Who Really Fired Censorship Victim Judith Regan?

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET
  • Jeff Norman Founder of Homefront Rising, a cultural revival led by veterans and their allies

While Julie Bosman and Richard Siklos are reporting in the New York Times that "Rupert Murdoch personally ordered the dismissal of Judith Regan," Jeffrey Trachtenberg claims in his Wall Street Journal article that it was actually HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman who made the decision, and Murdoch was merely "informed of the firing." After I contacted him by email, Trachtenberg insisted his version is correct, but he refused to identify his source or explain why he is so confident.

Accuracy and anonymous sourcing are just two of the many journalistic and moral issues that have been triggered by the most recent controversy surrounding superstar-turned-pariah O.J. Simpson, who is the subject of a cancelled book and television special which had been scheduled for release by HarperCollins and Fox Broadcasting respectively. In a previous post, I argued that censorship is an aspect of the story that deserves more attention than it has received. To their great discredit, media professionals who earn substantial salaries selling sleazy infotainment, and who generally claim to favor open debate, called successfully for the censorship of If I Did It, the book in which Simpson reportedly muses about how me might have twice committed murder, although we don't know if the book really contains such ruminations, because we have been prevented from reading it by a subculture of self-appointed decency czars.

Now that she has been fired, Regan herself has overtaken Simpson as the focal point of analysis concerning the entire episode. While stories about all the behind-the-scenes machinations certainly provide entertaining reading, it's unfortunate that the issue of censorship continues to be ignored, because its application here is far more consequential to society than most other elements of the brouhaha. But as the comments of HuffPo readers indicate, many folks are clinging to the misconception that withholding the O.J. book and television special from the public does not even qualify as censorship.

The problem is that far too many people attach undue significance to cheap emotions. As it relates to the Simpson/Regan/Murdoch matter, the condition is so severe that many otherwise intelligent people have been stricken with an inability to comprehend the simple meaning of censorship, which like all words, is determined by dictionaries and common usage. An example of the latter determinant is that the person whose job it is to delete nudity, swear words, opinions, etc. from various works, is typically called a censor. Likewise, dictionaries define censorship as the suppression of speech based on moral or political objections to its content, whether or not the censor is a government entity, and whether or not the victim of censorship has any alternative means to express the censored speech. Obviously, the O.J. project was canceled due to moral objections. As such, the aforementioned elitists are advocates of censorship, and Murdoch is a censor.

The contention that only normal market forces are at work here, is disingenuous. If this really was about business as usual and insufficient public interest, the book and TV special would not have been slated for commercial distribution in the first place, or they would have come out and been largely ignored. But instead what happened is a bunch of aristocrats announced how offended they are, and they bullied Murdoch into pulling the plug by threatening to continue harming his company's reputation and financial status if they don't get their way. Despite unsupported claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that Murdoch reversed his plans after formulating a new assessment of consumer demand for his products. Murdoch understood the controversial nature of If I Did It from the outset, and the judgment had been made that enough people would buy it. Indeed, thousands of copies of the book had already been shipped to stores before Murdoch succumbed to a public relations crisis created by a few loud whiners. Usually, publishers care only how many people will buy a book, not how upset the non-buyers are. What changed the equation here is that some of the non-buyers happen to be Geraldo Rivera, Bill O'Reilly, Fred Goldman and Denise Brown, all of whom enjoy extraordinary access to the media and who are far more capable of shaping public opinion than are ordinary Americans. Any dispute over gauging alleged mass disapproval is a red herring anyway, because efforts to silence or curtail unpopular speech are reprehensible no matter who does it, and the identities of those who want to punish Simpson by undermining his livelihood, have no bearing on the definition of censorship.

The claim that Simpson can simply choose another way to tell his story is preposterous, because the copyright to If I Did It is owned by HarperCollins, and according to published reports, "all copies of the book will be destroyed." Furthermore, in deference to professional victims Fred Goldman and Denise Brown, the company might not sell its rights to anyone. Brown, of course, is an unhinged drama queen who accused Murdoch of offering her and Goldman's families "hush money," a charge so ludicrous that even Goldman family attorney Jonathan G. Polak felt compelled to publicly deny it. It's not that the relatives of murder victims deserve no sympathy; it's that if a publisher wants to release a book, and members of the public want to read it, it should not be necessary to first obtain Brown's permission. Believing that such permission is required is believing in censorship.