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December 18, 2006

Was Judith Regan's firing sexist? (Updated)

Publisher Judith Reagan was abruptly fired by HarperCollins on the night of December 15. Regan was the "brains" behind O.J. Simpson's If I Did It, a purportedly counterfactual confessional in which the former football star described how he "would" have gone about stabbing his wife and her friend to death. The ensuing public outcry prompted HarperCollins to withdraw the book and shred the 400,000 copies already in print.

"Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately," HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said in a terse statement last night.

The usually talkative Regan could not be reached for comment.

The announcement of her dismissal was sent out while most News Corp. employees were at the company Christmas party.

Regan's firing by Friedman ends what many publishing insiders knew to be a tense relationship between the two women that was marked at times by verbal clashes.

The last straw may have been a discussion about the Mantle book that Regan taped Thursday for her weekly talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio.

An account of the taping that was posted yesterday on said her conversation with author Peter Golenbock and her other guests turned to "people in the media elite who have it in for Judith Regan, not to mention the backstabbers at HarperCollins."

The Mediabistro account makes clear that Regan did talk about the "backstabbers . . . and with perhaps her fiercest vituperation at that."

And she did have enemies in the business. Publishing sources last night said they admired her successes, but had few other compliments for her. One said Regan was a "such a pain the neck" to work with, while another grumped, "She screwed a lot of people."

Regan was known for her ability to draw media attention to her work and to herself and for producing moneymaking projects - like A&E TV's "Growing Up Gotti" - for her boss Murdoch.

But the plan for the O.J. book and televised Fox interview creeped out much of America, spurring a public revulsion so intense that Murdoch was forced to scrub it the day before the books were shipped to stores.

At one point, Regan sought to justify the book and interview, saying she decided "to sit face to face with the killer, because I wanted him, and the men who broke my heart and your hearts, to tell the truth, to confess their sins, to do penance and to amend their lives."

Murdoch ended up personally apologizing for the "ill-considered project," and said he regretted any pain inflicted upon the families of the late Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Publishing sources said Regan did not gracefully accept Murdoch's call to kill it. [NY Daily News]

So, Reagan gambled big and lost spectacularly. She then became a thorn in her boss's side and used her considerable media access to make a spectacle of her rambling, incoherent self-justifications. On top of all that, she was reportedly difficult to work with. The final, final straw may have been an angry phone call to HarperCollins' lawyers.

Furthermore, as zuzu of Feministe points out, Regan's big flop was also a sly wink at domestic violence. So, not only did HarperCollins have excellent business reasons to let Regan go, there's also a feminist case to be made against her. If a hypothetical pro-feminist version of Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins had fired Regan, they would have made a strong feminist argument for special outrage over the OJ pseudo-confession.

Many of zuzu's commenters suspect that Regan is being judged especially harshly by the media, if not by her employers because she's a woman. One complaint is that the press has been "slut shaming" Regan various news accounts mention that she had an affair with disgraced former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik.

It should be noted that as far as the New York tabloid press is concerned, the Kerik/Regan affair is a gender-neutral gift that keeps on giving. Kerik will never be allowed to live down the fact that he commandeered an apartment reserved for Ground Zero rescue workers to host his trysts with Regan and another mistress. In fairness, maybe Regan didn't know that Kerik was using the apartment without authorization. If not, then Kerik is the abuser of power, and Regan is being unfairly slut-shamed for sleeping with a married man.

Other Feministe commenters observe that the New York Daily News has a general fondness for stories of female comeuppance. Twisty's look at a days NYDN headlines is consistent with that observation.

Another argument that crops up on the Feministe thread is that manifestly guilty women like Regan and Martha Stewart still don't have the same license to abuse their power and screw up their jobs as their male colleagues. That's a reasonable supposition, but it's a difficult hypothesis to test in individual cases.

Certainly, being privileged means being insulated from the consequences of your behavior. Privilege means that you get more credit for what you do right, and less flack when you screw up. It's impossible to say whether a male HarperCollins executive who acted like Regan would have enjoyed more latitude to waste the company's money offensive and unprofitable publicity stunts. Maybe so. However, there's no particular evidence that sexism played a major role in Regan's downfall.

Update: Regan's former employers say she was fired after she accused a group of HarperCollins executives of being a Jewish cabal bent sabotaging her OJ project. Regan's lawyer admits that his client accused specific Jewish executives at HarperCollins of being a cabal bent on her destruction.


