Simpson chooses a safer path // Ditches TV for newspaper `conversation'
Richard Price; Sally Ann Stewart
LOS ANGELES - O.J. Simpson has a history of picking his way through
obstacles, whether they're on football fields or in courtrooms, and he pulled it off
Hours after the former murder defendant backed out of an interview with NBC's
Dateline, apparently surrendering any chance of telling his tale to the American
public on his terms, Simpson delivered exactly that via The New York Times - a
story drawn from a 45-minute telephone interview conducted with Simpson
In doing so, he fulfilled in print the predictions of critics who had warned that
Simpson would use a televised account as a means of denying guilt while
refusing to answer tough questions about the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson
and Ronald Goldman.
"I am an innocent man," he told the Times, adding he believes most Americans
agree with him and that he'll persevere against any further adversity.
"I've always found a way," he said. "I'm an American. I should have a right to
find a job and support my family."
Simpson refused to discuss the murders in anything but general terms, the Times
Simpson gave the Times interview during a surprise call at the same time he was
backing out of the Dateline interview because the network was promising critics
they would ask pressing questions about the murder case.
Simpson had set up the Dateline interview to repair his public image and correct
what he perceived as inaccurate reports in the media. He had been seeking, in his
own words, "a conversation, not a confrontation."
Which is what he got in the Times article, says Leo Terrell, a civil rights lawyers
close to the Simpson defense camp.
"It's more therapeutic for O.J. because he needed to tell his story. O.J. needed to
express himself." Terrell said the article may not have satisfied Simpson entirely
but the Times "gave him . . . credibility. It's a well-known and respected
The Times article immediately drew a blast from frustrated Simpson critics who
had celebrated his withdrawal from the Dateline interview.
"Apparently, he feels there is no limit to our stupidity. How dare he try to con
us?" said former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. "Simpson has
elevated audacity to symphonic and operatic levels. He's acting like he's the one
who's been put out by the case."
Earlier, the collapse of the Dateline interview touched off a flurry of emotions
across the nation, ranging from triumph among womens' groups to relief among
Simpson's lawyers, but none was more common than the raw disappointment
expressed by millions of Americans itching for answers.
The seed for the Dateline interview was planted during a conversation between
Simpson and his old friend Don Ohlmeyer, president of NBC West Coast.
Simpson told Ohlmeyer he wanted to set the record straight on a series of things,
including an NBC Today show interview last week between Katie Couric and
Sheila Weller, who wrote Raging Heart, a scathing picture of Simpson's marriage
Weller said that two days after the verdict Simpson returned his children Justin
and Sydney to their grandparents' house early in the morning without calling to
say they were on their way.
Simpson told the Times he watched the interview with his children at his estate.
Such alleged inaccuracies ate at Simpson. He wanted to fix things and thought
NBC could help. NBC President Andy Lack struck the deal Sunday.
Terrell, legal adviser to Simpson's sisters, said both sides expected controversy to
center on whether Simpson was paid. "People took it one step further and
demanded that if Simpson wouldn't testify in court, then NBC shouldn't let him
testify on TV."
That demand was spearheaded by women's groups, particularly Tammy Bruce -
local president of the National Organization of Women - who accused NBC of
turning the airwaves over to a wife-beater. She led hundreds in a protest outside
NBC's studios here.
"You are not welcome here," Bruce said. "You are not welcome in this country;
you are not welcome on our airwaves; you are not welcome in our culture."
NBC's Lack made it clear that Tom Brokaw and Couric would ask "tough"
questions. Simpson's lawyers said NBC went overboard by consulting
prosecutors in the case; Lack told The New York Times that Brokaw and Couric
would block Simpson "from giving long accounts of his feelings and emotions."
By Tuesday, Simpson's lawyers - including Robert Baker, the lawyer just hired
for his civil cases - were imploring their client to keep silent for the sake of the
In a statement Wednesday, Simpson and his lawyers conceded the postponement
was their idea, but they put part of the blame on NBC.
"It has become clear," Simpson said in a statement read by his lawyer Johnnie
Cochran, "that NBC has, perhaps in an attempt to appease diverse public
viewpoints, concluded that this would be a time and an opportunity to retry me."
Nevertheless, analysts defended both NBC and the Times for its handling of the
latest Simpson saga.
`I love this story," said Robert Lichter, who directs the Center for Media and
Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. "Whatever you do it's wrong and it's
newsworthy. If they don't do the story, they're folding to pressure. If they do the
interview, they're pandering to tabloid entertainment. If it's too soft, they've gone
mushy. If it's too tough, they're biased. They can't win this one."
Contributing: Haya El Nasser, Gale Holland and Jonathan Lovitt
PHOTO,b/w,Kevork Djansezian,AP; PHOTO,b/w,Kathy Willens,AP;