Monday, November 20, 2006

When Rupert Murdoch thinks you've crossed a line, well ...

Fox TV's schedule for the week of Nov. 26, which did not yet reflect the canceled Simpson programs shortly after they were pulled.

News Corp, the corporate parent of the broadcast network that brought you "The Littlest Groom," Temptation Island" -- I, II and III -- and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancee," has decided that pimping O.J. Simpson's tell-nothing fantasy non-confessional book and Fox TV interview just goes too far.

At last, we have found a bottom.
"I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," said Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."
There had been some backlash from some Fox affiliates, who said they would not air the show, and tons of criticism, from expected and unexpected places. With no obvious connection to his life other than his folksy contempt for things vile, CBS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer used his "Face the Nation" commentary last Sunday to say that until the latest Simpson saga "I thought the Congressional Page scandal would surely win the most disgusting story of the year prize."

Fox News stars Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Riviera also felt just fine biting the hand that feeds them. (Of course O'Reilly couldn't resist accusing what he calls the "so-called 'media elite'" of underplaying the story).

With friends like these, pitchforks and torches can't be far behind.

This whole thing was doomed from the start, of course, even though in the midst of the firestorm Barnes and Noble and Borders said they would carry the book. When I was a reporter in New York City in 1989 Barnes and Noble wasn't even stocking "The Satanic Verses" when Salman Rushdie was first under a death threat from Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. Times change, I guess.

What remains astonishing about this entire, thankfully brief episode is how these projects percolated up and down the food chain for so long -- how long? -- only to be squashed days before they saw the light of day.

Did every insider underestimate the potential for revulsion? Is it even remotely possible that Janet Regan can survive this?


Bob Crooke said...

A great post, but may I add a few thoughts, before we all breathe a sigh of relief and fall back into our cultural slumber?
O.J. has reportedly received a $3.6 million fee already. This is unsurprising, since it is standard procedure when one individual is putting out and others are ready to purchase that service.
The notion that the FOX-TV and Judith Regan Books decision to cancel was in response to public outcry makes a great and heart-warming story, particularly as the "holiday season" commences. But a fear of endless litigation from the Brown and Goldman families, the potential loss of really serious money, and relentless media coverage during which it is certain that FOX and Regan would lose control of their brand images is the far more likely motivation.
I don't know about you, but this FOX/Regan Books gaffe strikes me as a mistake less in substance than in degree. The FOX-TV brand of "news" and prime time entertainment programming is a self-evident mire, a sort of 24/7 Page Six in full-motion video. And Ms. Regan? I mean. Didn't she also bring out the sad, hapless book by the sadly, "outed" Monica Lewinsky, a girl whose initial self-humiliation was compounded by grinning media accomplices for several years until finally, they kicked her off our island because her refusal to get the joke grew tiresome?
In too many ways to count, this latest fiasco says something creepy about modern media, commercial book publishing, and, of course, celebrity. Without even going into the notion that current "celebrity" seems to find actual talent or accomplishment not just unnecessary, but inhibiting, let's just remember that "notoriety" and "notorious" come from the same root word and leave it at that.
Now, I don't dismiss commerce or commercial publishing. My gosh, why would I? But commercial publishers have sold us a concept, which we apparently accept, namely; that what is primarily a business transaction always also means "good", "artistic", "credible" or "honorable."
As we know from our experience of commercial transactions in other businesses, sometimes the deal is good and the product is worthy, and sometimes not. The fact that someone has bought and someone has sold is almost a separate issue.
None of this matters until publishers and consumers start to believe the improbable: that whatever has been contracted by a commercial pubisher is, de facto, worthy, or worse, that whatever has not been commercially contracted is unworthy, de facto.
This is not a new misconception, of course. Virginia Woolf's uncommercial novels were printed on a letter press in their basement by her husband, because no one else would. The last few novels of Henry James [those now considered among his masterpieces, like Portrait of a Lady, Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl] might never have been taken on by a commercial publisher were it not for the secret intercession [unknown to James] by his friend, Edith Wharton, who essentially insured his publisher against risk, undertaking to cover the cost of any books not sold. Now that says something about friendship. It certainly says something about commercial publishing, and, perhaps even about the reading public, but let's not go there. It's sufficient to say that Woolf, James and Joyce [whose Ulysses was essentially published from the back room of a Paris bookstore], as were the first poems and stories of Hemingway, represent innumerable other literary artists of whom commercial publishing took no account or simply lost interest in.
So, I suggest that though our shock and outrage over the Simpson book deal are warranted, none of this should imply that the "system somehow worked" and that all is well.
John's recollection of how Barnes & Noble in Manhattan was not carrying Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" during the late '80s, at the height of the fatwa against the author, is quite germaine to this discussion. It is in moral essence, and in degree, precisely the same sort of outrageous decision as that which nearly brought us "O.J.: How I Did It, If I Did It."
Caveat Emptor.

Dan said...


I believe the book's been canceled entirely. :D