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I hate to correct, but ... Regan, not Reagan.

Today's tidbit of news is that Regan apparently accused the legal department of Harper/Collins of being a "Jewish cabal" that was working against her.

Nothing like adding a little anti-Semitism to an already wicked brew ...

Now if we could just get Bush to fire Condoleezza Rice. Not because she's a woman, but because she SUCKS. And not that he'd necessarily pick a better replacement, mind you; it's just that I doubt he could do much worse. Therefore I'm willing to take a gamble on a new Secretary of State. I still keep hoping one of our neighbors to the north can persuade her to live there. Sorry Canada, but your pain will be our gain. No hard feelings, eh?

He's already thrown Rummy under the streetcar. Let the purge continue.

Judith Regan was fired for gross antisemitism in the course of a conference call. The fact that her insanely bad judgment as a publisher led News Corp. into laying a very expensive egg probably had something to do with it, however.

News Corp.'s surgeons have removed a malignant tumor. The only question remaining is: how clean are the margins?

I don't know if I buy that - I think Steve made a pretty good case that she was fired for cause.

That said, I really do think that Judith Regan was a prime candidate for a sexual harassment suit

Put it together with the orgy of slut-shaming she indulged in on the subject of Monica Lewinsky (whose major sin - lord only knows it couldn't have been sex with a married man) appears to have been refusing to publish with Judith Regan, and I'm having a hard time feeling uncomfortable with this as a feminist.

Yeah, there are scumbags out there who haven't paid for it. There are also some who have.

I'm comfortable with seeing Judith Regan among their number.

anyone who has an affair with Bernard Kerik deserves to be shamed for it. Thats a lot less a comment on the judith Regan than it is on Bernie Kerik. Add to that the specific aspecs of the affair, it taking place primarily at ground zero and in an apartment donated for use by trade center workers. It's hard to see how that isn't worth mentioning. Too many bad people get away with their crimes, so I don't particularly care if the process worked perfectly for Regan. It doesn't work perfectly for any of us and nobody ever cares about that unless it hurts whatever sub-group they belong to.

As for the Anti-semetic thing, I just don't believe anything that comes out of Newscorp, harper collins or anything else Murdoch touches. If bigotry actually got you fired by this guy, how many of his employees would still be working for him?

--Regan's former employers say she was fired after she accused a group of HarperCollins executives of being a Jewish cabal bent sabotaging her OJ project--

Matt Drugde spoke about this on his radio show Sunday night.

If any of this stuff is true, she was indeed fired for cause. Murdoch had no choice.


Damn. Hate it when you spot the error afterwards.

It's hard for me to imagine a man even thinking that he could publish O.J. Simpson's book without creating a tsunami sized wave of negative repercussions. To a certain extent, Judith Regan seems to have used the fact that she is female to push some envelopes, for instance, the porn star book, which I also don't think most men would have touched. So even though I do think the disparity in consequences for screwing up on the job exists, I have more sympathy for Martha Stewart on that score than I do for Judith Regan.

also, the o.j. book was one of the most shameful and embarassing celebrity tell-alls in history. quite the ignominious distinction. if that doesn't get you fired from a major publisher, i'm not sure what would.

oh yes, and if we're talking about sexism and martha stewart, we should remember that they couldn't convict her of insider trading because they didn't have any real evidence. what they convicted her of was obstructing the investigation of a crime whose very existence they couldn't establish.

In fairness, maybe Regan didn't know that Kerik was using the apartment without authorization. If not, then Kerik is the abuser of power, and Regan is being unfairly slut-shamed for sleeping with a married man.

Come on. You really think Kerik didn't brag about it to her?

oh yes, and if we're talking about sexism and martha stewart, we should remember that they couldn't convict her of insider trading because they didn't have any real evidence. what they convicted her of was obstructing the investigation of a crime whose very existence they couldn't establish.

Which is the same charge that Scooter Libby got, basically.

I was against the OJ Simpson book project, because I don't want him or his children to profit from the murders.

However, I wouldn't call the book project, a "sly wink at domestic violence."

Reading about a man murdering his ex-wife and a passerby wouldn't make the reader feel that domestic violence is OK.

I just read the "Jewish cabal" story. Oy.

