Monday, November 27, 2006

He's Baaaack: O.J. Proves Too Hot For the 'F-word Network' to Handle

Simpson Book and TV Fiasco Is a Public-Relations Disaster for Fox, But Despite Public Outcry, Boss Murdoch Yanks Special Only After an On-Air Rebellion at Fox News

By Skeeter Sanders

Jack Cafferty loves to stick it to the Fox News Channel. Whenever CNN's resident curmudgeon mentions his network's cable-news arch-rival on his daily news program, "The Situation Room," Cafferty can't resist taking a sarcastic potshot at what he calls "The F-word Network" every chance he gets, barely concealing his disdain for Fox's conservative-leaning politics.

Last week, Cafferty found himself with plenty of company, as Fox found its name turned into a three-letter obscenity with millions of Americans outraged over plans by FNC's over-the-air sister network to broadcast a two-part special based on a highly controversial book by O.J. Simpson.

The former football star -- whom millions of Americans, including this blogger, believe literally got away with the murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman -- stunned and outraged the nation with a book that amounts to an imaginary confession.

That Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 in one of the most sensationalized trials in modern American history, would have the audacity to write a book in which he was to describe how he would have killed his ex-wife was shocking enough.

That it was about to be published by ReganBooks, an imprint of Harper Collins, to be followed up by a two-part interview with Simpson on Fox, was just too much for the public to withstand.

The upshot: Fox and Harper Collins are both owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. From the day the book and the TV special were announced 10 days ago, NewsCorp's hopes of making millions were quickly smothered by a Category 5 hurricane of public revulsion.

Outrage Doesn't Faze Murdoch -- Until an Open Rebellion Erupts Inside Fox

From the Brown and Goldman families to Fox affiliate stations to advertisers to booksellers the outrage was as swift and furious as that which followed Simpson's acquittal at his murder trial. Fox was initially prepared to ride out the storm -- even offering, it was later revealed, to turn over to the Brown and Goldman families all profits from the Simpson book and special.

But it wasn't until an open rebellion erupted inside Fox -- led on-air by Fox News Channel's top-rated personality, Bill O'Reilly -- that Murdoch, a media baron long known to have a taste for scandal, finally felt compelled to personally pull the plug on the project.

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

As one TV writer noted, it was "an astonishing end to an imaginary confession that had sickened the public as the very worst kind of tabloid sensation." But this blogger strongly believes that were it not for O'Reilly's revolt -- in which he openly called on the air for a boycott of any company that advertises on the Simpson special -- it would have gone forward.

Simpson's now-cancelled book, which bore the ignominious title If I Did It, was to have been the follow-up of an also-now-cancelled interview of Simpson by ReganBooks founder and publisher Judith Regan that was to have aired tonight (Monday) and Wednesday night. The book was to have gone on sale on Thursday.

HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said last Monday that some copies had already been shipped to stores but would be recalled, and all copies would be destroyed. But even before Crum issued that announcement, copies of the book were already offered for sale on eBay. The Internet auction site pulled it the following day.

Brown Family: NewsCorp Offered Us $Million$ to Keep Quiet

The scandal got even uglier last Tuesday when Denise Brown, Simpson's former sister-in-law, accused Fox's parent News Corporation of trying to buy her family's silence for "millions of dollars."

Andrew Butcher, a NewsCorp spokesman, confirmed that the company had conversations with representatives of the Brown and Goldman families a week before the controversy erupted and that the company offered to forward them all profits from the planned Simpson book and TV specials, but rejected allegations that it was "hush money."

"There were no strings attached," Butcher insisted. But the Brown and Goldman families flatly rejected the offer out of hand, with Denise Brown telling 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."

Fred Goldman Thanks Public for "Forcing Fox to Back Off". . .

For his part, Ron Goldman's father, Fred, expressed appreciation to anyone who voiced their opposition to the book and interview. Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live," Goldman -- who won a $33.5 million wrongful-death civil judgment against Simpson -- thanked "everyone in this country who raised their voice and stood up for the right thing."

