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The Shame of the Media

November 29th, 2006 · 1 Comment

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A little shame can be a good thing. There are some actions worthy of embarrassment, guilt, or disgrace, and having some shame helps to ensure that those actions don’t get repeated.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., the owner of the Fox network, Fox News Channel, and HarperCollins Books, is regularly subject to shame, but seems not to learn its lessons. Back in 2000, the Fox network gave America “Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?”, a crass ratings sweeps stunt that married two total strangers, who promptly got an annulment. (Salon.com described the “look of abject terror and remorse on the bride’s face” when she finally beheld the moneybags who selected her from 50 contestants to marry.)

Afterward, then-Fox TV chairman Sandy Grushow told the San Diego Union-Tribune “I don’t think this is the kind of publicity this network either wants to or needs to generate. This is not the kind of business we want to be in; this is not the kind of image we want to perpetuate.”

Six years later, Grushow doesn’t work for Fox, but Murdoch’s conglomerate has once again gone shameless with a book and Fox broadcast special called If I Did It. Developed by Judith Regan, the former National Enquirer writer who has her own ReganBooks imprint at HarperCollins, If I Did It delivers the acidic reflux of the O.J. Simpson case.

You remember O.J. Simpson. In 1995, he was acquitted of murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman a year earlier, but was later held responsible in a civil case. Simpson still owes the victims’ families $33.5 million from the wrongful death judgment against him. But, he lives in Florida in a house protected from the courts, on a substantial pension from the National Football League.

Simpson has apparently taken time from his vow to find the real killer in order to write (with the aid of a ghostwriter) If I Did It, which discusses how he would have murdered the pair–that is, if he did it. This, of course, is a strange topic about which to write for a man who swears he didn’t do it. Simpson said he just wrote about it for “blood money,” so he can earn a reported $3.5 million in advance for his children.

Fox seemed to be going for some blood money, too. Estimates of hundred of thousands of copies were printed. But this isn’t the kind of book that has long legs–it needed major hype for a quick sale before word of mouth undermined it. This is where media conglomerates like News Corp. try to exercise the “synergy” of their many divisions. In this case, Fox TV, which has had dismal ratings in the fall season, would hype the book with a two-part primetime television interview between Regan and Simpson. The interviews were scheduled to air November 27 and 29, right at the end of the important November ratings period.

The News Corp. denied the existence of the Simpson project a few months ago when the National Enquirer reported it. But during the past month, Judith Regan began publicizing the book ad interview as O.J.’s “confession.” But credit those booksellers and Fox TV affiliates who saw through the stunt, and refused to have the blood money to pass through their hands.

Publisher’s Weekly noted that independent booksellers called the project “soulless,” and said they wouldn’t stock the book, or if they did, they wouldn’t promote it. At least a dozen Fox stations declined to air the special, too.

Seeing that the entire project lacked any moorings of decency, Regan developed a back story, telling the press that she was abused by a boyfriend years ago, which drove her to extract a confession from O.J. One must wonder — did this lead her to give O.J. a multimillion dollar advance, too?

But like O.J. said, it’s not a confession, it’s just blood money.

At the News Corp., every project is always about just the money. On November 20, Rupert Murdoch, recognizing that this project was going to be more trouble than it was worth, pulled the plug. His terse announcement said “I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project. We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown-Simpson.”

The rest of us can only hope the shame sticks with the News Corp. longer this time.

Photo: Flickr.com, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sangsara/303954979/

Tags: Books · Cable Television · Media Economics

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher Martin // Dec 17, 2006 at 6:13 am

    Judith Regan is out! The bad press is more than HarperCollins the the News Corp. want at this point.

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