Book closed on O.J. as News Corp. scraps plans

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After a firestorm of criticism, News Corp. has reconsidered its plan to release a controversial O.J. Simpson book and television special, with chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch taking the extraordinary step of personally apologizing for the pain it might have caused the families of the victims of 1994 double murder.

"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," Murdoch said in a statement Monday. "We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson."

"If I Did It," the book in which the former football star "hypothetically" discusses how he would have committed the murders if he had done them, was to be published Nov. 30 by ReganBooks, an imprint of News Corp.-owned HarperCollins Publishers. The publication was to have been promoted with a two-part, two-hour interview of Simpson by ReganBooks publisher Judith Regan that had been scheduled to air on News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co. over two nights, Nov. 27 and 29, the final night of the November sweep.

Brown-Simpson, Simpson's ex-wife, was slain along with her friend Goldman on June 12, 1994, at Brown-Simpson's home in Los Angeles. Simpson was tried and acquitted of their murders in 1995 but was later found liable for their deaths in a civil court and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims' families.

In light of Murdoch's decision, the copies of the book that already have been printed will be destroyed, a News Corp. spokesman said. The footage Regan's TV interview with Simpson, which was to be the basis for a two-part special on News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co., will not air on Fox, the spokesman added.

Representatives for HarperCollins referred calls to News Corp.'s corporate communications office. A representative for ReganBooks did not return calls seeking comment. A spokesman for Fox Broadcasting Co. declined further comment.

Simpson was reportedly paid $3.5 million for the book and TV interview, though Regan was quoted last week as saying the amount was "far less." Regan said in a lengthy statement that she considered the book Simpson's "confession" to the murders. Regan said in her statement that she cut the deal for the book through a "third party" representing Simpson and that she was told that Simpson's profits from the book would go not to him but to his children.

The Nov. 14 announcement of book and TV special triggered a wave of outrage, much of it directed at News Corp. for its willingness to capitalize on the notoriety of the double murder with what was widely decried as a unconscionable media stunt designed to sell books and generate ratings for News Corp.-owned entities. Numerous Fox executives were dismayed that the network was associating itself with the special, which the net promoted on-air last week.

"This is an interview that no one thought would ever happen. It's the definitive last chapter in the trial of the century," Mike Darnell, Fox executive vp alternative programming, said in a statement announcing the special, "If I Did It, Here's How it Happened."

By this weekend, at least a dozen Fox affiliate stations, including those owned by station owners Pappas Telecasting and LIN Broadcasting, had refused to air the special.

"The cancellation by the Fox network of the O.J. Simpson special is a victory for the people who spoke out," Pappas said in a statement Monday. "This special would have benefited only O.J. Simpson, who deserves nothing but contempt, and certainly no benefit."

Fox News Channel personalities from Bill O'Reilly to Geraldo Rivera and John Gibson also were vocal in criticizing News Corp. for going ahead with the book and the special.

"I'm not going to watch the Simpson show or even look at the book. I'm not going to even look at it," O'Reilly said in a "Talking Points" commentary last week. "If any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells. Ever. If every American walked away from the O.J. garbage, it wouldn't happen."

Paul J. Gough reported from New York; Nellie Andreeva reported from Los Angeles.
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