BROOKE GLADSTONE: Writer Dominick Dunne came to his vocation by a strange and terrible route. His career as a Hollywood producer had fizzled, as he would be the first to tell you. Life was not so great, and then it got incomparably worse. His daughter Dominique was attacked by her former boyfriend, left in a vegetative state until her shattered parents took her off life support. Dunne took notes at the ex-boyfriend's trial, an apparent travesty of justice, and wrote about it for the magazine Vanity Fair. He's just published a collection of two decades of Vanity Fair articles featuring such celebrity defendants as Claus Von Bulow and of course O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers. It was that first terrible trial that launched Dunne in his 50s on his career as a courtroom chronicler. But he's never felt bound by the standard rules of journalism.
DOMINICK DUNNE: I was so horrified at what I saw in that courtroom that I thought--: I could write about this! And I did write about it, and I wrote very personal things about it, about the judge, about the lawyers, and indeed it was a different way to cover a trial than is normally journalistically covered.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how would you characterize those differences?
DOMINICK DUNNE:Well I characterize the difference as because I also write about the gossip of a trial. I write about the judge who presided in the trial of the man who killed my daughter, and he was very concerned with his image, and a photographer from People Magazine was there in the courtroom, and he called that man back into his chambers, and the man thought he was going to asked to leave the courtroom, and instead the judge tried on several pair of glasses for the photographer to tell him which pair he looked best in. Now I found that importance information. It had nothing to do with the trial, but everything to do with the judge.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The way that you paint a portrait of the characters who people those courtrooms, the way that present their back stories makes for absolutely riveting reading. But it could be argued that some things get left out -- for instance in the trial when you said that Burton Katz's instructions to the jury were confusing but you didn't write what those instructions were in order to let the reader perhaps make up their own mind.
DOMINICK DUNNE: Judges' instructions to the juries are almost always confusing. It would have been boring reading; it would have been pages and pages and pages of reading. I'm not going to waste my time on that. The fact that the jury couldn't understand the instructions is what is important to me and that they had to keep asking him what such and such a thing meant.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you feel, as, as it seemed to me that in your book these pieces are much more sensitive to the victim than to the defendant?
DOMINICK DUNNE:I don't think -- I know! I am a, a - a victims' advocate! I think that the victim gets forgotten about in these trials, just the way that in the Menendez trial Leslie Abramson--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She was one of the defending attorneys in that case.
DOMINICK DUNNE:She was the defending attorney of note. She dressed Eric and Lyle Menendez who had shotgunned their parents to, to death with 16 shots and she dressed them in pastel colored Shetland sweaters and -- you know to make 'em look young and dear and sweet -- and you know that's their right to do it, but it's my right to report on it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:In a sense the entire book is an implicit criticism of the media simply because it isn't like what we usually read. What don't you like about how the media covers justice?
DOMINICK DUNNE: Well I, I'm not criticizing how the media covers it. Newspaper coverage is, is very balanced. I don't balance my coverage! I take a stand! I believed Claus Von Bulow was guilty. I believe the Menendez brothers were guilty. I believed O.J. Simpson was guilty. I believe William Kennedy Smith was guilty. And I write from that point of view -- like it or not. And I fortunately write for a magazine that allows me to take a stand.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You don't strive to be evenhanded in your coverage then.
DOMINICK DUNNE: Openly not. Openly not!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You want to correct what you see as a broader inequality. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
DOMINICK DUNNE:Well I mean I have no embarrassment about that! I mean I'm just sick of-- you know -all this-- we have to balance it; if you say this, you've got to balance it with this person - I, I don't - I don't believe that, and I think that's what, that's why my writing on these cases is different from other people's!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think about the way television handles trials?
DOMINICK DUNNE:Well interest-- see I'm all for televised trials. I, I think the American public has begun to understand the legal system through televised trials. It gets abused. That's the only, that's the only problem. I mean I cover the high profile trials. I cover the trials of the rich and the famous. And some of these people, the Marcia Clarkes, the Robert Shapiro's - they became famous characters. They all change! They all begin to think they are these wildly important people. And an arrogance sets in. That's what I write about!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much!
DOMINICK DUNNE: Thank you! I enjoyed this!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dominick Dunne is the author of Justice, Crimes, Trials and Punishments.