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'Covered in blood' - O J Simpson's 'confession'

27 November 2006

The extraordinary saga of O J Simpson's confessional book If I Did It, Here's How It Happened has reverberated around the media world, showing that, even in these ruthlessly commercial times, there are things that people will not stomach.

At the heart of the story is famous football player O J Simpson, who was famously tried and acquitted of the bloody murders of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman on 19 June 1994 but was subsequently forced to pay compensation in a private suit. The book tells how he would have committed the murders if he had done so and, under US law, Simpson can even provide a full confession without being tried again for the murders. He is reported to have said: 'I don't think two people could be murdered without everyone being covered in blood.'

There's no doubt about the immense commercial value of a Simpson TV 'confession' to Fox, coupled with a sensational tell-all memoir to the publisher HarperCollins. Money was at the heart of this story and both these parts of the Murdoch empire stood to benefit hugely. However there's also the extraordinary comments of the publisher, Judith Regan, who said she hoped to squeeze a confession out of Simpson and to win a small victory for herself and other women who have been physically abused by men:

'I didn't know what to expect when I got the call that the killer wanted to confess... I made the decision to publish this book, and to sit face to face with the killer, because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives.'

Many in the American book trade and media felt that that explanation sounded more than a bit delusional, coming from someone whose company, HarperCollins Publishers, stood to earn millions. Booksellers reacted angrily to the fact that they had been sold the book as 'untitled by anonymous' and then found that it was 'too late to cancel' orders. Many nonetheless refused to stock it or said that profits would go to charity.

Even Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said: 'The Fox broadcasting unit has reached a new low point in American culture.' There was widespread revulsion at the thought of Simpson's 'confession' being blazoned across the airwaves and sold in bookshops.

The outcome was that Rupert Murdoch was forced to cancel the TV shows and the book, emerging from the whole debacle with the reputation of his company severely tarnished. It is good to know that there are some depths to which the media cannot sink without incurring widespread opprobrium.