Publisher Is Fired on the Heels of O.J. Fiasco

HarperCollins gave no reason for its firing of Judith Regan, shown last month.
HarperCollins gave no reason for its firing of Judith Regan, shown last month. (By Richard Drew -- Associated Press)
By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 16, 2006

First Judith Regan lost her book and television deal. Now the envelope-pushing publisher, whose name will forever be linked with O.J. Simpson's, has lost her job.

In a brief statement issued late yesterday, HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman announced that "Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately." Friedman, whose publishing house is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., added that Regan's Los Angeles-based "publishing program and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group."

Neither Regan nor her publicist returned calls last night requesting comment.

On Nov. 20, Murdoch ordered the cancellation of "If I Did It," which was to have been published by ReganBooks to coincide with a Regan-conducted Fox television interview with the former NFL star. Simpson, who was charged and acquitted in the murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, was to have explained how he might, hypothetically, have committed such a murder.

Regan was quoted as saying she believed she had obtained Simpson's confession, which Simpson later denied. Widespread public outrage greeted the announcement of the Simpson project, and the furor led Murdoch to pull the plug.

Publishing executives were simultaneously stunned by Regan's boldness and angered at her dragging the industry into the muck. "It's so outrageous and flamboyant and audacious that part of you almost laughs while the other part of you wants to puke," said Little, Brown editor in chief Geoff Shandler at the time.

Regan has a history of publishing attention-grabbing, taste-eschewing books such as Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star." But she has offered a range of titles, some much more conventionally respectable. This fall, one of her books, Jess Walter's novel "The Zero," was a finalist for a National Book Award.

"Judith has always been a good friend and one of the few people who never lied to me," Walter told the Associated Press last night. "Having dealt with publishing and Hollywood, I can't say that about everyone."

One forthcoming ReganBooks title, Peter Golenbock's "7: The Mickey Mantle Novel" -- scheduled to be published in March -- has been generating adverse publicity for its dubiously substantiated portrait of the great Yankee slugger's sexual activities. Its author has described it as an "inventive memoir."

A few weeks after the Simpson fiasco, Friedman -- to whom, at least in theory, Regan reported -- was named Publishers Weekly's "Publishing Person of the Year." A paragraph high in the PW cover story on her tried to make the best of the awkward timing, as follows:

"And when the situation called for it, this very public face of HarperCollins managed to do something that goes against her nature -- lay low. By refusing to get drawn into the public outcry over Judith Regan's decision to publish O.J. Simpson's quasi-confessional, Friedman managed to distance the company from the book without openly confronting one of her publishers."

Yesterday the confrontation finally came.

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