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Group Discussions: TV on trial

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The old-fashioned circus is fading from America's landscape, but the media circus is now a growth industry, especially during spectacular court trials. Attorney Mindy S. Trossman, who teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, notes that in 1924 the Chicago Tribune Company considered broadcasting Leopold and Loeb's sentencing hearing live over WGN radio but refrained because their listeners opposed the idea. On Saturday Trossman will be part of a program titled Just Images: Television News Coverage of High-Profile Criminal Trials, which will explore the implications of the O.J.era.

TV reporter John Drummond--who's "covered more crime trials than any other reporter in Chicago," according to his employer, WBBM--will moderate the discussion. In 1969 Drummond reported on the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial. "That was the first trial that television realized it could cover on a daily basis," he recalls. The Tribune affectionately described Drummond on his 20th anniversary on the beat as a "broken-nosed newshound in lovelyland," yet wondered, "Is Drummond the real thing or merely a made-for-TV character?" Such doubts are endemic to a time when CNN viewers critique O.J.'s acting acumen and Congressman Mel Reynolds's lawyer brags to the cameras about performing "great theater."

Just Images is a collaboration of the Museum of Broadcast Communications and the American Bar Association and is part of the ABA's annual convention now going on in Chicago. Some 12,000 lawyers are in town attending sessions like "Getting the Dirt on Distressed Real Estate," "The Zen of Making Rain," and "Managing Notorious Trials."

Since the hoopla surrounding Bruno Hauptmann's 1935 trial for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, ABA policy has opposed broadcasting trials, considering the practice "controversial and unsettled."

Just Images takes place at 10 AM Saturday on the seventh floor of the Hotel InterContinental, 505 N. Michigan. Admission is free, but reservations are recommended. Call 629-6023. The Museum of Broadcast Communications, located in the Chicago Cultural Center, is also screening a selection of Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Bill Kurtis, and Court TV videos about notorious criminal trials.

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