Like most of us publishing watchers, I've taken only a desultory interest in what happened to O.J. Simpson's If I Did It since it was cancelled late last year by HarperCollins. I wasn't surprised when a copy of the book turned up on eBay, nor was I surprised when I heard it was soon removed from the site. I figured, as many did, that now that everything is digitized there would surely be copies of the text floating around the Internet. (That no legitimate news outlet published any of it was the only happy surprise.) Even when it was reported that the Goldman family had been awarded the rights to the book by a bankruptcy court, I didn't pay much attention: surely this wounded family wanted to own the rights to ensure that no one else, particularly Simpson, profited from them. It didn't even occur to me that they might go out and try to publish the book.
The not-so-happy surprise: I was wrong. Last week, I heard that in fact an L.A.—based agent named Sharlene Martin is beginning to talk to major publishers about releasing If I Did It in a new format. The original ghost-written Simpson manuscript would be published as is, but it would be “wrapped” in new material—probably essays and analyses of forensics and psychology and culture, intended to show that there's nothing “iffy” about what Simpson did. Martin wouldn't say who would write these pieces—or whether members of the Goldman family would contribute—but she was adamant that this was good for the Goldmans, a way for them to recoup the millions the judge awarded them in the civil suit that found Simpson guilty, and in that fashion, good for justice. When I talked to one of Fred Goldman's lawyers, an L.A. attorney named Peter Haven, I got the same spin: This is a way of turning something negative into something positive, he said, many times, and then he got all Law & Order on me: he said that as an attorney it was his responsibility “to pursue the court's judgment” to get the Goldmans money for their suffering. In other words, he was just doing his job.
I'm embarrassed to admit that for a minute I was nodding at this spiel: Why shouldn't the Goldmans (and, it turns out, Nicole Brown's family, who have insisted they do not want the book published but who still legally have a 10% stake) get something for their terrible trouble? While nothing of course can bring Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown back, the way the American system works, they're entitled to “punitive damages.” In that way, they're no different from the thousands who have gotten financial compensation for their human losses on 9/11.
Except that you could argue 9/11 payouts are more disaster relief than punitive damages, and besides, those victims aren't making money by giving voice to Osama bin-Laden. Make no mistake: No matter how much explication the Goldmans add to the book, they are doing it at enormous personal cost. I guess they think it's worth reliving, in public, the gruesome murder of their beloved. But even if they do, do we have to help them? Distastefulness aside, the last time we went down this road, it was a moral, financial and public relations disaster. Why should publishing get into this mess—again?
I only hope we do ourselves and, incidentally, the Goldmans, a favor—and that nobody steps up to buy this book.
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