforts on rehashing the OJ fiasco can be describer as “Grinding water”. Nothing will change.

    art zimmerman (bf6730)

  4. Vincent Bugliosi’s book on the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, states that one of his main difficulties was to convince the jury that Manson could have such a hold over his Family that he could send them out to commit ghastly killings of complete strangers. Yet doesn’t something very similar happen in wartime? Young men who have only the haziest understanding of the conflict are sent out to kill complete strangers in nasty ways.

    dchamil (e542a4)

  5. There is no tricky magic bullet theory. Conspiracy theorists who channel Jim Garrison and Oliver Stone and argue that a bullet had to defy the laws of physics — well, they just don’t know what they’re talking about.

    One of the main problems with the MBT is that Connally testified to the Warren Commission that after the first bullet that hit JFK (the one that hit him in the neck), he was not hit yet. He said he turned to look at what was happening and was then hit. According to them the bullet that went through JFK’s neck also hit (and nearly killed) John Connally, wounding his chest, wrist and thigh. The Warren Commission concluded that he was hit but didn’t know it.

    Gerald A (2728c7)

  6. The police made mistakes, as did the prosecution. The biggest mistake was assuming the jurors would automatically believe their story. Nobody thought to see if the gloves fit?

    Did anyone follow up leads to see if another might be involved? Either with Simpson, or instead of him? Or were all other leads dropped when it was decided to focus on Simpson?

    In the city of Escondido CA a 12 year old girl was murdered. A detective for the Escondido PD became convinced it had to be her brother who killed her. He suppressed evidence leading to another. Evidence later used by the state of California to convict a transient of the charge.

    Thanks to the LA PD and the LA County DA’s office O. J. Simpson may well have gotten away with murder. Because they both made assumptions and acted in a manner insulting to the general public. Treat people like crap, then give them any opportinity to hurt you, and they shall.

    Alan Kellogg (942921)

  7. Actually, there was someone who checked to see if the glove would fit – Robert Shapiro. He saw that the glove would be a tight fit for him and his hands were smaller than Simpsons. Problem he had was that he couldn’t think of a good way to present this to the jury without having the DA make it seem as if the defense was manipulating the evidence.
    The look on his face when the DA said they wanted to have Simpson put on the glove is like a person who had just won the lottery.

    seePea (b6f894)

  8. Calling it the microscope effect is to take the position that jurors were willing to convict in the first place. I don’t think that’s what happened. You simply cannot look at the evidence and conclude there is reasonable doubt.

    Is there ANY doubt? Well sure. It could have been space aliens. Or it could have been a massive frame up by a large number of police involved. I guess the police frame up possibility has a bit higher odds than the space alieans, but only a bit.

    That’s why they call it “reasonable” doubt. There’s always SOME doubt. People have to be willing to judge the facts fairly and smart enough to see through BS.

    If there was reasonable doubt about OJ’s guilt then our criminal justice system would never work as designed.

    Dwilkers (a1687a)

  9. Real events are messier than most people not involved, with crime for example, realize. This might be the “movie effect” or the “Law and Order” effect. I was a surgical resident when Robert Kennedy was shot. Another resident was at Good Samaritan Hospital when Kennedy was brought in to surgery for the gunshot wound of his head. When they shifted him from the gurney to the operating table, a bullet fell out of his clothes. The resident, a friend of mine, picked it up and walked out to the Secret Service and police officers waiting outside and said “Anybody want this ?” I’ve never read a reference to that bullet.

    Mike K (416363)

  10. Any doubts that Oswald acted alone are laid to rest in Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed, which I just finished rereading. Assistant Devil’s Advocate–Oswald’s time in the USSR is covered in great detail in this book. There is nothing either mysterious or sinister about what he was up to there.

    the wolf (72a18f)

  11. I find it interesting that people will read a one-sided book (one of many conflicting) about a crime that occurred decades ago and say, “Any doubts that Oswald acted alone are laid to rest in Gerald Posner’s book Case Closed.”

    Of course, perhaps we should base our legal system around choosing a book written by either the defense or prosecution and whichever one feels right, that decides it.

