“What kind of creepy mould grows in the petri dish that is Fox that someone could even imagine for a minute it was a good idea to pay OJ Simpson several million dollars to discuss how he might have sliced his wife’s head off?” asked The New York Daily News’ editorial yesterday. “What kind of utterly soulless corporate culture thinks up something like this in the first place?” 

The tabloid’s moral posturings over News Corp’s decision to publish OJ Simpson’s If I Did It (which has now been recalled) reminded Crikey of a passage in New Yorker journalist Ken Auletta’s 1998 book The Highwaymen.

Ruminating on violence in entertainment and how it impacts on American society, Auletta posed the question, “What won’t you do?” to News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch:

“You wouldn’t do anything that you couldn’t live with, that would be against your principles,” [Murdoch] says. “It’s a very difficult question if you’re a man of conscience. If you thought that you were doing something that was having a malevolent effect, as you saw it, on society, you would not do it. We would never do violence such as you see in a Nintendo game. When I see kids playing Nintendo, and they’re able to actually get their character on the screen to bite his opponent in the face, that’s pretty sick violence. And you watch kids doing this to each other and they’re yelling and laughing for hours on end. Is it all fantasy, and is it all harmless fantasy? I don’t know. There has been violence in movies that we put out. Some of it I dislike…but is the violence justified? Is the violence of Lethal Weapon OK? I think so. If it involves personal cruelty, sadism – obviously, you would never do that…”

On publishing:

“We reserve the right to edit. I think you should not give offence to people’s religious beliefs. For instance, I hope that our people” – at HarperCollins, the Murdoch-owned book publisher – “would never have published the Salman Rushdie book. It clearly went out of its way to give great offense to a lot of people. Now, obviously, I’m not supporting anyone saying, ‘Let’s kill him for it’, but I think it went to point of being an abuse of free speech.”

This was years before Murdoch’s company greenlighted the payment of US$3.5 million to the acquitted yet reviled OJ Simpson but it begs the question, was the media mogul’s unprecedented decision to pull If I Did It a moral or commercial call?

As advertisers refused to sign on to the OJ Fox interview, Fox affiliates boycotted it, stores refused to sell the book, Fox star anchor Bill O’Reilly encouraged a boycott, and internal division over the decision rippled through News Corp, money must have been foremost in the mogul’s mind.

But Murdoch’s comments to Auletta also suggest that he may have been troubled by the tastelessness of publisher Judith Regan’s decision to court the killer. Then again, the revelation that News Corp offered the Brown and Goldman families millions of dollars from the profits of the book and the interview, funds that the families have labelled “hush money”, suggests morals never entered into it.

In the meantime, the families of the victims, who rejected News Corp’s offer, are waiting with bated breath for the book to hit the black market.