Worse than that, they called her incompetent
February 22, 2016 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Marcia Clark’s crucible came smack in the middle of the 1990s, when it is indeed fair to say that very few people wanted to talk about sexism. It is being revived for the screen today, during a period when lots of people want to talk about sexism and perhaps especially want to talk about the sexism of the 1990s.
The redemption of O. J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark.
posted by MartinWisse (53 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is some incredible writing, more for the content about feminism than the content about the trial. It's seriously challenging some of the attitudes I hold and giving me a lot to think about. The very idea that she has to be anxious about being labeled as professionally ambitious says a lot.

So far she is the most interesting part of the show to me. I don't care about the Kardashian bullshit, the Bronco chase was more interesting when I watched it live as a kid, the racial issues are extremely important but I also feel like they have had a lot of examination in relation to the trial compared to the feminist issues.

Marcia Clark's portrayal in this series reminds me of my Mom. A brilliant, workaholic lawyer who does everything possible for the people she represents with a sense of true justice while also finding time to be a great Mom. And also the smoking all the time. So much smoking. I can't imagine if my Mom ended up on a case like this being trashed by the world media. It's insane. I couldn't handle it. So much respect for people willing to put themselves on the line like that for justice.

So you had a kind of crude, broad focus without the compensations of alternative voices on Twitter and Facebook. So when the National Enquirer decided to make fun of Marcia Clark’s hairdo, there was no article in Slate or Salon or posts on Twitter saying ‘Stop this sexist bullshit.’”

Clark said she was made very aware of how her appearance affected her reception in the courtroom. A jury consultant had found that people were likely to find her “shrill” and to think she was “a bitch” and advised her, Clark said, to “talk softer, wear pastels.” In the retelling, Clark offers a deadly smile. “Oh, okay, that’ll wipe out 200 years of social injustice. Why didn’t I think of that?” The attempts at softening, she said, were destined to backfire anyway. “That kind of shit is a lose-lose proposition,” she said. “So I come in in a pinafore, and they say I’m a cream puff and I can’t handle a murder case like this.”


So fucking right. When people are determined to hate you, you can't appease them. They will find something wrong with whatever you do. You are what they hate, appearance is just an easy target.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:30 AM on February 22, 2016 [65 favorites]


It's the oldest trick in the misogynist book: She's either too "womanly" to do the job, or "unwomanly" ergo "shrill," "unnatural," and "bad."
posted by kewb at 3:01 AM on February 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


I made a remark to my current "work mentor" who is about Ms Clarks age, but less feminist, I think. Something along the lines of, "I'm a woman who has been working in a male dominated industry for twenty years. If the idea I sent out is blown off then I won't die of it. My skin is pretty thick." And she chuckled agreement and relief I wouldn't get crushed by a rejection.

A male counterpart my age thought it was incredibly sad that that's my attitude but wtf I've been surrounded by misogyny my entire carrer. Every woman in my position in my former company (four plus me) have left the industry completely. One of them I met on my way in before I started but after I was hired .... But I ignored her warnings because this time it would be different, I was hired by someone who said all the right things in the interview. And then turned around and pawned me off on a jerk who openly belittled me and my co workers in meetings in which we were not present.

Not a lot has yet changed, Marcia. Glad to see the stories being told, though. And this shitty behavior rightly called out as fucking wrong. Full stop.
posted by tilde at 4:58 AM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Of course, the irony is that the young women who have brought feminism back in vogue probably don’t have the faintest clue who Marcia Clark is.

You know, she could have omitted this unnecessary slam on young feminists and her otherwise fascinating article wouldn't have been diminished in the slightest. I get so spiky at this reflexive need to portray young women as willfully ignorant of the past. Sure, there are individuals who think the feminist movement started three years ago, but the vast majority of women I've met who are activists are smart and educated enough to know who Marcia Clark is. This sort of dismissiveness of young women is sexism in its own right.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:12 AM on February 22, 2016 [40 favorites]


The whole legal-trial-as-entertainment thing is inherently terrible. The blatant sexism of the judge in the courtroom sounds horrendous, but how much worse to have it all magnified and shoved in your face by the media. I don't know if it's true that the internet age has made things 100% better. It's great that there is more diversity in coverage, and more pushback for horrendous comments and behaviour, but the way the internet at large responds to publicly visible women seems even scarier and more obsessive and intense than 90s tabloids.
posted by Aravis76 at 5:25 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think you could safely say that young women AND young men have no idea who she is. I'm not convinced the comment was specifically at women, and more that young men haven't really played a part in resurrecting feminism?
posted by trif at 5:30 AM on February 22, 2016


That's not a slam, just a statement of fact. It was 20 years ago! Nobody under 30 is going to remember stuff like Marcia Clark's name unless they took a specific interest in that trial, or the legal profession.

