Goldmans victimize themselves

DAVID L. ULIN is the book editor of The Times.

JUST WHEN YOU thought the saga of O.J. Simpson couldn’t get any weirder, a court-ordered auction of the rights to his non-book, “If I Did It” -- scheduled to take place this morning in Sacramento -- has been canceled or, at least, delayed. Lorraine Brooke Associates, a Florida firm that brokered the original publication deal between Simpson and News Corp.’s book-publishing division, has declared bankruptcy, and that puts a monkeywrench, for now, into the works.

Cast your mind back to last fall, when “If I Did It” -- in which O.J. supposedly explains how he would have murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, if he had murdered them (but he didn’t) -- was scuttled at the last moment. Outrage about the entire idea of such a book cost Judith Regan her HarperCollins imprint amid accusations that the publisher of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Jenna Jameson had finally crossed the line.

Among the most vocal critics of the project were the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, who together won a $33.5-million wrongful death suit against Simpson in 1995. However, in a stunning irony, it is Goldman’s family that pressed for and stands to profit from the Sacramento auction and the book’s publication -- assuming, that is, that either ever takes place.


We seem to have a bottomless appetite for the story of O.J., the murders of Nicole and Ron and the cottage industry of court cases they have spawned. Maybe that’s because we can’t quite decide which of the threads is the main narrative, let alone settle on the moral of the story. Is it justice denied? The folly of revenge? A symbol of celebrity culture run amok?

This latest Simpson twist seems to offer up a cautionary tale about the danger of measuring loss in terms of money, one of the prevailing constructs in our culture of victimhood. In this version of the Simpson story, the case has long since ceased to be about loss and human tragedy, instead becoming a chess match over the unpaid federal court judgment that Simpson owes the Brown and Goldman families.

Lorraine Brooke Associates is said to be owned by Simpson’s children, an entity set up to let the former football star protect his royalties from “If I Did It” by keeping them out of his own name. The Goldmans have another suit over that on appeal. In the meantime, their attorney, David Cook, decries the Lorraine Brooke bankruptcy as a Simpson family smokescreen. “It’s their last and only option,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. “The bankruptcy process is a detour on the road to justice.”

But what does justice mean in a situation like this one? Thirteen years after a son’s murder, family members could walk away with the proceeds from a project they claimed should never see the light of day. In a statement earlier this month, Nicole Simpson’s sister, Denise Brown, called it “an overzealous pursuit to collect on the judgment.” The Goldmans, on the other hand, consider the auction, and the fact that they would benefit from it rather than Simpson, “the lesser of two evils.”

In truth, it has a much more mercenary feel. Why auction off the rights if you fought the book on the grounds that it was exploitative? Why is it unconscionable that it appear under one circumstance but not under another?

Of course, despite that “If I Did It” is, from all we know, a pure piece of exploitation -- of the murder victims, of base human fascinations, maybe even of O.J. himself -- its publication should never have been halted. That’s not what a free society does.

Indeed, book banning of any sort, especially on the amorphous grounds of taste, is dangerous because it inevitably leads to more book banning. There are odious books in the world -- “Mein Kampf,” “The Turner Diaries,” “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” -- and there have always been odious books in the world. The way to oppose them is not to stamp them out but to let them collapse under the weight of their fallacies. If the public outcry about “If I Did It” is any evidence, it’s likely that Simpson’s “tell-all” would have suffered such a fate in the marketplace.

The original odiousness of “If I Did It,” however, was all O.J.’s and Regan’s burden to bear. Now it has become the Goldmans’ as well. By seeking to put the book up for auction, they cannot help but become complicit in a work they have condemned. If the auction goes forward, and if they benefit from it, they would win at best a Pyrrhic victory -- its moral cost would be far higher than the monetary reward.

As for the moral of the latest chapter in the O.J. story? How about this: It’s just another marker of a society in which victimhood is increasingly an excuse for any kind of behavior at all.