Outfoxed

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 21, 2006; 8:12 AM

The power of public revulsion can be pretty awesome.

Rupert Murdoch's gamble--that the inevitable controversy surrounding his appalling plan for an O.J. book-and-TV extravaganza would fuel ratings and Amazon sales--backfired big time. Everyone hated the idea, and hated it with an intensity that forced the media mogul, who has rarely been guilty of underestimating the taste of the American public, to pull the plug.

Even Bill O'Reilly and other Fox News commentators were denouncing the project as odious. More Fox affiliates were bailing on this prime-time garbage. Advertisers did not seem to be lining up to sponsor the thing. So Murdoch belatedly realized that he was facing not just a public relations black eye but a financial bath as well.

Well, I give him credit for admitting he had made a world-class blunder, even though in the end he may have had little choice. I look forward to Judith Regan's apology as well.

From the first second that this was announced, I couldn't figure out what they were thinking. Pay millions of dollars to a guy who'd been convicted in a civil trial to prattle on about how he would have killed his ex-wife and Ron Goldman, if he had done it, which he said he hadn't, even though he was perfectly willing to mock their memory with what amounted to a bogus confession?

Sit for an "interview," not with a journalist but with Regan, the woman who was publishing this slime, and justified it because she had once been a battered wife?

I had a debate at CNN's "Reliable Sources" over whether to lead with O.J. (we ultimately did) and how much time to devote to it. I was concerned that we were falling into Murdoch's trap, that attacking the project, even in the most vociferous terms, was tantamount to fueling the publicity machine. One of my guests almost dropped out for the same reason. But it turns out that denouncing this ill-fated outrage was a worthwhile endeavor, that it was another way of registering the public anger. Gail Shister of the Philadelphia Inquirer predicted that it might never come off, and she was prescient.

Now Murdoch says he agrees "with the American public" that this was an "ill-considered project." Maybe he should have weighed the public's likely reaction before greenlighting this stunt.

This kind of climbdown almost never happens. CBS did pull the "Reagans" movie and kick it over to Showtime, but that was a work of fiction (though Simpson's screed arguably falls in the same category). But for a major media corporation to tout the hell out of this (in part through another Murdoch outlet, the New York Post) and then back down in the face of furious protests shows that there are some lines, at least, that are difficult to cross.

The Murdoch reversal came after Broadcasting & Cable declared: "Fox should cancel this evil sweeps stunt."

Some of this morning's coverage, starting with the LAT:

"A brewing rebellion from Fox affiliate television stations, coupled with revulsion from the advertising world, caused Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation on Monday to abandon its plans to publish a book and air a two-part television interview with O.J. Simpson . . . The decision to cancel the Simpson venture followed nearly a week of outrage from everyone from the victims' families to a growing list of booksellers and Fox affiliates who refused to carry the projects."


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