I always thought Marcia Clark was a fucking hero and I do remember some feminist commentary at the time on her poor treatment, especially the stuff about her clothes and her hair. Glad to hear she may be getting some image rehabilitation out of the show.
posted by Mothlight at 5:53 AM on February 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


It makes me feel like Tina Fey's performance as Clark in Kimmy Schmidt, although satiric, was needlessly mean-spirited.
posted by maxsparber at 5:57 AM on February 22, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm trying to think of satire that's not mean spirited-- it replies to mendacity. Yet I'll say it's my experience to satirize anything, I had to learn to love that thing first. Tina Fey's not beyond failing one set of sensibilities to address another. Going for a laugh is a high wire.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 6:20 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Kimmy Schmidt is this weird mix of incredibly open and warm to the main cast (Kimmy, Titus, Lillian, Jacqueline, even Xanthippe) and cuttingly unsympathetic to the comic relief characters (the prosecutors, Dr. Grant).
posted by pie ninja at 6:26 AM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


While we rush to blame the prosecutor let's not forget that the detective perjured himself and refused to answer whether he planted evidence.
posted by mikek at 6:54 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Positing that the obvious solution is not to have a woman prosecutor is not okay. Language like "lady lawyer" is not okay. If this seems confusing, please avoid commenting in sexism threads.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:57 AM on February 22, 2016 [50 favorites]


Is this show any good? I've read some glowing reviews, but a friend forwarded me some clips and they were campier than a tent in the woods.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:58 AM on February 22, 2016


That's not a slam, just a statement of fact. It was 20 years ago! Nobody under 30 is going to remember stuff like Marcia Clark's name unless they took a specific interest in that trial, or the legal profession.

You and I have different understandings of the word "fact." Because that hasn't been my experience at *all*. When I was a 20-something, I absolutely took an interest in stuff that happened before I was an adult. All the young feminists I've met have been incredibly aware of both the modern struggles and the roots of those struggles. This lofty attitude held by people in the 40+ age bracket is not only obnoxious, it is largely incorrect and also deleterious to what we're trying to accomplish here. Maybe give the younger generation the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, rather than assuming the worst about them first -- because your negative assumptions about their intelligence and understanding is one more hurdle they shouldn't have to clear.

Anyway, this is drifting off-topic, so I'll drop it now.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:59 AM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


While we rush to blame the prosecutor let's not forget that the detective perjured himself and refused to answer whether he planted evidence.

Yeah, it's very unlikely that it's Clark's fault that the LAPD framed a guilty man.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 AM on February 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


I was a barely-fledged liberal when this happened and I remember feeling confusion because Simpson seemed guilty, on the other hand, the LAPD were clearly still racist as hell, plus all the pop-culture weirdness of treating a woman's murder as a sideshow, plus yeah, Marcia Clark being treated like a joke for just doing her job. It was hard to know what outcome to hope for.
posted by emjaybee at 7:02 AM on February 22, 2016 [13 favorites]




It makes me feel like Tina Fey's performance as Clark in Kimmy Schmidt, although satiric, was needlessly mean-spirited.
posted by maxsparber


Yeah, I was thinking exactly that when I read this. It really makes me wonder what Fey would say (or has said) if challenged.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:11 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is this show any good? I've read some glowing reviews, but a friend forwarded me some clips and they were campier than a tent in the woods.

I don't know what bits of the show you've seen, but from my perspective, the show is really, really, really good. I mean, some of the stuff on it is legitimately campy -- but this is the OJ trial. It was the media circus, it was the 90's, and there was a lot of stuff that we'd think of as being cheesy or campy now, but was totally in line with the times.

