Fox Pulls the Plug on O.J. Book and TV Specials

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation now says it will not publish O.J. Simpson's book If I Did It, and the company won't air a pair of related television specials. The decision comes after considerable controversy and bad press, some of it on Murdoch's own FOX News Channel.

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Apparently the backlash was a little too much. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is reversing itself and will not publish "If I Did It," the book by O.J. Simpson. Murdoch's company is also canceling a pair of television specials featuring and interview with the former football star.

NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: It was a decision greeted with grim relief in the publishing world and among many who run Fox-affiliated television stations. Included in the latter group was Bill Lamb, president of WDRB in Louisville, Kentucky. He was one of the first of a growing number who declined to air the two-part special set for the end of this month. Lamb says he hopes Fox's decision turned away the torrent of bad press.

Mr. BILL LAMB (President, WDRB): This is the kind of publicity that Fox used to get, but they're way beyond this now. They don't want this kind of publicity, and I think this was a mistake.

MASTERS: The show was a companion piece to Simpson's book, "If I Did It," billed in part of a hypothetical account of how Simpson would have killed his former wife, Nicole Brown-Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, had he committed those crimes, as many believe he did despite his acquittal in 1995.

In a brief statement, Murdoch said the project was ill concerned and apologized for any pain suffered by the families of the murder victims.

Ms. SARA NELSON (Editor-in-Chief, Publishers Weekly) I can't remember the last time a book was pulled basically for poor taste.

MASTERS: Sara Nelson is editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly. She says other books have been dropped but those cases involved issues like plagiarism or hoaxes, but this project generated an unusually strong response.

Ms. NELSON: The hue(ph) and cry was extremely loud. I mean people were really, really, really upset.

MASTERS: Among those who were offended was veteran agent Esther Newberg whose clients include New York Times writers Thomas Friedman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd.

Ms. ESTHER NEWBERG (Literary Agent,): I don't think there's been anything quite as disgusting as this ever in the 30 years I've been in the business.

MASTERS: The project came from Judith Regan whose ReganBooks imprint is part of Murdoch-owned HarperCollins. Regan was also the one who interviewed Simpson for the now-cancelled television specials.

As the backlash gathered force, Regan released a lengthy statement saying she had undertaken the project because she had been an abused woman herself. She said bringing Simpson to confess, as she put it, brought her closure. But agent Esther Newberg says she hopes HarperCollins will consider terminating its relationship with Regan.

Ms. NEWBERG: I would hope that they have to reassess whether she should be publishing any books based on this incredibly poor decision.

MASTERS: Regan did not respond to requests for comment. But Newberg says Regan's project will cost her bosses a few million dollars. As Newburg understands it, the publisher will now destroy as many as 400,000 copies of Simpson's book. And that's not all.

While details were sketchy, Regan said an advance was to be paid not to Simpson but to a third party who would ensure the money would go to Simpson's children. The figure was reported to be more than $3 million. And Newberg says if HarperCollins balks at paying, Simpson or that unnamed third party might go to court.

Still, Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly doesn't think Regan will be penalized too severely. Regan is a publishing phenomenon, Nelson says. She's had great success with books by Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh.

Ms. NELSON: She's also published some really great things. She published a book that came up for a National Book Award the other night - didn't win - by a guy named Jess Walters. She published Wicked, the book that the smash Broadway play is based on.

MASTERS: Regan has a canny or uncanny sense of what people want to read, Nelson says, so she doesn't expect Regan to disappear and neither will the book that is supposedly being destroyed. As of last night, copies were already being auctioned on eBay.

Kim Masters, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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