As a civil rights attorney, I counsel folks who have been subjected to injustice about their rights and the remedies the legal system can provide them. Frequently, they have suffered emotional distress and associated physical symptoms and maladies as a result of the conduct to which they have been subjected. I caution them not to expect too much from the legal system. It cannot, for instance, undo the psychological and physical damage inflicted upon them. Courts can order injunctive relief, an order directing the party who violated the law to refrain from doing so in the future, but the primary remedy available via a civil proceeding is money which I refer to as a “legal spanking.”
Sadly, even a $38 million “legal spanking,” the amount O.J. Simpson owes the family of Ron Goldman, will not bring him or Nicole Brown Simpson back to life or alleviate the pain that their families have lived with each and every minute since they were savagely butchered in 1994.
And If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, O.J. Simpson’s ghostwritten hypothetical account of how he murdered Goldman and the mother of two of his children, should never have been written or published by the Goldmans or anyone else. Simpson bragged to the Associated Press that he agreed to the ghostwriting arrangement “to earn ‘blood money’ for his children.” That reason alone should have been sufficient to stop any reputable writer in his/her tracks. After all, Simpson’s children by Nicole Brown Simpson are adults — his daughter, Sydney, is 21 years old and her younger brother, Justin, is 19. Both were educated at a private academy where tuition runs as much as $22,000 per year. Simpson has no obligation, of course, to support his adult children. So who really stood to gain financially from the book, aside from the ghostwriter? Simpson, the man who has vowed openly never to satisfy the outstanding judgment.
Patt Morrison observed that
the book fits Karl Marx’s useful observation about history: first act tragedy, second act farce.
What can it be but farce that the book’s ghostwriter was a witness at the murder trial, Pablo F. Fenjves, a Brentwood neighbor of Nicole Brown’s whose writerly testimony of Kato the dog’s “plaintive wail” earned Simpson’s scorn a dozen years later when the two men sat down to work on this book?
In addition to being only the latest chapter in the bizarre spectacle that Simpson’s life has become, the book’s release and attainment of best seller status marks, in my opinion, a watershed moment in our history.
Ghostwriter Pablo J. Fenjves says the opportunity to write the book was “too compelling to pass up.” Fenjves maintains that he has always believed Simpson is guilty, but wanted to listen to him confess. Hired by Judith Regan when the original plan to draft and publish it was implemented, Fenjves, who calls himself a former journalist, insists that Simpson read the manuscript three times and signed off on it before it was cleared for publication. Simpson now contends that many of the details in the book are inaccurate, including some that he claims now to have deliberately falsified.
To his credit, “I think what Fred Goldman said on ‘Oprah’ was, was really dead on,” Fenjves said. “He said, basically, ‘If one woman in an abusive relationship reads this book and gets out, it will have been worth it.’ And I 100 percent agree with him.”
I think that Fenjves has disgraced himself and other writers with his participation in this project. It is an embarrassment, a mockery and an indication of how celebrity-obsessed and, in some ways, depraved our culture has become.
One writer posits that Simpson has become “a sort of Rorschach test for the nation” because how we react to him and his actions reveals a great deal about how we feel, ultimately, about ourselves. If that is true, I assert that how we react to Fenjves’ participation in the project says just as much, if not more, about our moral centers.
I find several aspects of Fenjves’ conduct appalling. Sure, although Fenjves knew from the outset that Simpson was going to confess to crimes for which he had already been acquitted and could not, under any circumstances, be retried, criminal defendants do not bear the burden of proof, of course; the prosecution must prove its case and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s team failed to do so. And many writers have assisted convicted criminals to write their memoirs, including details about the crimes they committed. I am unaware, however, of any situation like this one, i.e., any instance in which an individual who escaped punishment has confessed to their crimes they were accused of committing from behind the veneer of hypothetical guilt.
Somebody was going to write the book, it could be argued, so Fenjves was simply the writer who was lucky enough to be selected. Certainly, if Fenjves knew from the beginning that Simpson was going to confess to having committed the murders, some might assert that there is value in memorializing the truth, preserving it for all time and, hopefully, dissipating some of the public fascination with Simpson.Those arguments collapse when scrutinized: Reviews of the book uniformly find it, just like Simpson, devoid of clarity, details or “a conscience.” So Fenjves is not exculpated via a “greater good” or “public service” theory.
More importantly, Fenjves signed on to write the book before the Goldmans acquired the publishing rights which means that he agreed to write it, knowing that Simpson stood to profit from the venture.
And that is where, in my estimation, Fenjves crossed the line separating fascination with and a desire to write about a controversial or difficult topic in conformity with appropriate ethical and moral standards into an entirely different, smarmy zone of greed and desire-for-fame-inspired behavior. After all, the entire country has observed Simpson, during the 12 years since his acquittal, cavorting on Florida golf courses and enjoying a lifestyle reserved for the well-to-do while claiming to be too impoverished to satisfy even a small portion of the judgment against him won by the Goldmans. Every time there is a camera near Simpson, he is shown waving, smiling, signing autographs. According to the Goldmans’ attorney, he lives in a home valued at more than $1 million.
There is no indication that Fenjves limited or conditioned his involvement in the project using even one of the many means readily available to ensure that his own work did not further empower Simpson in his efforts to continue thumbing his nose at the justice system or the families of his victims and evading his financial responsibilities to the Goldmans. Reasonable minds will differ on this point with many arguing that a writer is hired merely to write and those types of constraints are neither expected nor required when a writer is engaged. Given the unique circumstances, I think those types of ethical checks and balances should have been implemented and were, for that reason, mandated in order to withstand the inevitable analysis and criticism of the details.
There is also, of course, the matter of Fenjves’ involvement in the trial and his admission that he went into the project thoroughly convinced of Simpson’s guilt. Neither of those factors matter in this instance, some will assert. Fenjves was not called upon serve as a neutral, impartial investigator or reporter but was, rather, a ghostwriter, merely assigned to synthesize and preserve Simpson’s “hypothetical” account of the crimes. That argument is a cop-out, of course, because a writer who approached the subject with an open mind and no attachment to the events, no matter how remote, could write with greater objectivity, detachment and, ultimately, sensitivity to the conflicting interests at stake.
Finally, there is the matter of the Goldmans and their desire to attain justice — in any form.
If you still care about this case, if you think Simpson is guilty and you want to help the Goldmans, buy the book. If you think he got a raw deal and don’t want the Goldmans to get a cent of your money, speed-read Chapter 6 at the bookstore, or get it from the library.
Either way, your decision is a moral one, definitely not a literary one.
Buying the book will not, ultimately, help the Goldmans because the money they will make — and since the book was number one on the bestseller lists last week and is currently ranked as the fourth-best selling on Amazon, they stand to make at least several million dollars — will not heal their broken hearts or bring back their son and brother. Ultimately, the fact that the book exists at all demeans everyone associated with it, including the Goldmans, ultimately tarnishing the legacies and memories of the victims.