August 29, 2010 | 11:27 am
Los Angeles Times file photo
Clarence Darrow addresses jurors during his trial on charges of jury tampering.
| have spent the last few days at the Huntington Library going through transcripts of the trial of James B. McNamara in the 1910 bombing of The Times. They are typed on onionskin paper and bound in heavy leather volumes, but despite their age, they would be familiar to anyone who has ever been through jury selection. Here’s a sample:
Q. In other words, then, you stand indifferent between the people of the state of California on the one hand, don’t you, and the defendant on the other, in spite of any opinion that you have?
From our vantage point a century later, we know that Darrow had people on his defense team who were investigating prospective jurors, particularly detective Bert Franklin, who was eventually charged with attempting to bribe two of them.
How interesting it becomes, then, to read the transcript of Darrow and Robert Bain, one of the jurors in the attempted bribery, and contrast that gentle questioning with the withering barrage Darrow delivered to another prospective juror.
And surprisingly enough, these transcripts offer an undiscovered time capsule of early 20th century Los Angeles. Most of the prospective jurors, so far, don’t regularly read the newspaper – any newspaper – even if they are subscribers. They also don’t read magazines on any consistent basis. They have only a vague knowledge of the case. Something about gas – or dynamite – exploding.
In other words, the transcripts offer a glimpse into the stories of people who would otherwise be forgotten. They are not wealthy or powerful. They are janitors, carpenters, masons, wagon teamsters, ranchers, the retired and the unemployed. Seeing what a small, small role newspapers played in their lives is a humbling antidote to our notion that the papers of the day – especially The Times – shaped and molded public opinion with the efficiency of a factory machine.