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News Corp. cancels O.J. Simpson book and TV special

NEW YORK — After a firestorm of criticism, News. Corp. said Monday that it has canceled the O.J. Simpson book and TV special ‘‘If I Did It.’’
    ‘‘I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,’’ said Rupert Murdoch, News Corp. chairman. ‘‘We are sorry for any pain that this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.’’
    A dozen Fox affiliates had already said they would not air the two-part sweeps month special, planned for next week before the Nov. 30 publication of the book by ReganBooks. The publishing house is a HarperCollins imprint owned — like the Fox network — by News Corp.
    In both the book and show, Simpson speaks in hypothetical terms about how he would have committed the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Goldman.
    Relatives of the victims have lashed out at the now scuttled publication and broadcast plans.
    ‘‘He destroyed my son and took from my family Ron’s future and life. And for that I’ll hate him always and find him despicable,’’ Fred Goldman told ABC last week.
    The industry trade publication Broadcasting & Cable editorialized against the show Monday, saying ‘‘Fox should cancel this evil sweeps stunt.’’
    One of the nation’s largest superstore chains, Borders Group Inc., said last week it would donate any profits on the book to charity.
    Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of murder in a case that became its own TV drama. The former football star and announcer was later found liable for the deaths in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Goldman family.
    Judith Regan, publisher of ‘‘If I Did It,’’ said she considered the book to be Simpson’s confession.
    The television 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 bows 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. The Reagan series was seen on its sister premium-cable channel, Showtime, instead.
    One station manager who had said he wasn’t airing the special said 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 Louisville.
    For the publishing industry, the cancellation of ‘‘If I Did It’’ was an astonishing end to a story like no other. 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 a book’s removal simply for objectionable content is virtually unheard of.
    Sales had been strong, but not sensational. ‘‘If I Did It’’ cracked the top 20 of Amazon.com last weekend, but by Monday afternoon, at the time its cancellation had been announced, the book had fallen to No. 51.

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