Monday, November 20, 2006

No O.J. Book in America's Christmas Stocking

I've written before about Judith Regan, America's tackiest book publisher, as well as about the ethics of publishing books by notorious killers. For the latter post, I did a little research and found that the vague impression held by some people (including people like Jeff Greenfield and Wolf Blitzer, who should know better--especially when they offer opinions about it on TV) that the book business eagerly publishes books by serial killers and the like is completely false. If anyone is driving the tabloidization of American culture, it's not book publishers--it's the tabloids (duh), the Internet (hey there, Matt Drudge), and most especially cable TV.

Yes, there's a freedom of the press issue here. I'm close to being a first amendment absolutist. I'm not a fan of "Son of Sam" laws, which make it illegal for a writer to profit from a book that describes crimes he or she committed. As first amendment attorneys have pointed out--and as the Supreme Court observed in finding the New York State Son of Sam law unconstitutional--such laws, interpreted as written, could well have prevented the publication of works like Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail and Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. The way to fight crime is by fighting crime, not by banning books.

Having said all that, I must say I'm pleased to learn that Regan's planned book by O.J. Simpson, If I Did It, has been cancelled. (It was to have been published by the Regan Books imprint of Harper Collins, which, like Fox News, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. I like to take every opportunity to remind people that our sleaziest book publisher and our sleaziest TV network are both owned by the same proudly conservative defender of the values of Western civilization.)

I don't want the government squelching freedom of the press, but a publisher exercising good taste in response to a public outcry is another matter. I think that when the very idea of seeing a particular book on sale in Barnes & Noble makes you feel a little more ashamed of being an American, it's a fairly good indication that that book would not make a major contribution to our national culture.

As for Regan's supposedly high-minded justification for the book project--puh-leeze. In an essay she wrote for the Times (but which the paper--exercising its good taste--chose not to print), she said
she believed it was her responsibility as a publisher to bring Mr. Simpson's words to the public, and she likened her role to "the mainstream publishers who keep Adolf Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' in print to this day."
Uh, Judith--Adolf Hitler was a major political, military, and cultural figure with a vast impact on the history of the world. He was also a powerful demagogue who used his warped ideology to seduce and manipulate hundreds of millions of seemingly intelligent, well-educated Europeans and others. For these reasons, there is an obvious educational value in publishing Mein Kampf.

The titillating did-I-or-didn't-I teasings of a pathetic publicity hound . . . not so much.

P. S.: Check out the list of names in the Tags section below. Which one would get your vote for Keith Olbermann's next installment of Worst Person in the World? It's a close call . . .

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