Read and Right. For conservative-book publishers, bashing Obama is the best route to a best-seller
By David Von Drehle
This week’s literary quiz: is Barack Obama a) an amateur, b) a socialist anti-colonialist radical or c) a great destroyer? The answer, according to recent New York Times best-seller lists, is all of the above, which may be bad news for the President but is very good news for the uncannily sure-footed conservative publishing machine.
In fact, Regnery Publishing Inc. of Washington claims to have “the highest batting average” at producing best sellers in the entire industry–”by far.” Two of the top three hits on the most recent list are from the Regnery lineup. At No. 2, Obama’s America by Dinesh D’Souza makes the case that the President is secretly anti-American, bent on weakening the nation to atone for our imperialist sins. The NO.3 book, Edward Klein’s The Amateur, is a brisk mixture of previously reported stories and unverifiable anecdotes, salted liberally-I mean, conservatively- with warnings about European-style socialism.
Neither book is aimed at undecided voters; instead, they both offer a backslap and a high five to readers ticked off at the President and ready to be reminded of all the reasons why. And neither is likely to join the pantheon of Regnery titles by such seminal conservatives as Russell Kirk, William F. Buckley Jr., Whittaker Chambers and Willmoore Kendall. Founded in 1947 by Henry Regnery-who also co-founded the influential magazine Human Events-the house has been a leading force in the American conservative movement from the start. As the country moved to the right, the firm became a hit machine, first under Henry’s son Alfred, now under president and publisher Marji Ross. She credits a loyal core of readers, primarily men, who pay close attention to conservative media, along with a small outer circle of outraged liberals who want to know what their foes are saying.
Published in May and spurned by the mainstream media but given a splashy launch by buzz master Matt Drudge, The Amateur bounced straight to the top of the best-seller list; according to Ross, nearly 400,000 hardcover copies are in print. Meanwhile, D’Souza’s book is the product of a remarkable feat of multi-platform repackaging: Obama’s America renders into book form the author’s smash-hit documentary, 2016: Obama’s America, which is rapidly climbing the list of the highest-grossing documentaries in history. The film follows D’Souza as he travels the world in search of the roots of the President’s supposed hatred of America, finding them at last in the anticolonialism of his deceased father Barack Obama Sr. It is perhaps the first movie to attempt to make a cell-phone interview with a historian seem like nail-biting drama, and it’s certainly the first movie to show D’Souza learning to hula.
The documentary, in turn, is a dramatization of arguments that D’Souza made in his 20IO best seller for Regnery, The Roots of Ohama’s Rage. In other words, the new book is based on a film that is based on the earlier book.
Some of this is just equal-opportunity, election-year profiteering. When liberals were every bit as inflamed by the Bush presidency in 2004, they were able to jostle their way up the lists as well: AI Franken, Ron Suskind and Richard A. Clarke all reached NO.1 with their indictments of the Bush Administration. That same year, leftist filmmaker Michael Moore won top honors at Cannes for his anti-Bush movie Fahrenheit 9/11, which became the top-grossing documentary in history. But even then, liberals shared the summit with Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and John O’Neill, who managed to climb to the top from the right slope. O’Neill’s book, Unfit for Command, was written with Jerome Corsi and completed the so-called swiftboating of presidential candidate John Kerry. It was Regnery’s biggest book ever, says Ross.
Compared with some of his earlier books, Klein’s latest best seller isn’t particularly rough. His 2005 Clinton book, The Truth About Hillary, was so scurrilous that conservative writer John Podhoretz said reading it made him want to take a shower. But it stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for seven weeks. The Amateur is tame by comparison; it read as if Klein wrote it with the same dull pencil he uses to ghostwrite the Walter Scott column in Parade magazine.
On the same best-seller list that featured D’Souza and Klein in the second TIME September ’7, 20I2 and third slots, businessman Mallory Factor takes aim at public-employee unions in Shadowbosses (No. 6; Center Street), while radio host Aaron Kleinno relation to Edward-teams with blogger Brenda Elliott to reveal Obama’s ”radical blueprint” for a “socialist takeover” during his second term in Fool Me Twice (No. 8; WMD). This summer the list also included Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton’s The Corruption Chronicles (Threshold) and David Limbaugh’s (brother of Rush) The Great Destroyer, about Obama’s “war on the Republic.”
Given Regnery’s track record, most large publishing houses have launched divisions aimed at conservative book buyers. There is Crown Forum inside the Random House empire and Threshold Editions within the Simon & Schuster operation. Hachette has Center Street, and HarperCollins has Broadside Books.
Adam Bellow, editorial director of Broadside, has been publishing works by conservative writers for decades, starting with D’Souza’s first best seller, Illiberal Education, in 1991. “It’s my shtick,” he says cheerfully. While his imprint is owned by conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, Bellow has seen enough to know that some of the major houses lack ideological commitment to these projects. “It’s just like Fifty Shades of Grey,” Bellow explains, referring to the soft-porn series that has dominated the best-seller lists this year. Publishers care about sales. “That’s not for the highminded, but it pays for their homes in Sag Harbor.”
For her part, Regnery’s Ross reads the liberal Huffington Post and Salon websites to keep her thinking sharp. “I encourage people to read books they don’t agree with,” she says, adding, “Sometimes they get me mad.” But she is not interested in publishing authors from the other side, no matter how much emotion they stir_ “I don’t know how,” she admits, “to make one of those books successful.” -WITH REPORTING BY ANDREA SACHS/NEW YORK
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