All that aside, there is a lot of fantastic stuff there. Paulson is really good as Marcia Clark; Courtney Vance is really good as Johnny Cochran. The show doesn't flatten either of them into being villains or heroes. And the best part, for me, has been the unexpected ways it touches on the meta-narrative -- the way that the show very smartly roots the discussion in the overarching question of police brutality and makes a primarily-white audience revisit their assumptions from the 90's in light of what they've been hearing more recently about police brutality, showing the Kardashian kids getting their first taste of fame and why it might turn their heads, the way that elite lawyers balance ideals with self-interest, the way that women lawyers like Clark have so many demands on their time and attention.

Is it the best thing I've ever seen on TV? No. But it's much, much better than the standard crime-of-the-week melodrama, and genuinely interesting TV, and the closest our DVR-y household comes to appointment TV these days.
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


The OJ Simpson was such a weird case and I do like the current attempts to reanalyze the case removed from the time period itself.

Racism
Sexism
Class Issues
Rise of 24 hour news
Celebrity Culture
etc.

I think Marcia Clark was a very competent lawyer who was thrown up against one of the highest-power legal teams in history at a point in time where every detail of the case and the prosecution was magnified to the nth degree by the media coverage of the case.

I don't think there is any real doubt regarding OJ's guilt but all of the corruption in the LAPD and the seeming junior league nature of the prosecution basically doomed that case to failure. Yes the junior league characterization that was present at the time was in effect manufactured by sexism present both in and out of the courtroom but it was a perception that was magnified by the defense again and again especially in regards to pivotal moments like the Cochrane Glove revelation.
posted by vuron at 7:30 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


i remember sitting in a train (the gner intercity 125 to edinburgh) when the judgement was announced over the intercom. the white, old man sitting next to me turned and asked why on earth they made such an announcement. i hardly knew who oj was. things made a little more sense when the conductor walked through the carriage - a young, black woman. it was an odd moment, that stuck in the memory - a realisation that there was community deeply interested in this circus of a trial across in the usa. i guess i was pretty clueless. and obviously had no idea who marcia clark was.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:36 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I always got strange reactions back then when asked about my thoughts on the OJ decision. My opinion was, and still is, that Simpson was almost certainly guilty but the jury made the correct decision in finding him not guilty.

But yeah, that had nothing to do with Marcia Clark's competence.
posted by rocket88 at 8:14 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I really want to scream that women still have to clarify that being feminist doesn't make them "anti-men." Really, the idea of social and political equality for women isn't that difficult a concept to grasp, is it?
posted by holborne at 8:14 AM on February 22, 2016 [15 favorites]


ions back then when asked about my thoughts on the OJ decision. My opinion was, and still is, that Simpson was almost certainly guilty but the jury made the correct decision in finding him not guilty.

If I remember correctly, that was the opinion of most legal commentators at the time. There was a specific point of law that made it impossible for the jury to find him guilty given the case presented? Does anyone remember what that was?
posted by double bubble at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


There was strong circumstantial evidence that the police department, or at least certain members of the police department, had railroaded Simpson. I also think he was guilty -- in fact, I don't think there is a reasonable doubt of it anymore -- but it fucks up a case just as much for the police to frame a guilty man as an innocent one.
posted by maxsparber at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think when Fuhrman plead the fifth in regards to questioning about planting evidence there was reasonable doubt as to the evidence. IIRC there was also concerns about the chain of custody concerning some of the DNA evidence.

Even some of the defense attorneys have expressed doubt concerning Simpson's innocence and they have indicated that case was lost by the prosecution more than it was won by the defense.
posted by vuron at 8:31 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


They announced the verdict of the OJ Simpson case over the intercom in middle school. Definitely don't assume that people who were children at the time of the trial weren't as 100% in on it as everyone else.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:36 AM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


Clark wasn't incompetent -- she had a very successful record prior to the OJ case, for example pulling off a great legal maneuver in the Rebecca Schaeffer case. And it's criminal that her hair (!) of all things became an issue.

But if we're being honest with ourselves, we have to admit she and her team made some terrible, terrible tactical decisions. Fixing your murder case around a domestic violence case? Let the defendant try on the gloves? Your jury consultant says you're not playing well, but you go on anyway -- so why'd you hire a consultant? You know jury consultants are a thing, right?

I recommend the Bugliosi book if anyone's interested in a take on the prosecution. Bugliosi is a world-class self-aggrandizer, but he does point out the key decisions gone wrong, and questions the prosecution approach. Example: Clark said she didn't start writing the closing argument until right before showtime. Bugliosi says a prosecutor should nail their closing argument first and work back from there.

