Chumash Auditorium was filled with aspiring journalists Thursday morning when renowned Associated Press courtroom reporter Linda Deutsch spoke of her life covering trials. Deutsch most recently covered the Michael Jackson trial but has also reported on the trials of O.J. Simpson, Charles Manson, Patty Hearst, William Kennedy Smith, the officers who were accused of beating Rodney King, the Menendez brothers and Robert Blake.
Deutsch is one of only 18 “senior reporters” for the Associated Press. After covering the O.J. Simpson trial, the Associated Press awarded her the Oliver Gramling Reporter Award for distinguished reporting. In April 2005 she was awarded with the Los Angeles Press Club’s President’s award.
Deutsch was asked to speak at Cal Poly by her uncle and journalism professor Marvin Sosna.
Deutsch claimed that her ability to report fairly led to her success in covering famous trials.
She was even complimented in a phone call from Michael Jackson after the trial.
“He called me for one reason – to thank me for being fair to him,” she said.
O.J. Simpson also made a similar call to Deutsch after his trial.
Though some feel the heavy coverage of celebrity trials is salacious, Deutsch said that such trials directly reflect popular culture of the time. “(The Michael Jackson trial) and every other celebrity trial is emblematic of what is going on at the time.”
Deutsch said that people are drawn to the drama of celebrity trials.
“It is great theater, probably the most dramatic thing you’re ever going to see in a story. They have a beginning, middle and an end.”
She said the Michael Jackson trial had a great effect on her.
“There were scenes during the Michael Jackson trial that I will never forget,” she said. “The moment that Michael Jackson jumped on top of the van and danced, that was one for the books.”
However, the Michael Jackson trial was not the strangest one covered by Deutsch, she covered the Charles Manson trial in 1970.
“There were people being arrested with drugs in their pockets, people having LSD flashbacks in court, Manson’s women saying that they would burn themselves like the Vietnamese monk,” she said.
Manson’s own lawyer claimed Manson was Jesus and read from the bible in his closing argument. A woman in the courtroom also claimed Manson was Jesus and screamed mid-trial that she was the “whore of Babylon here to save my brother Manson.”
Though the trials were entertaining at times, Deutsch said that these were the worst times of the defendants’ lives.
“What these trials are is not a circus. They’re serious business. They’re life altering events,” she said.
“I thought it was interesting insight as to how the press thinks about contemporary and First Amendment issues,” said mechanical engineering senior Leon Goss.