Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sinners in the hands of an angry Judith Regan

[It happens to the best of op-ed writers: You compose an up-to-the-minute commentary, and events outpace your punditry. In fact, it doesn't just happen to the best — it happened to me last week, when I wrote about Judith Regan's confession on why she sought O.J. Simpson's confession. Before I could discover whether a third publication would reject the piece, there was no story anymore, thanks to Rupert Murdoch's shocking the world by growing a conscience.

So, following is the op-ed of mine that might have been. In light of what happened, it's interesting that I cynically assumed Regan wouldn't pull the book and TV interview — though it wasn't she herself who did so in the end.]

Judith Regan says that all she wanted to do was bring O.J. Simpson to his knees.

In the face of public outcry against her paying a reported $3.5 million for his If I Did It, the publishing executive released a rambling statement claiming she, having experienced domestic abuse, identified with Simpson’s slain wife. She insisted that her motive for publishing the book and doing a Fox TV interview with Simpson was not to make money, but to gain “closure.” That meant getting the man she called a “killer” to do what Regan says she herself did as a child, when she kneeled in “dark confessional booths”: “I wanted him to confess his sins, to do penance and to amend his life. Amen.”

It wasn’t enough, in Regan’s eyes, that Simpson should confess. She had to be his confessor, acting in place of a priest, who in turn acts in place of God. Except that, like the devilishly savvy businesswoman she is, she cut out the middleman — giving herself a divine mandate to settle an emotional score and show the “consequences of pain and suffering.” With bravado that could make Chuck Norris blush, she shrugs off any hint of wrongdoing in paying Simpson’s representative: “For me, it was personal.”

“This is clearly a woman who has suffered and is suffering inside because she has no depth of feeling and no morality whatsoever.” So said Regan of Monica Lewinsky in 1999, speaking to Fox News after her negotiations to purchase “Monica’s Story” fell through. Even then, the executive’s own “depth of feeling” was noticeably lacking – at least with regard to personal shame.

In words that presaged her Simpson statement, Regan went on to explain why she was adding her voice to those attacking Lewinsky: “I decided, after being involved in this ugly negotiation, which I found morally reprehensible, that we should make fun of the whole thing, and we should make a comment about the amorality of everybody.”

Today, having succeeded in her truly ugly negotiation with Simpson’s representative, Regan once again aims to “make a comment about the amorality of everybody” — everybody but herself, that is. She will conduct her sacrament of penance on Fox TV — the brightly lit studio standing in for a dark confessional while Simpson stands in for her ex-lover and she herself stands in for the Eternal Judge.

Meanwhile, judging by the way she describes going to confession in the past tense (“my parents made me go,” she said in her Simpson statement), Regan hasn’t admitted her sins to a priest — or to anyone else.

“I would never tell,” she told Fox News in 1999. “Unlike Monica Lewinsky, I keep my secrets and take them to the grave.”

Pope John Paul II wrote, “When a man goes down on his knees in the confessional because he has sinned, at that very moment he adds to his own dignity as a man.”

If Regan, even now, were to humble herself, canceling the release of If I Did It — or at least having Fox pull her Simpson interview — admitting she wrongly used her influence to reward a man whom she herself believes to be a murderer, she could regain some of her lost dignity. Instead, in her determination to force Simpson to his knees, she is bringing herself down into the mire – and dragging down with her all who witness the sad spectacle.