NEW YORK — The O.J. Simpson book saga took another twist Tuesday when his former sister-in-law, Denise Brown, accused News Corp. of trying to buy her family’s silence for “millions of dollars.”
Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” was a sequel few had dared conceive, with Simpson — acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend but later found liable in civil court — describing how he would have killed them.
A spokesman for News Corp., owner of Fox Broadcasting and publisher HarperCollins, confirmed that the company had conversations with representatives of Nicole Brown Simpson’s and Ron Goldman’s families over the past week and that the families were offered all profits from the planned Simpson book and television show, but he denied that it was hush money.
“There were no strings attached,” News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher said.
Denise Brown told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday that her family’s response was “Absolutely not.”
“They wanted to offer us millions of dollars. Millions of dollars for, like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ money. But they were still going to air the show,” Brown said. “We just thought, ‘oh my god.’ What they’re trying to do is trying to keep us quiet, trying to make this like hush money, trying to go around the civil verdict, giving us this money to keep our mouths shut.”
Any fascination with Simpson’s shocking return to public life was overcome by revulsion and disbelief from the public.
Even News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, a media king with a famous taste for scandal, couldn’t stand it anymore. On Monday, he canceled the whole thing, less than a week after it was announced.
“I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” Murdoch said. “We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.”
“If I Did It” had been scheduled to air as a two-part interview Nov. 27 and Nov. 29 on Fox, with the book to follow on Nov. 30. HarperCollins spokeswoman Erin Crum said some copies had already been shipped to stores but would be recalled, and all copies would be destroyed.
Simpson’s attorney, Yale Galanter, told The Associated Press: “We had known for three or four days that this was a possibility.”
“There are only three possible reactions: anger, happiness or indifference. He’s totally indifferent about the fact that it’s been canceled,” Galanter said.
He said he didn’t know if Simpson was paid upfront.
Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 but was later found liable for the deaths in a wrongful-death suit filed by the Goldman family. Simpson has failed to pay the $33.5 million judgment against him in the civil case. His NFL pension and his Florida home cannot legally be seized. He and the families of the victims have wrangled over the money in court for years.
Ron Goldman’s sister, Kim Gold-man, said on CBS’ “The Early Show” Tuesday that the family would take legal action to collect any money Simpson received from the deal. Denise Brown went farther, saying that money was being hidden for Simpson so he didn’t have to pay the civil judgment. “The courts one day will find out who that person is,” Brown said.
Simpson told the AP in a phone interview late Monday he could not comment on the situation “until I know legally where I stand.”
“I would like nothing better than to straighten out some things that have been mischaracterized,” he said. “But I think I’m legally muzzled at this point.”
Sensation has long been in News Corp’s game, but the Simpson book drew almost universal anger — from those who knew Goldman and Brown, from booksellers and advertisers, even from Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly urged a boycott of any company that advertised on the special.
A dozen Fox network affiliates said they would not air the two-part special, and numerous stores had either declined to sell the book or had promised to donate any profits to charity.
“I really don’t think there would have been very many advertisers who would have been willing to participate in this show,” said Brad Adgate of the ad buying firm Horizon Media.
With little advertising, Fox would miss the chance to profit from the show. If there were no advertisers, the show wouldn’t even be rated by Niel-sen Media Research — so the number of people watching would have done nothing to help Fox’s season average, he said.
The cancellation was a stunning rebuke to ReganBooks — a high-profile imprint of HarperCollins — and Judith Regan, who had labeled the book and interview Simpson’s “confession.” She insisted that she had done it not for money, but as a victim of domestic violence anxious to face down a man she believed got away, literally, with murder.
ReganBooks is known for gossipy best-sellers such as Jose Canseco’s “Juiced” and Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.” Regan, one of publishing’s most driven and forceful personalities, did not immediately respond to requests for an interview.
The TV special was to air on two of the final three nights of the November sweeps, when ratings are watched closely to set local advertising rates. It has been a particularly tough fall for Fox, which has seen none of its new shows catch on and is waiting for the January appearances of “American Idol” and “24.”
The closest precedent for such an about-face came when CBS yanked a miniseries about Ronald Reagan from its schedule in 2003 when complaints were raised about its accuracy. It was seen on CBS’ sister premium-cable channel, Showtime, instead.
One Fox affiliate station manager said he wasn’t going to air the special because he was concerned that, whether or not Simpson was guilty, he’d still be profiting from murders.
“I have my own moral compass and this was easy,” said Bill Lamb, general manager of WDRB in Louis-ville.
During an appearance on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, expressed appreciation to anyone who opposed the book.
“We want to say thank you, thank you for everyone in this country who raised their voice and stood up for the right thing,” Goldman said.
Numerous books have been withdrawn over the years because of possible plagiarism, most recently Kaavya Viswanathan’s “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,” but removal simply for objectionable content is exceptionally rare. In the early 1990s, Simon & Schuster canceled Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Pyscho,” a graphic account of a serial killer. The novel was released by Random House Inc., and later made into a feature film, an improbable fate for Simpson’s book.
Sales for “If I Did It,” had been strong, but not sensational. It cracked the top 20 of Amazon.com last week-end, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its cancellation was announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.
AP Television Writer David Bauder and AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch also contributed to this report.