Oprah Does Amarillo

It's the Queen of Talk versus the Meat Men, and outside the courtroom, master media manipulator Winfrey is already the clear winner.

"Star magazine found Gennifer Flowers in 1992. The Enquirer is the one that found a picture of O.J. wearing his Bruno Magli's. The Globe caught Frank Gifford red-handed, cheating," Alexander says, pausing. "Even though they set him up. They led that horse to water."

Alexander -- who claims to be under court order not to discuss Michael Jackson's nose, but reveals anyway that there's nothing left to it except a stump -- has had her own scoop: She found suspected serial murderer Andrew Cunanan's backpack --before the FBI got there.

"I spent $10,000, but it was worth it," Alexander says. "And I made a great contact in the FBI."

Affiliations aside, the crush was on for Oprah footage when the court broke for the afternoon -- an event signaled by Engler's lonely departure from the front of the courthouse.

Behind the courthouse, a mob of fans begins screaming. Despite the taped-off press spots, they crush past the cameras and press up against a chainlink fence that separates them from Oprah.

With each coming or going, Oprah gradually increased her comments. The ploy heightened the enthusiasm of her fans and helped her increase her popularity in town. While Oprah could have just zipped into her Suburban and peeled away from the mob unseen, she confidently walked right up to the fence and began shaking hands. After a minute the black Suburban finally pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street, drawing the crowd with it.

Women clutching Oprah books squeal, tears streaming down their faces as they run after the car. A young girl, seated atop a pink mountain bike, follows her mother into the street.

"Cross at the crosswalk," shouts an officer, who darts after the girl and prevents her head from smashing into a passing car.

On the sidewalk, a teenage girl dressed in a nylon running suit quickly becomes the evening's news story.

"Oprah touched my hand," she yells, her voice rising above the crowd. "Hey, everybody! Oprah touched my hand!"

The peak of the media's frenzy for chasing Oprah comes that evening, as Oprah prepares to tape her show at the Amarillo Little Theatre.

Oprah tried to keep snoops out of her rented turf by securing the modest brick theater with a new chainlink fence and hiring a handful of private security guards and off-duty Amarillo police officers.

She also reportedly made theater employees sign nondisclosure forms in which they agreed not to talk about Winfrey's behind-the-scene activities.

Reporters loudly complain about the situation, noting how ironic it is for little Miss Defender of the First Amendment to prevent people from speaking with reporters.

Winfrey's "people" declined to confirm or deny the reports, claiming the court's gag order prevented them from commenting. Nevertheless, Winfrey found ways to publicize other aspects of her show, namely the arrival of guests Clint Black and Patrick Swayze -- two Texas-born stars.

Whatever line there ever was between the news story associated with the trial and the entertainment story that followed Oprah was long gone.

"We're here because it's a First Amendment case," says freelance producer Lisa Hampshire, who was working on behalf of Entertainment Tonight and ABC news. "ET is interested in Patrick Swayze. Someone from ABC, they're just as interested in talking to Paul Engler. But if ABC gets a shot -- if Oprah walks over and starts talking like she did this morning, they're not going to share it. It's the 'money shot.' "

Hampshire, who covered the O.J. Simpson and Timothy McVeigh trials, says she's growing increasingly nervous about the presence of locals.

"The difference with this [story] is there's civilians involved," Hampshire says. "It's a little dangerous, actually."

Michael, a freelance sound technician who is toting a boom mike and withholding his name from an inquiring reporter, echoes Hampshire's fears. When Winfrey's guests arrive, he says, the media will move and the locals are liable to get trampled.

"It's called run and gun," Michael says. "When we have to run and gun, watch out."

Even though the taping is still two hours away, a line of ticket-holders trails out of the theater's doors. Some four dozen media representatives have staked out front-line positions on the sidewalk that runs in front of the building. A growing crowd of locals gathers behind them, the bodies flowing into the street.

A traffic cop, once again trying to prevent a pedestrian maiming, concludes that the best way to clear the street is to move the chain drawn across the theater's parking lot and create more standing room.

As soon as the chain is moved, the crowd pushes forward, leaving a line of cameramen standing in the background -- their once-ideal lines of fire now blocked by the backs of the locals' heads.

"They changed the rules!" complains Hampshire, who in her rush to stake out a new position trips over a piece of camera equipment and falls on her butt. An ET reporter chimes in, "You just can't trust those civilians."

In a voice just loud enough for others to hear, a reporter from a Dallas station whispers to his colleague, "I told you I might have an interview with Clint Black?" The boasting ceases when a middle-aged housewife loudly proclaims that she's hurting for entertainment.

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