    I don’t have any clue what happened back then, it’s so utterly confusing. But in principle, your criminal fault decision making method leaves much to be desired. Your blanket statement that, “I’ve read a book about it, and the book said…” is less than compelling.

    Chris from Victoria, BC (9824e6)

  12. Chris,

    I read several books on the JFK assassination around 1990, on both sides of the issue, and concluded probable conspiracy. Then I read Case Closed, which closely “Fisked” the details of the pro-conspiracsy books, and, largely on its own, persuaded me that there is no conspiracy. (See next post.)

    dwpittelli (a38ee9)

  13. I would posit, in addition to the “Microscope Effect,” a “Too big to screw up screw-up effect.” Time after time in the JFK case, you see people being “extra careful” and thereby doing less well.

    For example, the JFK autopsy wasn’t done by experienced forensic pathologists, it was done by surgeons who were the bosses or bosses’ bosses of the relevantly competent people — either because of a massive conspiracy involving scores of people, or because the bosses had a higher military rank. (I would argue the latter.)

    In addition, a lot of evidence disappeared (such as a sign which some said had a bullet hole in it). Again, either because of a conspiracy which would have had to be massive, or because of some screwup or even relic-hoarding.

    The shear number of screwups or anomolies actually argues against conspiracy, because it enlarges the required size of the conspiracy. Secrets were probably easier to keep in 1963 than today, but I don’t think any power could get dozens of men to engage in a conspiracy concerning the killing of the President, regardless of the back-story they were told.

    Further, even if, say, the CIA had JFK killed, if their “story” was a lone assassin, they naturally would have gotten the lone assassin (Oswald) to do it, and wouldn’t risk multiple gunmen and conspirators, etc. to screw up the simple story. So I am sure it was a lone gunman even in the face of the skeptics anomalies, most of which concern the actual assassination site and would require other gunmen. I suppose someone could have put Oswald up to it, but nothing in his history made it seem likely that he would need such a push.

    dwpittelli (a38ee9)

  14. Sometimes it is the odd facts that make for patterns that satisfy you as to the facts of something. Perhaps that happened in the O.J trial. The jurors were hypothetically very attached to the idea of his having ‘made it,’ something made black viewers devoted to him. The fact that one of the police made a racial slur at one time was enough for them to see conspiracy, that being part of their experience or worldview, and having no appreciation for the DNA evidince.

    With regard to the assassination, I was in Dallas when someone shot a bullet at General Walker in his library just missing him as he moved his head. Later unraveling of the story of Oswald is that it was he who shot at, and just missed, the General. He wanted to be famous in a mirror narcissism way for killing the General. He stayed in obscurity however until he had another shot. In the James Bond movie, only rank can kill rank, but this not so odd progression locks the ‘(very)lone gunmen’ theory for me.

    michael (6f2e77)

  15. I knew the case was over when D A Garcetti met with civil rights leaders before the trial and agreed not to ask for the death penalty.had the death penalty card been available to the prosecutors, there would have been a plea bargain and OJ would be in jail today.When I saw and heard Marcia Clark and Chris Darden on TV I knew there was not the slightest chance of conviction. A more incompetent pair of egomaniacs you could not find.Finally, the judge made a farce of the entire proceedings,culminating in his congratulatons to the simple fools on the jury, but Garcetti lost the case before it got started.

    john e morrissey (9f37aa)

  16. Thanks Patterico for this series. I am neither a lawyer nor a actual juror, tho I’ve filled a few jury pools in my time. I find your thoughts interesting and informative. After reading all of the comments so far, it just needed to be said.

    JimC (07c383)

  17. seePea, those gloves were RARE. You couldn’t just walk into your nearest Los Angeles Walmart and buy one pair out of 12 million manufactured.

    There were only 300 pairs of those particular gloves manufactured. They were made exclusively to be sold at the one and only Bloomingdale’s Department Store in New York City. Nicole Brown Simpson had purchased two of the only 200-240 pairs ever sold at Bloomingdales 2600 miles away from Los Angeles and the LA DAs office had Nicole’s recipe of purchase.

    Speller (120ab2)

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