Monday, November 20, 2006

In defense of O.J. Simpson...

What's the only thing worse than witnessing the spectacle of O.J. Simpson musing on the entirely hypothetical situation, If I Did It? NOT being allowed to witness it.

Now, hear me out.

MSNBC reports that the Fox network has pulled the plug on O.J. Simpson's upcoming television interview, in which he related how he would have conducted the Nicole Simpson-Ron Goldman know, if he wasn't 100 Percent Not Guilty. Additionally, Fox sibling HarperCollins has stopped the presses on Simpson's mem-noir If I Did It, thus sparing booksellers nationwide a serious classification dilemma.

Rupert Murdoch, the mastermind behind both decisions, had this to say regarding the dual discarding: "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project...We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

As we all know, Murdoch has never been one to deal in innuendo, fabricated stories or bad taste. We should all salute his efforts for knowing where to draw the line.

As far as projects go, this one was sick from the outset. O.J. Simpson did himself no favor by embarking on this endeavor, which will probably serve to alienate his few remaining defenders. Indeed, the only two questions he seems to be answering are: "Do you have something to get off your chest?" and, "Can you take on something that makes Juiced look like Naked Gun?" I, for one, had no plans to purchase (or even read) this book, nor was I canceling my late-November revelry at any point in order to catch his TV appearances.

That said, however, I still bristle at the idea that HarperCollins is going to recall and destroy existing volumes of If I Did It. As a fervent free-speech advocate, I strongly oppose ANY measure that keeps protected expression out of the public's hands. Free speech is a double-edged sword: while it allows for the uninhibited flow of ideas, it also permits the expression of sentiments that most of us could live without. As much as O.J.'s latest publicity jag disgusts the level-headed world, the former star has as much a right to speak as anyone else. He would likely have it even if he were incarcerated; after all, inmates give interviews too.

Don't think for a second that Murdoch's decision has anything to do with integrity or other lofty ideals; had that ever been a factor, he never would have commissioned the book and the interview in the first place. Instead, Murdoch saw the coming backlash and decided it might hurt his bottom line (not to mention his clout as a media titan). These are exactly the things that should never factor into whether or not the public can access something.

Judith Regan, head of the ReganBooks imprint that was to publish If I Did It, offered a reason for the book that would seem to contradict Murdoch's supposedly good intentions. An abuse victim herself, Regan said that O.J.'s book served as an indictment on those who practice spousal abuse. Whether or not this argument holds water may never be known, because free speech has once again taken a backseat to the pressures of capitalism and so-called "decency."

To paraphrase a favorite mantra of Murdoch's voracious consumers, "Let the free marketplace of ideas decide!"

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