Murdoch gives OJ book the hook.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It came as something of an unpleasant surprised when it was announced last week that Fox Broadcasting and HarperCollins imprint Regan, both subsidiaries of News Corp, would be letting OJ Simpson tell the world how he killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman-if he had actually killed them.

The news hit the web like a ton of bricks; Simpson’s “hypothetical” account of the killings of Brown and Goldman was scheduled to be published next week with an accompanying two-part interview on the Fox Network. Reportedly, superstar publisher Judith Regan paid Simpson between $2 and $3.5 million US for the book entitled If I Did It. Regan is formally a reporter for the National Enquirer and her company has published a number of high-profile and controversial books about convicted killer Scott Peterson and the memoir of porn star Jenna Jameson.

Regan had kept the book hush-hush and only told her bosses at HarperCollins to expect something big at the end of November. But the news leaked last week and it sparked an immediate visceral reaction from the American public. Cable News pundits and others called Regan a bottom feeder; Bill O’Reilly led much of the anger from the desk of his show on Fox News (also a subsidiary of News Corp). O’Reilly called the book and TV interview "simply indefensible and a low point in American culture" while calling on a boycott of the book, the interview and any companies that paid for advertising slots during the program. "I'm not going to watch the Simpson show or even look at the book," he said. "If any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells - ever."

With public sentiment on torch and pitchfork mode, Regan issued a statement in her own defense saying that the point of the Simpson project had been misunderstood and that the book and TV deal had nothing to do with money. In the statement released last Thursday night she said her reason for doing this project was to help the victims of violence. She went on to say that as a young woman, she herself was abused by a boyfriend (an allegation he denies) and believes Simpson's confession to the murders—even hypothetically—will heal the wounds of victims everywhere. "I made the decision to publish this book, and to sit face to face with the killer," Regan said, "because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives. Amen."

Fred Goldman, father of the murdered Ron Goldman immediately hit the web and TV talk shows with a grassroots effort to stop News Corp and Simpson from glorifying and benefiting from the death of his son. A website was set up called Don’t Pay OJ and asked people to sign an online petition. “By signing the petition, you are sending a message to the people that are profiting themselves and who are helping a killer spew his verbal garbage and continue to disrespect the memories of Ron and Nicole and ALL victims of crime,” the Goldman family said in a statement on the website. About Simpson in particular, they added, “He should be shunned and ignored by both the media and the public. If we are to live in a remotely just society, a line of decency must be drawn.”

The avalanche began Monday when several FOX affiliates refused to air the two-part special "We are going to take a financial loss, but you know, some things are not for sale," said Frank Quitoni, president of Fox affiliate WWCP in Altoona, Pa. Instead, he had planned to run a program on a local children's hospital and a special on domestic violence.

By Monday evening the news came that no less than News Corp top boss and chairman Rupert Murdoch, had pulled the plug on both the book and the special. "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said Murdoch on Monday. "We are sorry for any pain that his has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

“I think News Corp. finally stepped up, admitted they made a mistake and did the right thing," said Jonathan Polak, lawyer for Goldman shortly after Murdoch’s announcement. "This is everything we have been asking News Corp. to do for the past two weeks. We want to thank the American people for helping make this happen."

With the cancellation of both deals Simpson still stands to make a few bucks from a News Corp buyout. Simpson has an outstanding $33.5 million judgment out against him from the 1997 civil trial brought by the Goldman and Brown families, a sum he’s yet to pay down in any amount. So an unknown sum from News Corp will go directly to Simpson’s two children.

In 1994, the trial of OJ Simpson, the once famous linebacker for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and mildly successful film actor, was called “the Trial of the Century.” Every detail of the trial was devoured and processed by cable news and helped establish broadcast careers of commentators like Greta Van Susteren. The jury verdict on October 3rd, 1995 was seen in 150 million US households with many networks interrupting regularly scheduled programming to air the verdict live. See a timeline of the trial here.

Sources: CNN, Wikipedia, FOX News, CTV, MSNBC.

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