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September 19, 1996

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DENVER (AP) _ O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden accused the news media Thursday of shifting away from solid reporting, overusing unnamed sources and writing stories that fail to tell both sides.

``It’s not like that show Ed Asner was on,″ Darden said, referring to the TV series ``Lou Grant″ in a sharply critical but humor-laced speech to newspaper executives at the Associated Press Managing Editors convention.

``It’s gotten to the point we can’t tell legitimate news from the tabloids,″ he said. ``I wish you would return back to the old days when you reported the news.″

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole also addressed the newspaper executives Thursday, urging journalists to give more coverage to drug abuse and stop relying on political polls.

``It is my view that soaring teen drug abuse and the resurgence of a drug culture is one of the important news stories of our times,″ Dole told the editors. ``Without information there is no concern. Without concern there is no resolve. Without resolve there is no change. ... The drug war won’t be won through ignorance. In some important ways, all of us are depending on you.″

He said the polls have begun turning his way, even though they still show him trailing President Clinton.

``Don’t worry about all those polls you write about, unless you run for office,″ Dole said.

Earlier, at a news conference, Darden said the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman stand a better chance of winning damages against Simpson at the current civil trial if fair-minded jurors can be seated and the media can be kept at bay.

``It’s important that we have a fair cross-section of the population sitting on that jury,″ said Darden, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson in the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife and Goldman.

``Sometimes, you make justice almost impossible,″ Darden told reporters. ``You guys can turn a trial into a circus.″

Darden has been on leave from the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office since Simpson’s acquittal. His book, ``In Contempt,″ details the trial and his life.

Darden also teaches law full-time at Southwestern University in California, and travels around the country giving speeches.

At the news conference, Darden said he believes in the justice system and the process for seating jurors. ``I don’t know that we should have affirmative action in jury trials,″ he said.

Darden declined to predict how the civil trial would be resolved. ``I wouldn’t like to guess; frankly, who knows?″

Speaking to the newspaper executives, Darden noted that televised trials have a two-edged effect _ while some witnesses want to testify so they can be on television, others are ``not willing to have their life placed under a microscope.″

He said the Simpson trial was plagued by leaks and impromptu news conferences, whose details drifted back to the sequestered jurors.

When prosecutors would decline comment to reporters, Darden said news stories made it appear they were hiding things.

``It seems to me `no comment’ to you is nolo contendere,″ he said. ``To us, no comment meant that there are rules of evidence that apply.

``Sometimes the things you say, they hurt. ... Unfounded allegations based on rumors hurt,″ he said.

Although he said he was not bitter, it was clear the trial still evokes emotions in Darden.

``When I see O.J. Simpson on television, I don’t ... clench my teeth and all that. I change channels. I watch something interesting,″ he said.

Also on Thursday, APME presented its public service, freedom of information and meritorious service awards.

The Public Service Awards were given to the New York Daily News, in the over-50,000-circulation category, for a six-month investigation of the systematic victimization of Chinese immigrants by dozens of fake doctors. The newspaper’s stories led to 63 investigations and proposed state legislation to stiffen laws for unlicensed doctors.

The News-Gazette of Champaign, Ill., won in the under-50,000-circulation class for shedding light on a secret program by which Illinois legislators awarded free college tuitions to the relatives of campaign supporters, elected officials and party leaders at the same time they were failing to fund a merit-based scholarship program.

The Tribune-Chronicle of Warren, Ohio, was presented with the Freedom of Information Award for battling to open police records. The newspaper’s fight led to establishment of a new state rule improving access to police records.

Michael E. Waller, publisher and chief executive officer of the Hartford Courant, won the Meritorious Service Award. Waller has served as director and officer of APME and contributed to the organization for the past 20 years. He twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror.

During a panel discussion of media ethics, news leaks and secrecy, lawyers and newspaper executives debated the media’s responsibility in high-profile cases, such as the naming of Richard Jewell as a suspect in the Olympic bombing. Jewell was identified early on, but he has never been charged.

``There was a lot of pressure on everybody to come up with a suspect as quickly as possible,″ said Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

She also said it was important for the public to know how law enforcement officers treat suspects. ``A lot of people don’t know there can be civil liberties concerns,″ she said.

The panelists also discussed a story about tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, whose interview initially was pulled from CBS’ ``60 Minutes,″ but later aired.

David Hawpe, APME vice president and editor of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, said editors need to weigh merit and timeliness when deciding whether to run such stories.

``I just think everybody would offer praise of a leak like that,″ he said of the Wigand story.

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