THE BLOG

Rupert Murdoch Forced to Fund Newsweek

01/17/2007 07:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I've already expressed my disgust over the suppression of If I Did It, the O.J. Simpson offering that HarperCollins had intended to publish until self-appointed decency czars pressured Rupert Murdoch into withholding the book from readers. In a nutshell, I detest censorship - especially anything that resembles prior restraint - for all the usual reasons. In particular, I don't want to be deprived of choices simply because certain busybodies are offended, even when I might share their revulsion.

Among the outlets that strongly denounced If I Did It (and the Fox TV special that was to have cross-promoted it), is the venerable Newsweek, which back in November concluded the Simpson project signifies that "our violent, sex-obsessed, celebrity-crazed culture" has sunk lower than "the very farthest depths of depravity." But this week Newsweek surprisingly published extensive excerpts from the most controversial chapter of the book it harshly condemned only two months ago. Although the magazine never lobbied for censorship as others did, Newsweek initially suggested that If I Did It is so "depraved," those who are financially enriched by it should "donate profits from the book to victims of domestic violence."

In an email to Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Mark Miller, who co-authored the November screed, and solely penned the new article in which worthless depravity is transformed into an important scoop, I asked what rule HarperCollins broke by paying Simpson. I also wondered why Newsweek isn't guilty of the same offense by printing what Simpson and his ghostwriter were paid to deliver to HarperCollins. Miller's reply:

"We did have a vigorous internal debate over publishing the story I wrote about the book. Here was our rationale: This was a book that caused enormous controversy, led to an unprecedent apology from a major media mogul (Murdoch), the firing of the high profile publisher (Regan), the recall of a book that was already published and shipped, and the filing or anticipated filing of several lawsuits. And yet we still didn't know what what the book said. We thought telling readers what was actually in the book was news. And of course, no money exchanged hands -- we did not pay Mr. Simpson or anyone else to obtain the reporting."

Miller's note sufficiently addresses the newsworthiness of If I Did It, but when he implies it's somehow relevant that Newsweek didn't pay Simpson, he evades my question about what sin HarperCollins supposedly committed. Everybody knows it's customary for publishers to pay authors for writing books, so the remuneration does not by itself qualify as an impropriety.

The real problem here is that influential elitists have attached undue significance to their disapproval of Simpson. Because Miller is unwilling to confront this issue, he dances around it by pretending the payment to Simpson is ipso facto unethical, and he remains silent about the deplorable role his peers played in preventing a book they hadn't even read from reaching the marketplace.

The pundits and other punks who wish to impose restrictions on him, still haven't bothered to reveal under what circumstances Simpson might be entitled to earn income, or in what forum he might be allowed to discuss the murders of his ex-wife and her friend. Nor have they explained why it's perfectly fine for Newsweek to publish the very same material these vigilantes had previously insisted must be stifled.

When there's an acquitted defendant to be tormented, cheap emotions rule the day, and principles become moot. In other words, don't expect Newsweek to donate its profits to victims of domestic violence. That sort of charity is expected of others. Newsweek's role is to dutifully exploit its competitor's investment.