Cheer up, Judith. All is not lost. I'm sure your recent plight has caught Mel Gibson's approving eye. We know that you don't have a problem dating married men, and apparently Mr. Gibson also doesn't have a problem with extra-marital coitus. Am I trying to turn this into a shame-fest? Heck no. I'm trying to turn this into a love-fest. And if we can get these two together for a little while it might keep their pieholes from issuing forth anti-Semitic projectile vomit while they're fucking. Whatever it takes.

Of course the OJ book was a sly wink at domestic violence. A forthright confession for profit would have been unseemly enough. However, I find it even more insulting for OJ to pen a "hypothetical" confession. Confess and face your condemnation like a man, or shut up. Don't play the nudge nudge "I didn't do it, but here's how I wouldda done it" game.

Oops, it looks like Mel wasn't married when he allegedly sired his love child. Still, I think Ms. Regan and Mr. Gibson would make a great couple. Hateful bigots gotta stick together, don't they?

One question that comes to mind is whether HarperCollins/NewsCorp/Murdstone would have fired a top male editor who made similar anti-Semitic comments. Don't get me wrong -- it's good to see them disavowing this (or any) brand of hate speech, and I hope they always will. I'm just a bit surprised by it.

With kind regards,
Dog, etc.
searching for home

I was the first person to say "this is what we have juries for, I refuse to try OJ by TV, let's let justice take its course," when it was going on. But then, a year later, he showed up on TV (so a friend of mine told me) with a hockey mask, making stabbing motions. Ha ha! Good one, dude. Can't we all laugh about this?

No, OJ. Even if he were actually innocent, I would tell him to stuff a sock in it for his own sake. In this case, though, it works out great, because he could also stuff a sock in it for _our_ sakes. Everybody wins.

The firing sexist? About as transparent as the claims of OJ himself. A panicked meltdown at a powerful person losing that power, that's all.

OK, I had thought you meant the book promotes domestic violence.

Martha Stewart made the same kind of dumb mistake that many men do: she so believed in the myth of her own superiority and ability to sell herself that she thought she could answer questions posed by FBI agents or SEC officials or whoever it was without having an attorney present, without realizing that they had already talked to everyone else before her and could spot the little fibs like lightning bugs in a pitch dark night. Big but common mistake.

Being a bald 6-foot-2 male, I dare not comment on whether La Regan's firing was gender related.

If it was, that's peripheral to the fact that she is a raving asshole who had lose all sense of proportion when it came to the marketplace.

She has beaucoup male company in that respect.

She was fired because she'd become a liability, nothing more or less. I'm sure they had counted on the Simpson book stirring up outrage, but not quite so much that the project would have to be scrapped, and Murdoch forced to publicly apologize (the first time in his life?) for his own bad taste.

Regan's former employers say she was fired after she accused a group of HarperCollins executives of being a Jewish cabal bent sabotaging her OJ project

Why would the IJC want to sabotage her OJ project?

These conspiracies can get pretty baroque, you know. You have to admit its odd how well the timing of this coincides with the plummeting dollar, and this year's edition of the ongoing war on Xmas.

In fairness, [if] Regan didn't know that Kerik was using the apartment without authorization …, then … Regan is being unfairly slut-shamed for sleeping with a married man.

In fairness, no. It doesn’t follow. If their liaison seemed odd, it could have been for all manner of other reasons. People have expectations about assertive mating, & this was an odd couple on several levels. The question that would've occurred to most women was, What could she have been thinking? The location was icing on the cake; by heightening Kerik’s already well-established reputation for gritty sleaziness, it mostly re-emphasized his undesirability. If Regan were a man & Kerik a woman, or both were gay men, or the liaison had happened in a less fraught place, the tabloids would have been be no less interested. Conversely, if they didn’t both have reputations as scandal-prone sociopaths, no one would’ve cared.

Famous heterosexuals have adulterous affairs all the time, often not in city-held apartments overlooking Ground Zero. The tabloids don’t treat them all alike. What would have distinguished their treatment of Regan-Kerik, if it had happened elsewhere, wouldn’t have been that she uniquely is a woman who, as a woman, had to be shamed.

To prove that the press especially favors stories of women’s comeuppance, it’s hardly enough to search for & find such stories. There are, after all, also stories of male comeuppance, no? The question is more complicated.

without having an attorney present

I don't believe that's the case. If memory serves, she had counsel; in fact, a big name partner at a well-known firm, who was insufficiently skeptical or insufficiently direct and could not or did not keep his client from going on record with what, in the criminal defense bar, is called a Bullshit Story.

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