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Publisher’s Credo: Heads Will Roll

Last Monday, News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch announced that he was pulling the plug on O.J. Simpson’s hypothetical murder tale, “If I Did It,” and on the television interview that was to accompany it. Though many both inside and outside the company breathed a sigh of relief, some were left wondering how the misbegotten project had come into being in the first place. A possible explanation comes from Tom Kane, founder of the Web site www.commontales.com. In the 1990s, Kane spent a year working for Judith Regan, the fiery publisher who bought the rights to the Simpson book and who conducted the interview that Fox now won’t air.

As one of his odd jobs, he said, Kane was asked to look into the biblical story of Judith and Holofernes. Regan had become obsessed with the tale, particularly the part where Judith decapitates the drunken Assyrian general. Regan sent Kane on missions to find images of the beheading scene for her office. Famous for working on books about scorned and mistreated women — she has said that her interest in the Simpson project stemmed in part from firsthand experience in an abusive relationship — Regan saw the biblical Judith as a feminist before her time. According to Kane, Regan took Judith’s lesson a bit too much to heart. “She threatened to cut off my head if I didn’t do [something she’d told me to do],” he said. “I believed her.”

Publishers make their living telling stories. What matters at ReganBooks, though, is the version of the story that Regan wants you to know. And here, the story that she wanted people to know was that she was a woman warrior, too, a half-Irish, half-Italian spitfire who’d gone from being a National Enquirer reporter to being one of the most powerful people in publishing, and she wasn’t afraid to cut off your head if that was what it took to get ahead. She perhaps missed the part of the story where Judith killed Holofernes in order to save the Jewish people. Or the part about how the community held Judith in high esteem.

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