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Immoral Convictions - Broadcasting & Cable

Immoral Convictions

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If viewers were guaranteed to flock to a snuff film, would that justify putting it on TV during sweeps?

We’re not suggesting Fox is putting on a snuff film, exactly—it’s more like an “if I had snuffed” film—but the point is that there has to be a line that doesn’t get crossed, even when you are trying to set ad rates for the next quarter. Fox’s decision to air a sweeps special featuring O.J. Simpson detailing how he would have killed his wife and waiter Ron Goldman, if he had killed them, is so far over that line that it’s hard to understand how the programmers involved justified it to themselves or others.

“What did you do today, honey?”

“I got O.J. Simpson to agree to do a TV special that will hawk his book, which we are also publishing, about just how he would have gone about brutally murdering his wife and her friend, though of course he still says he didn’t do it. His kids? They’re at least 18 now, so they can take having the whole horrific affair dredged up for the sake of a few rating points.

“The promo is a real killer. We’re teasing it with a question to O.J. about all the blood on Nicole and that Goldman kid.”

When Bill O’Reilly calls your special the lowest point in the history of American culture—and he works for your parent company—there’s definitely a problem.

O’Reilly joined with the attorney for the late Nicole Simpson last week to argue that Fox and the people who tune into the show are enabling Simpson to profit from the murders, which most people, including the members of the jury in the civil case, believe him to be responsible for.

O’Reilly urged his audience to boycott the show and said he would never buy another product from anyone who advertised in it. That’s a good attitude, but who’s going to be foolish enough to advertise?

If Fox was trying to touch a nerve, it succeeded. Its history of schlocky reality is well-documented, as are the tabloid sensibilities of Rupert Murdoch. A former Fox executive once described its When Animals Attack-type specials as heroin that the network needed to wean itself from. If so, it has backslid spectacularly this time. If we offered some defense of past stunts, that’s because they were in bad taste but really just embarrassed the participants. No one died.

The O.J. special is in horrendous taste and will actually inflict—already has, in fact—some psychological pain on the relatives of the victims and no doubt, on Simpson’s kids (who, by some fancy lawyering, apparently are the ones who will receive the profit from this endeavor). Fox should cancel this evil sweeps stunt. If not, Fox affiliates, like North Dakota’s Prime Cities Broadcasting, should do the right thing and preempt it (see story, p. 4).

We firmly believe all media outlets have the Constitutional right to publish or broadcast even offensive material like this. It doesn’t mean they should. We admire many of the executives who run Fox and its affiliates. We also suppose those people have consciences. We’ll see. But we won’t watch, and neither should you.

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