“In the struggle over the Fuhrman tapes, the last great drama of the Simpson trial, it was as if the id of the case had been unleashed. All the smoldering passion, anger, and resentment shot directly to the surface.”
That is Jeffrey Toobin, writing at the beginning of chapter 22 in his book The Run of His Life, the primary source material for The People v. O.J. Simpson. The chapter, like this episode, is titled “Manna From Heaven,” a biblical reference that’s reflected in the fact that Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) believed that the tapes proving the racism of Det. Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) were literally a gift from God.
The episode starts cleverly with the tabloid TV show A Current Affair and its signature digital zoom-whoosh sound effect. The show is actually being watched by Laura Hart McKinny, one of the last participants to climb onto the vast web that is the O.J. Simpson saga. In 1985, a decade before the trial, she was a screenwriter working on her laptop in a coffee shop — de rigueur behavior nowadays but odd 31 years ago. And a passerby named Mark Fuhrman came over to McKinny to ask about this big fold-up computer.
As fate would have it, the screenplay she was working on was about women police officers, and Fuhrman had quite a lot to say on the topic. In fact, over the course of nine years and 13 hours of recorded interviews, he told her about an inexorably sexist and secret organization within the LAPD designed to keep female officers off the force. It was called MAW, as in the jaws of a ferocious animal. But MAW stood for Men Against Women.
Flash forward to 1995, and what Cochran and company were interested in regarding the Fuhrman tapes was their racist content. And there was an abundance of racist content. The N-word, which he swore under oath not to have uttered in the last 10 years, was said 41 times. But they first needed to obtain them. So Cochran and F. Lee Bailey traveled to North Carolina to ask a judge to subpoena McKinny into releasing her tapes. (It was a lawyer of McKinny’s who had leaked to the defense team that the tapes existed at all; McKinny herself thought that O.J. was guilty and wanted no part of the trial.) She testified at the hearing —which is not shown on the show — and Cochran’s examination of her, replete with Cochran-isms, was possibly part of what provoked the judge to issue his ruling. He refers on the show to Cochran’s “gratuitous alliteration,” which viewers of the past eight episodes have become warmly familiar with.
“Haven’t you noticed the smell of mint julep and condescension in the air?” Cochran is asked by Bailey (Nathan Lane) after the North Carolina ruling. In fact, Bailey enlisted his law partners in Boston to file an emergency appeal, which ten days later led to the state appellate court overturning the judge’s ruling and forcing McKinny to release the tapes. The episode portrays this in a moment of wonderful humor as Bailey makes his smooth Dixie plea to the justices while Cochran stays at the table, sitting plastered with his resting face.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
The Fuhrman tapes obviously confirm his racism, though in one of the captivating twists of the whole case (which I referred to as Dickensian at the start of my recap for episode 4; Marcia Clark meanwhile evokes another author, O. Henry), Fuhrman’s attitudes toward women also played into the mechanics of the trial. The detective had made derogatory remarks about Margaret York, Fuhrman’s former commander in the LAPD, who also happened to be Judge Ito’s wife. Chris Darden, in a frank, heartfelt one-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey, talked openly about Fuhrman. Just past the 15-minute mark in this video, Darden says, “Let me tell you something, people talk about the epithets, the racial epithets on those tapes. You ought to hear what he says about women. He says things about women…I’ve never heard.”
NEXT: Cochran pleads to let the jury (and the public) hear the tapes while Fuhrman pleads the Fifth