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TV Covering Dahmer Trial, But Carefully

January 27, 1992

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ From Court TV to ″Entertainment Tonight,″ television turned out in force Monday for the beginning of mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer’s insanity trial.

There were, however, a few jitters about the prospect of some gruesome testimony.

About 70 news organizations were expected to send reporters to the trial, and court officials were braced for about 150 journalists and support workers. Roughly 100 received credentials Monday as jury selection began.

One Milwaukee television station plans gavel-to-gavel live coverage of the trial beginning Wednesday. Court TV plans extensive live coverage once the trial gets under way. CNN plans regular live reports, but does not intend to broadcast live testimony at length, as it did at William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial in Florida.

The media crush at the Milwaukee courthouse hardly compares to that at the Smith trial, which offered two elements this trial lacks: glamour and mystery.

Like the Smith trial, however, the Dahmer case promises to push the boundaries of what is considered acceptable on television.

Just as the Smith trial exposed viewers to unprecedented frankness in its testimony about sex, the Dahmer case will offer more than most people care to know about dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism.

Already, the pool of broadcasters covering the event has agreed to limit their camera views of the many photographs that are expected to be shown to the jury. WDJT, the Milwaukee station that plans live coverage in cooperation with another local station, says it also may cut into some of the most gruesome sections of verbal testimony and have reporters provide toned-down descriptions.

″We don’t want to homogenize this trial, but when it gets extremely graphic, we’re going to have to make a decision,″ said WDJT’s general manager, Bill LeMonds. ″It’s going to be extremely difficult.″

WDJT is broadcasting the trial with the assistance of WITI-TV, a CBS affiliate that decided not to provide gavel-to-gavel coverage but agreed to have its own reporters and camera crews feed full coverage to WDJT. The two stations plan to use a small symbol in the corner of the television screen to warn viewers of potentially graphic testimony.

Court TV has no plans to delete any testimony, but may reconsider once the trial gets begins, senior producer Andy Regal said. He said he didn’t anticipate any testimony so offensive that it couldn’t be aired. Still, he added, ″I wouldn’t say I’m not concerned about it.″

In addition to the Milwaukee stations, CNN and Court TV, the trial has drawn representatives of CBS, NBC, ABC and local stations in Chicago, Green Bay and Madison. In addition, ″Entertainment Tonight″ has a reporter covering the other reporters covering the trial.

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