Publisher of OJ Simpson murder book is sacked

High-flier fired after protest over 'despicable' project

Hillel Italie
Sunday 17 December 2006 01:00
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OJ Simpson's would-be publisher Judith Regan was fired late on Friday, her sensational, scandalous tenure at the Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins ending with a terse announcement.

"Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately," Jane Friedman, chief executive of the News Corp-owned imprint, said. "The Regan publishing programme and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group."

Ms Friedman offered no reason for the announcement, but Ms Regan's firing comes less than a month after Mr Murdoch's cancellation of Simpson's hypothetical murder confession If I Did It, a planned book and Fox television interview that was said to describe how Simpson hypothetically would have killed ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was acquitted of murder in 1995.

When the project was announced last month it was greeted with instant and near-universal disgust. A dozen local Fox affiliates announced they wanted nothing to do with the television interviews, and the families of the murder victims urged a boycott of the broadcast and the book, which they described as "disgusting" and "despicable".

Mr Murdoch personally pulled the plug after his organisation was accused of exploiting the notorious double murders. News Corp finally put out a brief statement offering a rare personal apology for the lapse in judgment. "I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project," Mr Murdoch was quoted as saying. "We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson."

Subsequently, the victims' families accused the Murdoch empire of trying to buy their silence. Nicole brown Simpson's sister, Denise Brown, told a TV interviewer that she and others had been approached by a company representative before the cancellation, and essentially asked how much it would take to keep them happy.

"They wanted to offer us millions of dollars," she said, "for, like, 'oh I'm sorry' money. But they were still going to air the show." The family turned the offer down flat. A News Corp spokesman acknowledged negotiations over money had taken place with both families, but insisted there were "no strings attached".

Ms Regan, an industry force since the 1980s, when she produced best-sellers by Drew Barrymore and Kathie Lee Gifford for Simon & Schuster, has been labelled a "foul-mouthed tyrant" and the "enfant terrible of American publishing." She is also widely envied - if not admired - for her gift of attracting attention to her books and to herself.

Since 1994, she has headed the ReganBooks imprint at HarperCollins, an ideal fit for Mr Murdoch's tabloid tastes. Ms Regan has published a long list of racy best-sellers, including baseball star Jose Canseco's tell-all Juiced and Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, and is the rare publisher of interest to gossip columnists, notably for a rumoured affair with former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

She often clashed with her more temperate peers and is widely believed to have had tense relations with Ms Friedman. Last year, Ms Regan moved her offices to Los Angeles, further distancing herself from corporate officials in New York.

Ms Regan has often complained that her more literary side has been overlooked, pointing out that she has published books by the critically acclaimed Wally Lamb, Douglas Generation X Coupland and novelist Jess Walter, whose The Zero was a finalist for the National Book Award in November. The Simpson project, announced the day before the awards ceremony, quickly overshadowed the nomination.

Mr Walter said he was "flabbergasted" by her firing. "The Judith I knew was nothing like the tabloid headlines," he said. "Judith has always been a good friend and one of the few people who never lied to me. Having dealt with publishing and Hollywood, I can't say that about everyone."

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