The O.J. Simpson project is dead, but the book and the TV interview could turn up in bootleg form in this age of YouTube and eBay, when scandalous information seldom stays secret for long.
News Corp., owner of Fox Broadcasting and publisher HarperCollins, called off Simpson’s “confession” Monday after advertisers, booksellers and even Fox personality Bill O’Reilly branded the project sick and exploitive.
A two-part interview had been scheduled to air Nov. 27 and Nov. 29 on Fox, with the book, “If I Did It,” to follow on Nov. 30.
HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said some copies had already been shipped to stores but would be recalled, and all copies would be destroyed. She would not say how long that would take, although industry insiders believe several days would be needed to destroy a print run that was likely in the hundreds of thousands.
But with the interview already taped, and truckloads of books either sitting in warehouses or headed back to the publisher, Simpson’s supposedly hypothetical account of how he would have committed the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman appears all but certain to surface.
“A book becomes collectible when it’s hard to find, and this will become very, very collectible, surely worth four figures,” said Richard Davies, a spokesman for AbeBooks.com, an online seller that specializes in used and collectible books.
Steve Ross, senior vice president and publisher of the Crown Publishing Group, said tens of thousands of returned books are destroyed every day.
But it’s entirely possible that the Simpson TV interview will get out in some form, said Jeff Jarvis, operator of the BuzzMachine Web log and a journalism professor at City University of New York.
“All life is on the record now,” he said. “Anything you can do can get out there and get out there quickly.”
The Simpson book will also almost certainly remain underground, with another publisher unlikely to take on “If I Did It.”
‘Public equivalent of doing a snuff film’
Even Michael Viner, whose previous releases include a memoir by disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair and a tell-all by four Hollywood call girls, said his Beverly Hills-based Phoenix Books was not interested.
“It’s the public equivalent of doing a snuff film,” said Viner, referring to films that claim to show a person being killed. “People can make money by doing snuff films, but no one wants to be associated with it.”
The Simpson saga took another twist Tuesday when his former sister-in-law, Denise Brown, accused News Corp. of trying to buy her family’s silence for millions of dollars.
A News Corp. spokesman confirmed that the company had conversations with representatives of the Brown and Goldman families over the past week and said that they were offered all profits from the book and TV show, but he denied it was hush money.
“There were no strings attached,” News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher said.
Denise Brown told NBC’s “Today” show that her family’s response was: “Absolutely not.”
“They wanted to offer us millions of dollars. Millions of dollars for, like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ money. But they were still going to air the show,” Brown said. “We just thought, ‘Oh my god.’ What they’re trying to do is trying to keep us quiet, trying to make this like hush money, trying to go around the civil verdict, giving us this money to keep our mouths shut.”
Pre-publication sales for “If I Did It,” had been strong but not exceptional. It cracked the top 20 of Amazon.com last weekend, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its elimination was announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.
Any fascination with Simpson’s shocking return to public life was overcome by revulsion and disbelief from the public.
Murdoch pulls the plug
Even News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, a media king with a famous taste for scandal, couldn’t stand it anymore. On Monday, he canceled the whole thing, less than a week after it was announced.
“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” Murdoch said. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”“If I Did It” had been scheduled to air as a two-part interview Nov. 27 and Nov. 29 on Fox, with the book to follow on Nov. 30. HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said some copies had already been shipped to stores but would be recalled, and all copies would be destroyed.
Simpson’s attorney, Yale Galanter, told The Associated Press: “We had known for three or four days that this was a possibility.”
“There are only three possible reactions: anger, happiness or indifference. He’s totally indifferent about the fact that it’s been canceled,” Galanter said.
He said he didn’t know if Simpson was paid upfront.
Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 but was later found liable for the deaths in a wrongful-death suit filed by the Goldman family. Simpson has failed to pay the $33.5 million judgment against him in the civil case. His NFL pension and his Florida home cannot legally be seized. He and the families of the victims have wrangled over the money in court for years.
Families to take legal action
Ron Goldman’s sister, Kim Goldman, said on CBS’ “The Early Show” Tuesday that the family would take legal action to collect any money Simpson received from the deal. Denise Brown went farther, saying that money was being hidden for Simpson so he didn’t have to pay the civil judgment. “The courts one day will find out who that person is,” Brown said.
“I would like nothing better than to straighten out some things that have been mischaracterized,” he said. “But I think I’m legally muzzled at this point.”
Sensation has long been in News Corp’s game, but the Simpson book drew almost universal anger — from those who knew Goldman and Brown, from booksellers and advertisers, even from Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly urged a boycott of any company that advertised on the special.
A dozen Fox network affiliates said they would not air the two-part special, and numerous stores had either declined to sell the book or had promised to donate any profits to charity.
“I really don’t think there would have been very many advertisers who would have been willing to participate in this show,” said Brad Adgate of the ad buying firm Horizon Media.
With little advertising, Fox would miss the chance to profit from the show. If there were no advertisers, the show wouldn’t even be rated by Nielsen Media Research — so the number of people watching would have done nothing to help Fox’s season average, he said.
The cancellation was a stunning rebuke to ReganBooks — a high-profile imprint of HarperCollins — and Judith Regan, who had labeled the book and interview Simpson’s “confession.” She insisted that she had done it not for money, but as a victim of domestic violence anxious to face down a man she believed got away, literally, with murder.
ReganBooks is known for gossipy best-sellers such as Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” and Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.” Regan, one of publishing’s most driven and forceful personalities, did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
The TV special was to air on two of the final three nights of the November sweeps, when ratings are watched closely to set local advertising rates. It has been a particularly tough fall for Fox, which has seen none of its new shows catch on and is waiting for the January appearances of “American Idol” and “24.”
The closest precedent for such an about-face came when CBS yanked a miniseries about Ronald Reagan from its schedule in 2003 when complaints were raised about its accuracy. It was seen on CBS’ sister premium-cable channel, Showtime, instead.
One Fox affiliate station manager said he wasn’t going to air the special because he was concerned that, whether or not Simpson was guilty, he’d still be profiting from murders.
“I have my own moral compass and this was easy,” said Bill Lamb, general manager of WDRB in Louisville.
During an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, expressed appreciation to anyone who opposed the book.
“We want to say thank you, thank you for everyone in this country who raised their voice and stood up for the right thing,” Goldman said.
Numerous books have been withdrawn over the years because of possible plagiarism, most recently Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” but removal simply for objectionable content is exceptionally rare. In the early 1990s, Simon & Schuster canceled Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Pyscho,” a graphic account of a serial killer. The novel was released by Random House Inc., and later made into a feature film, an improbable fate for Simpson’s book.
Sales for “If I Did It,” had been strong, but not sensational. It cracked the top 20 of Amazon.com last weekend, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its cancellation was announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.