Has O.J. Gone Too Far This Time?

Nov. 17, 2006 — -- What a week.

Brings me back a dozen years, when I was a trial reporter for a local TV station in Los Angeles, with one two-year-long assignment -- the trial of the century.

A divisive, even explosive courtroom drama in which O.J. Simpson, a once-beloved athlete, was seen as a victim of police misconduct by some -- including the jury -- and as a ruthless killer by others.

And now the case has exploded back into pop-culture consciousness with the media equivalent of a car crash -- hard to look at and, for those who covered it, especially hard to turn away from.

But has O.J. gone too far this time?

Outrage is at high alert over a book few have read, a book that promises new details about the Brentwood murders of Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman -- from a man the book's press release said "knows the facts better than anyone."

Advance orders put it at No. 29 on Amazon.com.

Late Thursday night, with anger over the book project growing, Simpson's publisher, Judith Regan, made a dramatic turnaround, releasing a statement in which she said that she set Simpson up in a bid to get a confession out of him on behalf of battered women everywhere, herself among them. Regan's statement also said she "contracted with a third party" who told her that the money from the book would go to Simpsons' children.

Along with the upcoming book, Fox Television is promoting a two-part interview with Simpson to be broadcast later this month.

'Everybody's Talking'

Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne seemed to speak for many when he told ABC News, "I don't think it should be shown. I think people should boycott it, but they won't.

"I would love to say, 'I'm not going to look at it.' But I know I will look at it.

"He's got everybody talking about him again," Dunne went on to say, in an interview that airs on "20/20" Friday night. "Everybody. Wherever you go."

Dunne said he "went to get some milk this morning at the country store here," in rural Connecticut, "and … they're talking about it in there."

Dunne said he blames Regan -- a friend of his, he said -- for pushing O.J. to reveal more and more, a charge she denied in her statement Thursday.

"And Rupert Murdoch and Fox ... for exploiting this and ... I think they're cheapening themselves," Dunne said.

He credited Regan for her savvy as a publisher.

"She's very funny, and she's fun to be around," he said. "I'm sure she starts talking to these writers, and she can get them to tell her stuff that nobody else could get them to do.

"I'm sure she became great pals with O.J during this period," Dunne said. "You know, 'Go further. Go further. Go further.'"

'What Have We Become?'

Former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Mark Fuhrman, himself once the target of widespread scorn after he was recorded making racially disparaging comments, told ABC News he believes the Simpson book project is a sad benchmark on the nation's long decline into news as pure infotainment.

"Really, what have we become as a nation?" he asked in an interview with ABC News. "We have somebody we know commits a double murder, slashes two people, stabs them to death … the mother of his children! He's writing about 'Well, if I did it, this is how I'd kill your mother.' This is entertainment?

"Is this the lowest form of reality TV? Yes," said Fuhrman, who said he is a paid consultant for Fox. "What kind of people would do this? I have no idea, but I have no respect for anybody who would engage this man in anything but a knife fight."

'Fictional Fig Leaf'

Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, has launched a family Web site, www.Dontpayoj.com, which lists the addresses, phone numbers and Web sites of Fox broadcasting, publisher Harper Collins, and Regan's self-titled imprint. It also asks viewers to sign an online petition to stop Fox from broadcasting the interviews with Simpson later this month.

"The fact that he still has the ability to seep into my living room and now onto our bookshelves just touches me in a place that I didn't think I'd ever have to be worried about … very sad to me," she told ABC News. "Very sad to me."

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said the public is as fed up with Fox and publisher Judith Regan as they are with Simpson.

"What has appalled people about this latest O.J. spectacle is that Rupert Murdoch is paying a man who most of the country believes to be a murderer to come on the air and pretend that he's making a confession while clinging to the fictional fig leaf that he's innocent," Kurtz told ABC News.

"When network journalists interviewed the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Saddam Hussein, they weren't pretending to be something other than what they are, and they weren't getting media money for a book deal," he said. "It's the sheer disingenuousness of the arrangement with Simpson that seems beyond the pale."

'Bone Chilling Account'

In a promotional release from HarperCollins, Simpson is quoted as saying, "I'm going to tell you a story you've never heard before, because no one knows this story the way I know it.

"It takes place on the night of June 12, 1994, and it concerns the murder of my ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her young friend, Ronald Goldman," Simpson said. "I want you to forget everything you think you know about that night, because I know the facts better than anyone."

But the release goes on to say that the book will provide "for the first time ever, a bone-chilling account of the night of the murders in which Simpson pictures himself at the center of the action."

'Shabby' Factor

But it also has what Dunne calls the "shabby" factor.

"This case had everything," Dunne told ABC News. "It had interracial romance, it had wealth, Rolls Royces, red-brick mansions, beautiful, beautiful kids. … I mean it. It had all the stuff that made it absolutely riveting news for a year. It was the front-page news, one of the longest front-page news stories ever, in American. But there's always been something shabby and cheap about the story. And … the shabby and the cheap comes from O.J."

Yale Galanter, Simpson's personal attorney, did not return calls for comment.

Daniel Petrocelli, who represented the Goldman family in the 1997 civil wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson -- in which a jury found him responsible for the deaths and he was ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims' families -- was equally skeptical of Simpson's motives.

"There is no innocent explanation for writing this book," he said. "It's a form of creeping confession. I read several years ago that he made a statement, 'Well, if I did it, I did it because I loved her.' ... I think that Simpson has come to reckon with the fact that everybody knows that he did it, so he might as well try to sell some books."

Additional reporting by Chris Francescani, ABC News Law & Justice Unit