Goldman's attorney, Jonathan Polak, praised Murdoch's decision to kill the project. "I think NewsCorp finally stepped up, admitted they made a mistake and did the right thing," Polak told The Associated Press. "This is everything we have been asking NewsCorp to do for the past two weeks. We want to thank the American people for helping make this happen."

Adding fuel to Goldman's outrage is that fact that, to date, Simpson hasn't paid any of the $33.5 million civil judgment against him. Under California law, his NFL pension could not be seized. Nor can his Miami mansion be seized under Florida law.

However, Simpson still earns a substantial income from royalties from his 1995 book, I Want to Tell You and from speaking engagements. He and the Brown and Goldman families have wrangled over the money in court for years.

Ironically, Simpson had planned to make a series of TV news appearances in June 1994 to mark the 10th anniversary of the murders, but got bumped off the air by an even bigger news story: The death of former President Ronald Reagan.

. . . But Goldman Really Has O'Reilly to Thank

For Fox, the controversy could not have come at a worse time. It has been a particularly tough fall season for the "F-word Network," which has seen none of its new shows catch on and its two biggest hits -- "American Idol" and "24" don't make their season debuts until January. But if there's anyone whom Fred Goldman should really thank for killing the Simpson project, it should be O'Reilly.

It was he who actually fired the torpedoes that sank the "S.S. O.J." when he not only ripped the special on his top-rated nightly Fox News Channel show "The O'Reilly Factor" as "simply indefensible and a low point in American culture," but also called for a boycott of any company that advertises on it -- an unprecedented direct challenge to his own network.

"I'm not going to watch the Simpson show or even look at the book," O'Reilly told his viewers. "If any company sponsors the TV program, I will not buy anything that company sells -- ever."

O'Reilly wasn't alone. Fellow Fox News personality, Geraldo Rivera -- no stranger to controversy himself -- echoed O'Reilly's criticism. "I will bash this project every minute I have the opportunity to bash this project," Rivera said on O'Reilly's program.

And a Fox anchor in Los Angeles, while acknowledging that he would probably "get into trouble" for "biting the hand that feeds me," said he nonetheless felt compelled to denounce the Simpson special as "disgusting."

That did it. At least 12 Fox affiliate stations promptly served notice on the network that they would not carry the special. Advertisers shied away from the show in droves, robbing Fox of vital November sweeps-month revenue. And if that wasn't enough, numerous booksellers -- including -- told HarperCollins that they would not sell the book.

O'Reilly Apparently Motivated By Fear That Anti-Fox Backlash Would Spread to Fox News

It's rather apparent to this blogger that O'Reilly was worried that a viewer backlash against Fox's over-the-air entertainment network over the Simpson special would spill over to Fox News, causing the cable channel -- which in recent weeks already lost its ratings lead over arch-rival CNN -- into a Nielsen free-fall.

Long accused by media critics, including this blogger, of having a conservative, pro-Republican bias, Fox News has the added burden of dealing with the longstanding reputation of its parent company for scandal-mongering and sensationalism.

Sure enough, just hours after Murdoch announced the cancellation of the project, a confident O'Reilly told his viewers that the decision to scrap the Simpson special "proves that Fox News is an independent network, not a conservative network."

Yeah, right, Bill. How, then, do you explain all of the whining by conservatives on your show and other Fox News programs in the days and nights immediately following the Republicans' defeat in the November 7 election? Give me a break. Fox News "independent?" Puh-leeze! And you wonder why Jack Cafferty calls you "The F-word Network?"

A Slap In the Face to Regan

In any case, Murdoch's decision to kill the O.J. project was a stunning slap in the face to ReganBooks and its high-profile founder and publisher, Judith Regan. No slouch at generating controversy in her own right, Regan apparently went too far by labeling both the book and the interview Simpson's "confession."

ReganBooks is known for publishing such gossipy, controversial best-sellers as Jose Canseco's Juiced, about alleged steroid use by Major League Baseball players and adult-film star Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.

So what's next for Regan? A quickie tell-all about comedian and former "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards' obscenity-laced racial tirade?

Please, Judith, spare us.

# # #

Volume I, Number 55
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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