The following essay was included in True’s email editions for the week of 19 November 2006.
I had reserved this space tonight for a major rant. What makes one of my rants “major”? I was actually going to call for a boycott and a letter-writing campaign — I don’t recall ever doing that before. I wanted to show how collective outrage can make a difference. But you know what happened? Collective outrage grew on its own, quickly rising to a spontaneous chorus of “NO!” And the perpetrator listened.
That perpetrator was the Fox network and ReganBooks — or, more accurately, their shared parent, News Corp.
And the perpetration was indeed outrageous: a TV special based on O.J. Simpson’s new book, If I Did It, which told how he “would have” committed the murder of his ex-wife and an innocent passer-by “if” he had done it.
The book’s editor, Judith Regan, had rationalized the book’s publication by saying she considered the book Simpson’s “confession” and figured the huge royalties that would come from such a book would go to his kids. Uh huh.
Way back in early 2000, a Fox network executive pledged that the network’s exploitation shows are “gone, they’re over.” He promised to eliminate “anything that is exploitative, that reeks of desperation, anything that’s merely out for ratings.” I was so dubious that I slugged (titled) the story very simply: “When?“
Exploitative and Reeks of Desperation
Yet here they were, ready to air a show — during sweeps no less — which gave a murderer who had beaten the system a platform to talk about how he snuffed out two lives and walked free. He “searches” for the “real killers” on any golf course that will let him in, using the liberal homesteading laws of Florida to shield his assets from seizure after losing a wrongful death suit.
And OK, let’s say you are one of the 1 percent of the public who doesn’t think he’s guilty; he’d still be making profit from a specific murder he was intimately involved in. “Exploitation” indeed.
Why would Simpson do it? First, he didn’t: he admitted the book was ghost-written under his name. Second, there’s no worry that he’ll be prosecuted again, since he was already found “not guilty” by a jury, and by law he can’t be put on trial for murder again even if he swore he did it.
Follow the Money
So obviously he did it for the money. How do I know? He said so.
“I made it clear that it’s blood money,” he said, “but it’s no different than any of the other writers who did books on this case.” Except the other writers didn’t actually commit the murders, eh? He said the cash would be “an opportunity for my kids to get their financial legacy.”
Yet even though Simpson and ReganBooks and Fox were all ready to profit from that murder, the head of News Corp., Rupert Murdoch, apparently personally ordered the show off the air and the book canceled; the latter, especially, is an unprecedented move.
It’s unclear whether Simpson will have to repay his advance, which is said to be as much as $3.5 million, but Simpson said he has already spent the money (so much for his kids’ “legacy”!)
News Corp. announced it would destroy all printed copies of the book.
And Public Outrage Worked
Some Fox affiliates had already refused to air the show. Others had decided to donate all the local ad time to abuse shelters, anti-violence organizations and such. Borders books had said it would donate any profits on sales of the book to charity.
But it wasn’t enough: public outrage grew. The chorus of “NO!” got so loud that Murdoch couldn’t ignore it, even if Regan and Fox execs did, and actually apologized for his company’s role in the fiasco.
And with that, the power of collective outrage was proven.
That, dear readers, is why I do editorials and rants …and many are categorized as both. Because I think when you know about outrageous problems, you’re more likely to be outraged. And the more people who are outraged about a problem like, say, Zero Tolerance policies in our schools, or truly frivolous lawsuits, the more the chorus of voices decrying that outrage will rise — and the more the people in charge will hear it (and, more importantly, will rush to fix the problem to stop the chorus).
It really does work, even though it’s tough to get people to pay attention to issues that aren’t right in front of them. We’re all busy people living busy lives, but if we don’t say “NO!”, who will?
November 27 Update
After reading the above, Michael in Texas retorted: “And free speech takes another blow — from a staunch supporter.”
No, not even close: this is not a blow against free speech, it’s an example of free speech in action. The government didn’t step in, the publisher did. It’s up to the owner of the company to decide what the company should publish, not the government. And indeed, not the teeming masses.
But the teeming masses also have the right of free speech, to express their disapproval. News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch heard that free speech loud and clear, and then exercised his — by making the decision himself, not with government intervention, that the planned book and broadcast were in bad taste and simply canceled them both. So “with that, the power of collective outrage was proven.”
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In September 2007, Simpson led a gang into a room at the Palace Station hotel-casino in Las Vegas and took sports memorabilia at gunpoint. Simpson admitted to police to taking the items, but claimed they had previously been stolen from him. He denied breaking into the hotel room, or that he or anyone with him carried a gun.
Simpson was charged with multiple felony counts, including criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, robbery, and using a deadly weapon.
Simpson was found guilty of all charges, and sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison, with the possibility of parole after about nine years. At his parole hearing on July 20, 2017, the board decided to grant Simpson parole. His release date is October 1, 2017 — he will have served nine years.
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