NEAL CONAN, Host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
And right now, the media circus. As you have undoubtedly heard by now, O.J. Simpson's book called "If I Did It" was scheduled to come out later this month accompanied by a series of television interviews on FOX.
(Soundbite of O.J. Simpson interview)
JUDITH REGAN: You wrote I had never seen so much blood in my life.
SIMPSON: I don't think any two people could be murdered without everybody being covered in blood.
I D: O.J. Simpson, "If I Did It, Here's How It Happened."
SIMPSON: I can't (unintelligible).
CONAN: What you may not have heard is just a few moments ago, all of that has been cancelled. Rupert Murdoch released a statement today, the head of News Corporation, which owns both Fox TV and the book's publisher said, quote, "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill- considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
Of course, Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, those murdered. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of their murder in a trial. He was later found culpable, liable, for their deaths and then he profits from any projects he may have subsequently encountered were diverted to them; $30 million worth.
We're going to talk with NPR's David Folkenflik in just a moment. And we want to hear from you on this - was pulling the book and the TV interview the right thing to do? We're you planning to buy the book or watch the Fox interviews?
Give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-talk or you can send us e-mail, talk@NPR.org. We're also going to talk in a bit about some other news affecting the media, newspaper sales down again and we'll take your calls on that as well.
David Folkenflik is with us here in studio 3A. He's NPR's media correspondent. Good to have you back on the program, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Great to be here.
CONAN: So in terms of pulling this from this - is Rupert...
REGAN: It's making all of us speechless, Neal, I mean...
CONAN: Yeah, I know. But is Rupert Murdoch - this is the first he's heard of it, and of course, as soon as he understood that this was happening and he was going to pull it.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he was sort of silent over the weekend. Pressure had been building. I think you alluded to a show tomorrow that involves a literary classic. This involved all the ingredients of what not to do for a literary classic.
You have O.J. Simpson - found as you said, not guilty, although culpable in the civil law suit for the deaths of his former wife and her friend. And here's a book in which he was going to say well, I had I slain both of them in this incredibly gory way, here's how it would have occurred. I guess he's the, you know, conditional killer.
So this stirred incredible hornet's nest of criticism. It involved, as you say, a corporate cousin - Harper Collins, which is the publishing arm of News Corp. - owned and controlled, that is, by Mr. Murdoch - has this offshoot called Regan Books controlled by the editor Judith Regan. She has signed this deal to send $2 million apparently to accounts controlled by Mr. Simpson's children. And she was also going to interview him on the Fox network, the broadcasting arm of News Corp.
There are lot criticism - not least from people at Fox News Channel itself. A lot of conservative commentators said this was pandering to the most base instincts. Smaller stationed groups said that they weren't going to run it. They were in smaller cities. So what's been interesting is that over the last few days Fox Broadcasting Network has been kind of quiet on this. Mr. Murdoch himself completely silent.
And it became evident that two major owners of affiliates - that is the Tribune Corporation which on six Fox stations and Sinclair, which is the other largest owner of station other than Fox itself - were having real difficulties with this. Tribune was supposed announce, the next 24 to 48 hours, whether it ran it - and it was looking doubtful for them.
CONAN: Let me ask you a couple of questions raised by what you just said. First, $2 million send to accounts for the Simpson children, in other words, Ron Goldman could not get his hands on it.
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. So the family of the two slain people would not see any of the money. Although it seemed fairly evident that their lawyers were signaling they'd try to get that money anyhow.
CONAN: And also the publisher was going to be doing the interview on Fox?
FOLKENFLIK: Yes. It's an astonishing situation. I mean you can hardly have of what you'd consider to be an independent interrogation by the woman who arranged in this sort of fantastical and astonishing deal. She has said, in justifying her arrangement in this. While she said she had been abused by a former, I guess the father of her children and that she took domestic violence very seriously and this was, in a sense, her catharsis, it's hard to understand why that would direct her attention on Mr. Simpson per se, particularly in an arrangement which might well have netted her significant profits. It seemed an exceptionally cozy back-scratching situation between different wings of the news corporation, which is undoubtedly why Mr. Murdoch himself felt drawn into this situation.
CONAN: Now who owns the rights to the book? Is it HarperCollins and by extension Rupert Murdoch, or is it this editor? Can she publish it now somewhere else?
FOLKENFLIK: That's a fair question. I mean all we know is that within the hour Mr. Murdoch has said, you know, HarperCollins' presses will not be publishing this book. ReganBooks is certainly, you know, an offshoot and owned by that.
If Ms. Regan herself has some sort of personal arrangement with Simpson, we don't know about it as opposed to the press. At the moment it seems like it's certainly not going to come from any wing of the news corporation.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. If you'd like to join us, by the way, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com.
This is Allison(ph), Allison with us from Salt Lake City.
ALLISON: Hi. My comment is just that just because a book can be published doesn't mean it should be published. And I think it's reprehensible that it was even contracted.
I think it's still a very divisive issue not only in terms of the murder but also in terms of the effect this trial had on race relations in this country. And does another dollar need to be made off these murders and off this incredible divisive event?