Contrast that with Daniel Petrocelli in the civil case. Petrocelli was working with several advantages -- a different level of proof, hindsight and size-12 Bruno Magli shoes, for example -- but he famously ended his argument with a graphic saying, "Either OJ Simpson is guilty, or all of these people are lying," and there's 50+ names listed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


> Is this show any good? I've read some glowing reviews, but a friend forwarded me some clips and they were campier than a tent in the woods.

It somehow manages to be both good and campier than a field of tents.

I'm from a whole other country and utterly resented the presence of the trial in my life at the time, and yet it feels somehow important to watch. I don't find myself getting to the end of an episode with an itch to watch another one immediately though. One a week is fine.
posted by vbfg at 8:53 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Marcia Clark’s crucible came smack in the middle of the 1990s, when it is indeed fair to say that very few people wanted to talk about sexism. It is being revived for the screen today, during a period when lots of people want to talk about sexism and perhaps especially want to talk about the sexism of the 1990s.

I'd say there were many people in the 1990s who wanted to talk about sexism, but it was more difficult to broadcast those thoughts widely.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:11 AM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


But if we're being honest with ourselves, we have to admit she and her team made some terrible, terrible tactical decisions.

Conspiracy theory was that they threw the case on purpose. Scared of riots. After all, Rodney King was a fresh memory in 1995.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think Hillary Clinton has the same deep rooted sexism working against her today. Of course when it comes up people immediately start the how dare you call me sexist defense, instead of considering how their feelings might be affected and shaped by our common culture. They certainly seem to be willing to overlook Bernie's flaws a lot more quickly than Hillary's.
posted by humanfont at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


lark wasn't incompetent -- she had a very successful record prior to the OJ case, for example pulling off a great legal maneuver in the Rebecca Schaeffer case.

What was the legal maneuver she employed to get the conviction?
posted by layceepee at 10:40 AM on February 22, 2016


Conspiracy theory was that they threw the case on purpose.

Doubtful. But I could definitely see that, at the end, they knew they were fucked and tried to wrap it up. But the surprise that the jury deliberated so quickly was such that I think Clark and Darden thought they had a good chance right up until the end.

What was the legal maneuver she employed to get the conviction?

The murderer was captured in Arizona. Clark got him extradited very quickly; the defense couldn't use an extradition delay to their advantage.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Marcia Clark is not at all incompetent and got an objectively sexist treatment throughout that trial, but the prosecution's tactics in that trial were themselves so wrong that they were taught as "what not to do" examples in my law school crim-law clinic.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:02 AM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


The murderer was captured in Arizona. Clark got him extradited very quickly; the defense couldn't use an extradition delay to their advantage.

Wow, the attached link suggests that was either a great legal maneuver or prosecutorial misconduct. When you reflect that one of the major problems with the Simpson prosecution was the impression that law enforcement was willing to subvert due process, I'm not sure this incident doesn't add to the case against Clark.

Just as the Simpson case could have been an example of the cops framing an innocent man, the sexism documented in the article about Clark might be misogyny directed an a lousy attorney.
posted by layceepee at 12:11 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think Hillary Clinton has the same deep rooted sexism working against her today. Of course when it comes up people immediately start the how dare you call me sexist defense, instead of considering how their feelings might be affected and shaped by our common culture. They certainly seem to be willing to overlook Bernie's flaws a lot more quickly than Hillary's.

You know, there are at least 2 other threads where you can discuss this if you like (and people are!). Can we not turn this into another Hillary/Bernie thread?
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:06 PM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


If I remember correctly, that was the opinion of most legal commentators at the time. There was a specific point of law that made it impossible for the jury to find him guilty given the case presented? Does anyone remember what that was?

My memory as a middle-schooler at the time was that Cochran and the defense were able to skillfully use the newness/unfamiliarity of DNA evidence to say to the jury "there's a chance this DNA did not belong to OJ" (in the Dumb & Dumber sense of "so you're saying there's a chance"); the defense succeeded in getting the horrifically racist LAPD stuff into the trial (reinforcing the actual life experience some members of the jury had in interacting with the LAPD); and the prosecution made the terrible mistake of letting OJ try on that glove. The jury then took "reasonable doubt" and went "look...this could have been someone else's DNA; even if not, the racist LAPD could have planted it; that glove doesn't even fit him - there is even an iota of doubt that OJ is definitely the killer, ergo not guilty."

