On Fox, O.J. Simpson, and Mike Piazza

I gather that if you spend enough time in the highly rarified strata where the biggest media executives dwell, you just lose all your wits. 

It’s a voluntary form of sensory deprivation; to have enough money and enough people demanding your time that you decide you must completely detach yourself from ordinary people.  A form of character mutation must take place, per the theories of Charles Darwin. Certain powers of intuition grow weaker, starved for energy by the parts of your brain that must expand to encompass the business dealings of a global media empire entrusted with billions of investor dollars. 

To be an “A-list” publisher, editor, literary agent or broadcasting executive today bears no resemblance to how such people lived their lives in the past; when they drove their own cars, took taxis, rode subways, frequented local pubs and sat with everybody else at pro football games.  The income and experience gap between the executive and the audience was much narrower decades ago than it is now.  

All of this must explain the O.J. Simpson debacle.  Judith Regan and Rupert Murdoch, and the anonymous but nearly as powerful suits who directly report to them, must just be unable to look normal people in the eye and understand what they are seeing there.  I can’t think of anyone I know who wouldn’t have immediately recognized the stupidity of giving Simpson a massive public platform, and paying him a fortune to spin gruesome fantasies, masked confessions and bullshit rationalizations about the crimed he committed but absurdly denies:  Decapitating his ex-wife and an acquaintance.  How could they not have expected the victims’ survivors to object publically?  How could they have convinced themselves that this mercenary exercise would provide the victims with “closure?”

In this morning’s New York Times coverage of Murdoch’s decision to drop the show and the book, a familiar name popped up, one I hadn’t heard in awhile:  Peter A. Chernin, president and COO of the Fox Entertainment Group, which was responsible for the now-scuttled TV broadcast. 

Los Angeles Dodger fans recall Chernin all too well — for an almost equally clueless move.  From the archives of DodgerBlues:

May 15, 1998… a day that will live in infamy. After rejecting the Dodgers’ $84 million contract offer, (Mike) Piazza was traded to the Marlins along with Todd Zeile for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, and Tourettes-inflicted Jim Eisenreich. While Sheffield has certainly paid dividends for the Dodgers, putting up solid numbers for three straight years, the Piazza trade marked the beginning of the end of Dodger tradition. It was Fox’s first major move, and it showed how much they knew about baseball: nothing. The move was engineered by two TV guys, Peter Chernin and Chase Carey. Fred Claire, as lousy as he was, would never have made such a move–trading a certain Hall of Famer in his prime, the cornerstone of the organization, a guy loved by fans. It still makes us sick to think about it.

Well, I guess Chernin’s not that great of a “TV guy,” either.

By the way, in case you were wondering what happens when a big TV spectacular is cancelled, and a mega-big book is withdrawn, here’s a primer from the same NY Times’ article:

In an interview last week, Judith Regan, the publisher, said ReganBooks, an imprint of HarperCollins, had signed a contract with “a manager who represents a third party” who owned the rights to Mr. Simpson’s account.

Because the News Corporation and ReganBooks decided on their own to cancel the book and the television special, that money is likely to still have to be paid.

A spokesman said Ms. Regan declined to comment yesterday on the book’s withdrawal.

Erin Crum, a spokeswoman for HarperCollins, said some books had already been shipped to stores. Those books will be recalled and destroyed, Ms. Crum said.

Last Friday, Borders announced that it would donate the net proceeds from sales of Mr. Simpson’s book to a nonprofit organization for victims of domestic violence.

Ann Binkley, a spokeswoman for Borders, said she received a call from HarperCollins yesterday afternoon notifying her that the book would be recalled. No explanation was offered for the decision.

“I think everybody knows why,” Ms. Binkley said.

The rights to the book could still be sold to another publisher, said the News Corporation executive involved in the negotiations.

There is precedent for a recalled book to be sold to another publisher and then to the public. In 1990, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, bought the rights to “American Psycho,” a novel by Bret Easton Ellis, after the original publisher, Simon & Schuster, withdrew from publishing it because of the novel’s graphically violent content.

As for the television interview, it could also be offered to other outlets, although at least two other networks, ABC and NBC, have reported that they turned it down before it was accepted by Fox. Ms. Regan, who conducted the on-camera interview with Mr. Simpson and is presumed to own the rights to it, could still seek a sale to either a cable channel or even a pay-per-view company.

The fact that the interview already exists on tape, executives at Fox and News Corporation said, means it is likely to turn up somewhere, perhaps on the Internet.

See, nobody ever pays for blunders like this.  By the time you’ve reached the level where you have the power to f— up to this degree, it’s too late — you can’t go back to where the normal people live.   You’d die, and your colleagues know it.  In the real world, the Piazza error would have cost Chernin his job.   But at his level, you’re kept around — and history can repeat. 

If you’re looking for a Christmas present for anyone at Fox involved with this fiasco, well, I don’t think they could ever have enough of these:

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