This morning, NBC’s Today led the broadcast by highlighting Fox’s decision not to air their smarmy interview with O. J. Simpson about how he “would” have killed his wife “if” he had committed the crime, which, of course, most Americans believe he did, only to escape a double-murder conviction in a circus of a trial. But while NBC seemed to be enjoying Fox’s pain today, back in the ’90s, their Today show was perhaps O.J.’s most sympathetic venue on TV.
This morning, co-host Matt Lauer talked to the late Nicole Brown’s sister Denise in both the 7am and 7:30am half-hours about the awfulness of Fox’s deal with O.J., which News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch scuttled on Monday, saying it was an “ill-considered project” — perhaps the understatement of the decade.
Lauer asked Ms. Brown: “‘An ill-considered project.’ Is this too little, too late on the part of Fox?” For her part, Denise Brown thanked the American public for being loud enough in their outrage to kill the whole venture.
But during and after the infamous trial, Lauer’s predecessor Bryant Gumbel was perhaps the biggest O.J. booster on TV. A couple of gems from our archive:
"Two weeks after his acquittal, we'll see how O.J. Simpson is still being treated as if he were guilty." — Bryant Gumbel, October 16, 1995 Today.
"Why do you suppose it is that one year after his acquittal, most white Americans at least, cannot accept the idea that he's out walking around free, refuse to let him live his life?" — Bryant Gumbel to O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran in part one of three day interview series, September 30, 1996 Today.
"Do you think O.J. will ever get a fair shake in this country? Will people ever let him live out his life and accept the fact that he was acquitted?" — Some of Gumbel's questions to Cochran on Today, October 2, 1996.
Fox’s scheme to give a probable murderer a couple of hours of prime time to fantasize out loud about how he “would” have slit his wife’s throat is morally repugnant, and Murdoch’s decision to cancel the show is correct. But NBC’s headlining of Fox’s fiasco neatly overlooks how their own star was a key member of the O.J. fan club, and how NBC let him use their airwaves to blast those who would not give Simpson “a fair shake.”
And it reminds us how there weren’t very many media heroes as that long and sordid story played out a decade ago.