CONAN: David Folkenflik, when a dollar is there to be made some people would say let's go ahead and make it.
FOLKENFLIK: Well certainly, you know, television has found a way of trying to not only push the boundaries of what's acceptable but also to test and figure out what's acceptable. And every time you think you've reached the limit, you think you've found a new low.
At this point it appears as though upper management of news corporation, particularly Mr. Murdoch, decided - and notice that he himself personally released the statement, which I think is telling - decided this is beyond where we can go.
And Fox as a network has done some pretty astonishing things. I mean they said, you know, who wants to marry a millionaire sort of thing which...
CONAN: I remember the alien postmortem.
FOLKENFLIK: Indeed. And so the question is, you know, what are you willing to do to generate controversy? There was an interesting analysis in The New York Times in recent days saying that the Fox network itself has done very, very poorly.
I mean we've read repeatedly about how NBC is ailing. This was a way that, at minimum, stirred up a lot of buzz. And it's hard to imagine that people wouldn't have turned in as much as in horror as anything else but at least turned in for those two hours to see what Simpson had to say for himself.
CONAN: And, Allison, maybe you can help me out on this. I understand you used to work in the publishing industry.
CONAN: Now if Judith Regan, excuse me, sent $2 million to O.J. Simpson, presumably his account's controlled by his children, does this mean that he'll be asking for his money back or she'll be asking for her money back? Or is in fact Ms. Regan, and by extension Rupert Murdoch, out $2 million bucks?
ALLISON: Well I certainly wouldn't want to speak to what the situation is in their contract. But I would say most likely that he - they're out that money. That money's out the door and it's gone. That's usually what happens in a contractual situation like that. The money's not refunded.
CONAN: So any obligation he may have had to turn in a publishable manuscript or any of that terminology I guess he succeeded with because they were going to publish it.
FOLKENFLIK: And one thing I'd add, you know, within the hour, a little bit ago I was watching a bit of cable news before the news broke about the Simpson deal being cancelled. And you saw footage, at least on CNN, of a corporate jet that was having trouble with landing. And they were trying to find an alternate airport strip for it to land on more quickly than had been planned.
In a sense they're showing that because there's the potential, unfortunately, of something terrible happening. CNN's showing that for a reason. It thinks it will rivet viewers.
Well it's not that people are rooting for that to occur, but at the same time there's something unhappily compelling about disaster. I think this would be on that model.
CONAN: And we are able to report happily it did land safely and it wasn't a jet. So anyway, Allison, thanks very much for the call.
ALLISON: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye bye. Let's go to - this is Steve, Steve calling us from St. Louis.
STEVE: Hello. How are you?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
STEVE: Well I was going to say I think that we should let him print his story and put it out in the court of public opinion and air it on Fox or whatever network there is because that way we can all find out how crazy he is.
CONAN: So you were ready to watch it, Steve?
STEVE: No, not really. I was more interested in the story about the story. I really wanted to see what the reaction of the country was going to be.
CONAN: And that is turning out to be the story, isn't it, David Folkenflik?
FOLKENFLIK: Well in a sense Judith Regan and O.J. Simpson provide them - prove themselves to be dividers - excuse me, uniters not dividers. I mean the nation seemed to great revulsion across liberal and conservative lines, across, you know, racial lines to this as a development.
You know, it is something that even we in the media just could not turn our heads away from.
CONAN: Steve, thanks very much for the call.
STEVE: You're welcome.
CONAN: Bye bye. Let's go to - this is Michael, Michael calling us from Boise, Idaho.
MICHAEL: Hi. How are you today?
MICHAEL: Good. Love the show. I just wanted to make a comment. It's kind of actually refreshing for me to see corporate America having some humanity and taking some actual responsibility whether or not they were forced into it by overall opinion of the people. It's just - it's nice for me to see something like that happen finally.
CONAN: Is that what was in operation here, David Folkenflik?
FOLKENFLIK: It seemed to me as though it was going to be impractical for Fox to put this on without the participation of its largest affiliate groups. And you had the Tribune Company in Chicago, Sinclair Broadcast based in Baltimore, both of them looking very skeptically at this. Particularly Sinclair has been, as a corporation, has editorialized against the coarsening of culture. This would seem to run counter to that. They had not commented yet on whether they plan to run it.
But if you take out stations from the largest cities and the largest markets, as would have happened in at least many of them, it becomes impractical to run it. You don't get the revenues you want. The ratings don't matter as much.
I don't know whether humanity was involved or not, but certainly this was a very pragmatic decision here.
MICHAEL: Okay. Great.
CONAN: ...thanks very much for the call. Here's an e-mail that we got from Tiffany(ph) in - I'm not sure exactly where, in Kentucky, I think. I contacted my local Fox affiliate, WDRB FOX 41 in Louisville, Kentucky, and expressed my displeasure at the airing of this interview. I asked that our affiliate use its discretion not to broadcast it.
I received a reply from the station's program manager who stated the affiliate had joined a small but growing roster of stations around the U.S. that had decided not to air the program.
