Tale of the Tape
As it happens, a lot of people think Simpson is in fact about to start selling junk: The first week in February he is set to release a video about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman called O.J. Simpson, The Interview, for which he was paid a reported $3 million. The whole video venture, Ron's father, Fred Goldman, has charged, is "for the purpose of making certain he can tell his story his way and make money on it." Priced at $29.95, the 2½-hour tape will not be available in stores, a marketing maneuver that could be designed to head off store boycotts. Instead, customers will have to order it by phone. What they will get for their money is unclear, since no advance copies of the tape have been released. Aside from the information that the video contains a 90-minute Simpson interview with onetime Los Angeles TV journalist Ross Becker, along with a 30-minute walking tour of the Rockingham estate and a 30-minute closing monologue by O.J., the only tidbits have come from a few outtakes obtained—and ballyhooed over and over—by the tabloid show Hard Copy.
Not surprisingly, Simpson foes are not waiting to see the video before launching a guerrilla campaign against it. On the Internet several anti-O.J. sites have been set up containing such information as directions for jamming the 800 line for ordering the video, prompting producers to switch to a regular toll number. So far, at least one media outlet, CNBC, has refused to accept ads for the tape. "We want corporate America to know that by embracing someone like O.J., they're going to alienate a lot of people," says Tammy Bruce, president of the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, who has been one of Simpson's most virulent critics.
Of course, such public displays of hostility have become part of everyday life for Simpson. Last weekend a rumor circulated that he would be playing golf at a public course in Dana Point, Calif. The course denied that he had ever been scheduled to tee off, but some 75 protesters turned up anyway.
According to Tony Hoffman, a well-known producer of infomercials, such as one for Lasting Kiss lipstick featuring Loretta Swit, he approached Simpson last fall about the possibility of doing a video after several cable operators rejected the notion of carrying an all-O.J. pay-per-view extravaganza. Simpson signed on with Hoffman, listing four stipulations: that he not be asked about his children, his finances, his civil trial or anything that might fall under attorney-client privilege. The video was shot in four days shortly before Christmas at Simpson's Rockingham mansion. For the interviewer, Hoffman selected Becker, 42, a veteran television reporter and anchor in Los Angeles, who was reportedly paid a modest five-figure fee for his services. Becker, who recently left L.A. after buying a radio station in Kentucky, insists he had never met or spoken to Simpson before the interview and says he agreed to participate on three conditions: that he alone draw up the list of questions, that Simpson not be advised of the questions ahead of time and that attorneys not be present during the interview.
At the taping, Simpson, dressed in a cream-colored sweater, appeared nervous, according to Becker. On the tour of the estate, he revisits the sites where key evidence was allegedly collected. In outtakes, for example, he is seen showing the air conditioner behind Kato Kaelin's bungalow, which the prosecution argued he had bumped into in his haste to get home after the murder. "I've lived in this house 17 years," Simpson declares. "Ain't no way I'm going to run into an air conditioner. I've spent my career not running into things."
Becker and Hoffman are coy about precisely what else Simpson says. They report that he acknowledges he was not chipping golf balls on the lawn on the night of the murder—as lawyer Johnnie Cochran asserted during his opening statement at the trial. They also claim Simpson explains who the shadowy figure entering the house was and what happened to the leather gloves that Nicole gave him—and which the prosecution maintained he wore during the killings.
Hoffman and Becker claim they shouldn't be stigmatized for taking part in the video. "There is no difference between me and any other media outlet that has been producing stories that sell and make money," says Hoffman. And indeed, Becker counts himself among those who believe Simpson is guilty. "Much of the evidence points to him," says the interviewer. "I think he probably committed the crime."
Those tough words are probably not as surprising as they sound. The producers, after all, have every vested interest in not appearing to be stooges for Simpson. By dressing up the video as a bona fide interview, they are more likely to lure a wide audience. It remains uncertain what effect the video will have on the civil case pending against Simpson (who recently added F. Lee Bailey to his defense team), though the Goldman family believes it will prove to be a gold mine for their side. "It gives us an incredible amount of evidence with which to impeach him," says attorney Michael Brewer, who represents Ron Goldman's mother, Sharon Rufo.
Ultimately, though, the video interview may prove so bland and gauzy—to say nothing of cynical—that everyone will end up disappointed. "If you believe he is guilty, there are things in there you will think are false," says Becker. "If you think he's innocent, there are things that will make you say, 'You see, he has an explanation.' " At $29.95 a shot, that may be less than many customers are bargaining for.
BETTY CORTINA, JOHNNY DODD and JEFF SCHNAUFER in Los Angeles
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