Stop milking the O.J.

Posted: Jul 28, 2000 12:00 AM
Barbara Walters thinks she deserves a pat on her silk-bloused back. Did she save a life? Expose some injustice? Take a lonely stand for truth or faith or freedom? No. All she did was invite O.J. Simpson to appear on her yammering women's TV show, "The View," which garnered considerable publicity. Then, when her staff and viewers finally convinced her what a disgusting spectacle it would have been to host America's most reviled football star/suspected murderer, Walters disinvited O.J. -- a move that garnered even more publicity. Newspaper headlines heralded the decision. Walters' studio audience cheered on cue when she announced her disinvitation earlier this week. ABC's exalted interviewer should bury her famous face in shame. What was Walters thinking when she booked O.J. in the first place? Perhaps she envisioned a cozy coffee klatch with O.J. and her "View" mates, all blithely swapping souffle recipes and skin-care tips with the man whom a civil jury found guilty of the brutal murders of his ex-wife and her friend. Perhaps Walters thought she could score a confessional revelation or some other news-breaking tidbit. Nah. Walters, the doyenne of fluff journalism, was thinking of only three things: Ratings, ratings, ratings. She abandoned The Juice reluctantly, a result of nagging peer pressure rather than a genuine desire to put honor above Nielsens. Not that we should expect much from this morally stunted celebrity chaser. This is a grown woman, after all, who considers Monica Lewinsky a "brave" and "fascinating" gal pal. There are some news organizations on the O.J. bandwagon, however, which should know and act better. Take Fox News. The 3-year-old cable network supposedly offers the American public a conservative-friendly alternative to the sycophantic mainstream media (like the NBC's Today Show, which also welcomed O.J. for an interview this week). "We report, you decide," the Fox News Channel's slogan boasts. I've been a fan of many of the Fox News shows and personalities, but I've decided to stop watching most of them. The network should change its slogan: "When O.J. talks, Fox listens." On Tuesday, Simpson appeared on "Fox News Live" in the afternoon and on "The Edge With Paula Zahn" in prime time. The network's web site hyped the interviews, which coincided with Simpson's hype campaign for his own Internet pay-site endeavor (which we will refrain from advertising here). Teases and cross-promotions were endless. Fox proudly directed visitors to an archive of Internet videos of past O.J. appearances. "Juice Explosion," one clip was captioned. "Bitter Juice," decried another. In October, Fox News rushed to put a 911 call on the air in which Simpson reported having trouble with a girlfriend he claimed had a drug problem. In June, the network had a field day when Simpson called in to "The Fox Report with Shepard Smith" and insulted Denise Brown, his ex-wife's sister. Over the past two months alone, a half-dozen different (Fox) shows have devoted hours of "news" coverage (to O.J.), including: "O.J. Simpson Goes on the Defensive, "Fallout Continues from O.J. Simpson-Denise Brown Confrontation," "The O.J. Simpson Trial: Six Years Later," "Can O.J. Simpson Prove His Innocence?," "Personal Story: O.J. Simpson's New Job" and "O.J. Simpson Gets Angry." Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch should just make their tawdry relationship permanent and give the low-life Simpson his own show. Fox News president Roger Ailes tried to put a hard-nosed reporter's spin on the most recent O.J. appearances: "(I)f he won't answer questions, then I won't waste the time." But why waste air time probing Simpson for warped answers that serve only to perpetuate lies, hate and denigration of the two dead, defenseless victims? This is not investigative sleuthing; it's the journalistic equivalent of dumpster diving. While Simpson promotes his latest venture on yet another trashy publicity tour, the families have yet to collect a penny of the $33.5 million civil judgment against Simpson for the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. They will be waiting a long time. Simpson, however, won't remain in financial bankruptcy for long. He's cashing in on the moral bankruptcy of media organizations that greedily embrace evil as infotainment.