LIFE

The Simpson follies

O.J. skirts an interview—and nagging questions

JOE CHIDLEY October 23 1995
LIFE

The Simpson follies

O.J. skirts an interview—and nagging questions

JOE CHIDLEY October 23 1995

The Simpson follies

LIFE

O.J. skirts an interview—and nagging questions

"I am an innocent man.” And that was about it. In a 45-minute interview with The New York Times last week—the week during which the man who declined to testify while on trial for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, would finally speak—O.J. Simpson said little else about the most-watched criminal case in history. Talking to a newspaper reporter rather than live and on TV, as he had originally promised, Simpson—now a free man after his Oct. 3 acquittal—never addressed the questions that trial watchers around the world still wanted answered: What was he doing at the time of the murders? If the bloody gloves were not his, what happened to the same-style gloves that Nicole bought for him? What happened to the dark tracksuit that he was seen wearing on the night of the killings? And most of all, if he did not commit the murders, who does he think did?

Simpson was not saying, although he seemed to want to speak—provided no one asked him any hard questions. Early in the week, NBC News announced that the former football star had agreed to an hour-long interview on Dateline NBC with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric. Executives at NBC promised a “no-holds-barred” interview about evidence, domestic abuse and other key issues in the case. “We’re going to ask the questions on everybody’s minds,” said NBC News president Andy Lack. The show was to be a chance for. Simpson to repair

some of the damage to his public image, and for NBC to reap a ratings bonanza—network executives expected 92 million U. S. viewers alone.

But the proposed interview was troubled from the start. The National Organization for Women (NOW) accused the network of pandering to a wife-beater and planned a protest outside NBC’s Burbank, Calif., studio. And within the network, the show ruffled feathers. NBC employees circulated a petition to halt the interview, saying it was in bad taste. Today show host Bryant Gumbel, a friend of Simpson’s, called in sick after being passed over as an interviewer.

Meanwhile, Simpson and his lawyers got cold feet. Although acquitted of criminal conduct, he still faces three multimilliondollar lawsuits from the Goldman and Brown families. A TV appearance, his lawyers said, could compromise his defence in those pending civil suits, which do not have to prove responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt—but only on the balance of evidence. Just hours before Dateline NBC was set to air, Simpson bowed out. “Based upon [my lawyers’] unanimous recommendation,” he said in a statement read by his attorney Johnnie Cochran, “I have concluded that this is not the appropriate time to speak.”

And yet, he did speak—more or less. After cancelling the interview, he made an unsolicited phone call to New York Times media reporter Bill Carter, whom he knew from his time as a TV commentator. Simpson, who said that he had backed out of the

TV appearance because he suspected that NBC was going to “retry” him, again declined to discuss the case. But the onetime pitchman and actor talked about his life after the acquittal with remarkable optimism. Although both Hertz car rental and International Creative Management, his talent agent for two decades, have severed ties with him, he was confident he could get work and restore his image. Boasting that he still owned a Ferrari, a Bentley and two homes, he denied that paying for the so-called Dream Team of lawyers had left him penniless. And he asserted that he did not believe poll results strongly indicating that a majority of Americans still think he is guilty of murder. “I don’t think most of America believes I did it,” he said.

About all Simpson would say about his case was that he had been wrong to “get physical” with Nicole Brown Simpson—and that he was willing to meet with battered women to discuss his relationship with his ex-wife. “There is nothing that [battered women] need to know from him that they don’t already know,” said an unimpressed Tammy Bruce, president of NOW’s Los Angeles chapter. “It is insulting and reflective of how ignorant he is.”

If the man himself was reticent about some long-awaited facts, confirmed Simpson addicts could at least find diversion in a host of sideshows. Among them:

• A government official in Bermuda mistakenly reported that Mark Fuhrman, the ex-detective who may still face perjury charges for lying about using the word “nigger,” was vacationing in Bermuda. The man turned out to be a Boston attorney named Mark Furman, in Bermuda to play golf.

• A resort in Fiji first confirmed, then denied, that Simpson and Paula Barbiéri had booked “a big wedding” for Oct. 21 to 24. Simpson told The New York Times that he had not even seen Barbiéri since being released from prison.

• Simpson attorney Barry Scheck ran afoul of police in New York City for making an illegal U-turn, driving without a licence and not having proper car registration.

• Tracy Hampton, a 26-year-old flight attendant dismissed from the Simpson jury in May after she said “I can’t take it any more,” reportedly posed for a nude Playboy pictorial in a Santa Clarita, Calif., studio done up as a courtroom.

For the moment, such trivia will have to suffice, at least until the lawsuits Simpson faces come to court and he may be compelled to testify about the murders. But that may take years. And until Simpson can—or will—speak out on questions that only he can answer, the majority of Americans who think he got away with murder are unlikely to change their minds.

JOE CHIDLEY