And this is even with the defense being unable to proffer a credible other suspect to point to. Cochran and that team of lawyers were just really, really great lawyers.

As far as Marcia Clark's experience, it doesn't surprise me a bit. I was told to wear a skirt to court two years ago because "Judge X doesn't like women who wear pants." In 2014.
posted by sallybrown at 1:27 PM on February 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


the defense were able to skillfully use the newness/unfamiliarity of DNA evidence to say to the jury "there's a chance this DNA did not belong to OJ"

I watched a lot of that at the time, the prosecution presentation of the expert witnesses and the defence's able obfuscations. My main thought was that the prosecution did do a terrible job of explaining the DNA stats. Also, while subsequent re-analysis has shown that what got to the labs was analyzed pretty much correctly, the handling of the evidence in the field and in the LAPD lab where samples were split to go out to the labs doing the analysis could not rule out cross-contamination either. It's hard to blame the jury, in my mind, for not buying the mess they were given to decide facts with. There are post-trial interviews with jurors saying that they were inclined to believe Simpson was guilty, but couldn't make a finding because of the confusion surrounding the DNA evidence.

Those recollections inform how I write my forensics opinions now, memories only reinforced by readings I've done about the case since in papers and books. The prosecution got lost in details, which the defense were only too glad to make more complicated and hard to understand. Indeed, the thing I try to do with our prosecutors is get a clear theory of fact, that we can then build around with supporting evidence, to avoid many of the expert witness problems I saw in that trial.
posted by bonehead at 1:42 PM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


There are post-trial interviews with jurors saying that they were inclined to believe Simpson was guilty, but couldn't make a finding because of the confusion surrounding the DNA evidence.

At least one juror admitted to not understanding DNA at all, period, confusing it for blood type.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:02 PM on February 22, 2016




They did use serological testing too (at trial): Serology Testing Is Widely Accepted. It wasn't all just DNA.
posted by bonehead at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2016


Cochran and that team of lawyers were just really, really great lawyers.


A few years after the case, a local talk radio host managed to get Cochran to come on for an interview. Good lord, he was smart. Just unbelievably sharp.
posted by azpenguin at 4:42 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I am really enjoying the show and this was an excellent article. Thanks for posting.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:03 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Barry Scheck was, hands down, the best litigator involved in the criminal case. But to me, his Innocence Project is forever besmirched by his involvement in OJ's exoneration and this whole goddamn circus.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:58 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


bonehead: could you say more about how this case was used as a "what not to do" example?
posted by persona au gratin at 12:58 AM on February 23, 2016


could you say more about how this case was used as a "what not to do" example?

If I may, there's an old adage in a courtroom: Don't ask a question that you don't already know the answer to.

In Darden's book, he said part of the decision to have OJ try on the gloves was that Detective Lange had tried on the gloves and they didn't fit him. From across the courtroom, Darden visually compared the size of Lange's hands to OJ's, and determined that OJ's hands were bigger than Lange's, thinking, if they don't fit Lange, they won't fit OJ.

Yeah.

So, he didn't literally know the outcome ahead of time, and he put the means of proof literally -- literally -- in the hands of the defendant. In the transcript, Darden points out to Ito that OJ isn't trying hard very hard to pull the gloves on. Of course he isn't! What did you expect him to do? Help you convict him?

There's what not to do. Don't ask questions you don't know the answer to, and don't allow someone else to control your optics.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


On a reread, I realize I wrote it backward. He looked at Lange's hands and thought the gloves did fit, so he thought that OJ's would also fit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:37 PM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, the most recent episode is so much more powerful having read this article first. Thanks a ton for posting it, MartinWisse.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:07 PM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Is this where we can discuss the news about some retired cop supposedly having a bloody knife found buried on the grounds of OJ's house? Or is that new thread material?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:45 AM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I vote new thread.
posted by andoatnp at 10:09 AM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think a new thread would be interesting, but it might be prudent to wait until there is some notable finding from the forensic testing. Unless you bulk up the post with "was it his son?" material or something, since that wasn't a theory most people I know heard of at the time..
posted by cashman at 10:14 AM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Now that I'm hearing more of the details about this officer, it's just disgusting that he kept that for 18 years. Nothing on the level of the crimes themselves of course. But what are you thinking? There was a mention of possibly charging him (the officer) with crimes, and I hope they do.
posted by cashman at 1:11 PM on March 4, 2016


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