When there’s money to be made–especially in the entertainment sector–it’s unusual to see a project halted on account of social responsibility. With that in mind, the media was stunned to hear Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, announce the cancellation of O.J. Simpson’s book and FOX special on Monday.
The announcement came after days of accusations hush money was offered to the Brown and Goldman families, threats of boycotts and the outright refusal of several FOX affiliates to air the two-night hypothetical Simpson tell-all If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened. The book and program were both designed as fictional accounts of how Simpson would’ve committed the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, if he had indeed committed them. The book was positioned high on sales charts, and the television special was expected to be a ratings powerhouse for the struggling FOX network. The stunt was expected to be hugely profitable for both News Corporation and Simpson himself.
So what happened? Likely, Simpson’s luck ran out. Despite the evidence displayed against him during the eight-month 1995 criminal trial, Simpson was deemed innocent primarily due to the efforts of his $4 million all-star team of legal eagles. A subsequent wrongful death civil suit filed by the Goldman family found him guilty to the tune of $33.5 million, but state laws preventing the seizure of his NFL pension and Florida home protected Simpson from paying a cent. Somehow, he wrangled a big-money deal to write a book in which he would more or less confess to the crimes. Amidst the media shitstorm that rained down on their company, Murdoch and the board decided to pull the plug. When modern corporate structures are designed with checks and balances to stop bad ideas from getting this far, it’s surprising that Murdoch was forced to step in to resolve the matter. Despite the kibosh on Simpson’s attempt to cash in on tragedy, nothing stands to change. Simpson will still roam free, ostensibly searching for the real killer, although mostly at golf courses and autograph signings. The FOX network will continue to broadcast whatever they can muster–a mishmash of American Idol, Sunday night cartoons and World’s Sluttiest Whores Caught On Tape! But even in the face of accusations that they offered money to the Brown and Goldman families–which may very well be true–the FOX network and their parent company for once had the decency to say to themselves, “We don’t need to make money this badly. Our bad,” in the face of public criticism. Whether this move is a sign of things to come or merely an aberration remains to be seen.