Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Wrong to Censor O.J.

Huffington Post
Jeff Norman
It's Wrong to Censor O.J.

When news broke on June 12, 1994 that Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson had just been killed in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, countless media organizations began to cover this double-murder relentlessly. Although the reportage has since become less ubiquitous, it never completely stopped, even though much of the attention has probably been very upsetting to the next of kin.

So nobody should believe News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch's claim that it was out of respect for the Brown and Goldman families he squashed "If I Did It," the television/book combo which was to have been marketed as O.J. Simpson's confession. The notorious mogul reversed his plans only to remedy a public relations crisis, and because he realized a flight of sponsors and affiliates would financially impair his Fox Broadcasting Company if Judith Regan's interview with Simpson were to air. Murdoch's decision, a shrewd response to a barrage of shallow complaints by influential elitists, indicates no new trend toward excellence in journalism.

It would be nice if the masses weren't so obsessed with O.J. and his worldview, but those who crave constant Juice shouldn't be deprived of their fix simply because the dictators of decency are offended. Yes, Fred Goldman and Denise Brown endured a terrible tragedy. No, their grief does not entitle them to be gatekeepers of public information. Likewise, celebrity commentators who for years profited from this ongoing soap opera, possess no moral authority to shriek in indignation over a book based on the leading man's perspective. Nonetheless, now that he has entered their field, pundits who gladly accept generous wages for producing sordid infotainment and sensationalism, are openly conspiring to deny Simpson a livelihood, as if he is beneath them, and they are official stewards of an honorable profession. What could be more unctuous than Geraldo Rivera, who conducted an infamous TV interview with convicted murderer Charles Manson, calling for O.J. to be silenced in the name of good taste?

Like it or not, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges. The judgment in a subsequent civil lawsuit obligates him to pay $33.5 million to the Brown and Goldman families, but it does not authorize anyone to blacklist the famous defendant or suppress his speech. Even so, self-appointed arbiters of propriety have managed to severely restrict Simpson's mass communication options, citing his receipt or potential receipt of cash as the factor that somehow distinguishes "If I Did It" from lowbrow material deemed acceptable. Of course the financial terms of O.J.'s book deal are mostly unknown, but vague rumors about an unusual payment scheme are enough for disparagers to insist this project is where the line should be drawn.

Those who now advocate blocking Simpson's revenue source haven't bothered to articulate a standard that could be applied to other situations. Without revealing how the former star might be eligible for income, detractors have announced only their disapproval of him making money from one particular book most of them haven't read. Apparently, these vigilantes are holding him accountable for breaking a rule, but it's not clear what the rule is, or what Simpson needs to do to be in compliance. May he receive funds for labor performed under some circumstances? May he discuss his criminal and civil trials in any way? For whom may he work?

The stifling of "If I Did It" is nothing to cheer. No matter how much the relatives of murder victims engender sympathy, it is not the role of media professionals to censor or otherwise punish O.J. Simpson, especially when the cognoscenti aren't even forthright about the code of conduct they wish to enforce.