And that is how his career as a journalist was born. From then on he made his living covering the celebrity trials of the late twentieth century: Claus von Bulow, Erik and Lyle Menendez, Michael Skakel, O.J. Simpson, and William Kennedy Smith. If these pieces focused a little bit too much on the defendants’ Adolfo suits and the luxuriousness of places like Greenwich, Connecticut or Beverly Hills, California, the point was made: the American rich hire defense attorneys widely outside the price range of most Americans; they buy justice for themselves.
Dunne later managed to turn this particular focus into his own television series, the entertaining if unsubtle Power, Privilege, & American Justice. In his high, whiny voice, he narrated episodes focusing on crimes and trials in America’s most exclusive neighborhoods. It was a light and somewhat shallow television show, but was apparently very popular. It was celebrity journalism and suffered from all the weaknesses of the type—but, perhaps for the first time in recent memory, Dunne managed to infuse an essentially vacuous type of journalism with at least some degree of social consciousness.
Robert Kennedy Jr. once said Dunne was a “gossip columnist, not a real journalist.” But that explanation is somewhat unjust; much journalism is essentially frivolous. There are entire magazines devoted to shopping for weddings and succeeding at fantasy football. Celebrity journalism is about following pretty people and recording how they live. If someone can use that popular medium to make a greater point about society and how it functions, well, more power to him.
So rest in peace, Dominick Dunne. The caviar and champagne will flow with wild abandon wherever you are going. And the population of the Social Register will come out to greet you with open arms.