I am African-American. I believe in Mr. Simpson's guilt despite his acquittal in the criminal action. I do not understand Fox's reasoning in considering that such a broadcast was either news or entertainment worthy.
Mr. Simpson is a murderer, and his glorification on this hypothetical act is immoral and distasteful. Shame on Fox broadcasting.
And indeed that may have been the reaction of a lot of people. But you're suggesting, David, that simple profit and loss may have been driving the decision.
FOLKENFLIK: Just a very pragmatic decision. If your show is not being carried by your stations, it doesn't make much sense to air it. I think they thought they were going to do very well by, in a sense, promoting the book on TV and promoting the controversy over the interviews to get ratings.
CONAN: And here's an e-mail we got from Penny in Flint, Michigan. I have my views on what I think really happened, yet I'm disappointed that they're stopping the publication of the book because I would have liked to have been inside his head.
I personally think that white America ought to get over it and respect the judicial system decision. I think that he should find a minority publisher and publish the book. And I would hope that maybe TV One would air the interviews. We really don't know.
FOLKENFLIK: If I'm - TV One, as I understand, being a station that's focused on issues particularly for African-Americans, as in Radio One.
You know, there's nothing preventing from Mr. Simpson from finding another outlet for his book. There's nothing preventing him from self-posting and putting it online for free.
CONAN: I was going to say given the Internet, isn't this likely to come out one way or another?
FOLKENFLIK: I think it's entirely possible. You know, associates of Mr. Simpson were quoted in various outlets saying, you know, this wasn't even about the money so much as a way of telling the rest of the nation to kiss off for somehow dismissing him as irrelevant.
CONAN: We're talking with David Folkenflik on the media circus. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And despite that breaking story, David, there is other things that we wanted to ask you about. Newspapers in trouble, now the readership has been in decline for years. This is nothing new.
Yet an especially sharp decline this time around.
FOLKENFLIK: There's been deep declines at many of the nation's major metro newspapers. It's a steady story and a familiar story. Each newspaper editor I talk to echoes almost the same refrains. Paid circulation is down significantly, at times even double digit year over year. That's not a sustainable course.
If you talk to them, executives will say, look, our readership is actually stable or up. But that includes our Web sites. Almost nobody makes money off the Web sites except perhaps The Wall Street Journal, a very focused niche and wealthy market.
But if you look at the Boston Globe, a very proud newspaper, it's on course, according to analysts, to lose money this year. The Los Angeles Times just fired its editor-in-chief for taking a stand against new waves after waves of job cuts.
The Tribune Company, which we just alluded to earlier, which does own about two dozen television stations, is also one of the nation's largest and most prestigious newspaper publishers. It's on the auction block. We'll find out by the end of the year apparently what's to be done with it.
But it was forced to do so because major investors said, you're not turning enough profits, you're not able to get us enough return on our shares.
CONAN: And interestingly there have been a number of prominent newspapers on the blocks recently. And you can understand, given those numbers, why their owners may want to sell them. Some interesting buyers.
FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely. You found that, you know, a number of major markets there are bidders in any event who would like to take these newspapers and make them private again, make them not responsive to Wall Street.
So Jack Welch, the former head of GE, is interested in buying the Boston Globe and said, ah, I can run it profitably but expecting less profits than a corporate owner.
People in Los Angeles, David Geffen, the former music magnate, and Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, who are billionaires out there and entrepreneurs, they'd be interested in buying actually all of Tribune but in particular The Los Angeles Times, which is the real jewel in the crown of Tribune these days.
In Baltimore, in Hartford, there are other places where major philanthropists and entrepreneurs have popped up to say we think that a newspaper is sort of a public charge or utility. It's worth more than sort of being a cash cow and a thing to just cut and cut.
It's very difficult because Internet sites, of course, like Craigslist have kind of eaten their lunch and drawn away consumers of classified advertising and other long-time mainstays.
CONAN: We are also talking about Fox television and it's - well according to its president and owner Rupert Murdoch, misguided action in scheduling that interview with O.J. Simpson, which if you're just joining us has now been cancelled.
We also hear that they may launch a news satire show to compete with Jon Stewart.
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. There's talk by a guy whose one of the major producers of the hit show "24," which has Jack Bauer as the anti-terrorist guy dashing around the country. There is a notion that he could do something that would tilt to the right in the way that they feel, and rightly, that Jon Stewart's daily show tilts a bit to the liberal side. They are trying to do it now with Roger Ailes' Fox News Channel. It would be, as currently planned, show up a couple of times after the beginning of the year on Saturday evenings. They're going to see if it can be pulled off. You know, you'd send these sort of satirical correspondents in the field and try to gore the sacred cows of the left.
CONAN: David Folkenflik, thanks very much for being with us.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
CONAN: David Folkenflik and the media circus here on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. You can stay tuned to NPR News for more on the decision of Fox News to cancel both the publication of the book by O.J. Simpson and his scheduled TV appearances that had been penned for next week on Fox News.
I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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