Sunday, September 18, 2011


So I'm reading the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, and I really think Sam Tanenhaus is taking the publicity campaign for Joe McGinniss's Sarah Palin book way too seriously, regarding it as a sign of the decline of Western civilization:

... Mr. McGinniss and his publisher, Crown, a division of Random House, have evidently borrowed the strategy pioneered in 2010 with the release of "Game Change," John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's backstage account of the 2008 election.

In that case, too, the subject seemed to have been wrung dry. The election had been thoroughly, not to say obsessively, reported in real time. Yet on the strength of gossipy scooplets released ahead of time, "Game Change" climbed to the top of best-seller lists.

"The Rogue" has likewise been preceded by a sprinkling of tangy, scandalous morsels....

WELCOME to the world of 21st-century book promotion, specifically the promotion of political books. Thanks to a change in the cultural weather -- from the Internet to reality TV -- a form of journalism that once emphasized narrative, analysis or both, seems to have devolved into a subspecies of celebrity exposé....

Oh, please -- does Tanenhaus think there's never been gossip in political books before? Does he think gossip was never used as the prime means of selling such books? Let me remind you how we first heard about Bob Woodward's book The Choice:

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton held imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi as a therapeutic release, according to a new book written by Bob Woodward, says a report in Sunday's edition of The Chicago Sun-Times.

The first lady declined a personal adviser's suggestion that she address Jesus Christ, however, because it would be "too personal," according to Woodward's book, "The Choice."

The book, which is still to be published, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the Clintons, as well as Bob and Elizabeth Dole....

That was in 1996.

And that was hardly the first political book sold with gossip -- hell, it wasn't even the first Bob Woodward book sold that way. Twenty years earlier, there was this:

And despite the fact that we seem to be a depraved and decadent populace who live for cheap and tawdry gossip, the publicity campaign for McGinniss's doesn't even seem to be working -- as I write this, the book is #58 at Amazon, which means it's being outsold not just by Heaven Is for Real and the movie tie-in edition of The Help, but by Ron Suskind's Confidence Men (#21) and The Black Banners by Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who interrogated many terrorism suspects after 9/11 (#53). Narrative enough for you, Sam? Hey, even the Mitch Daniels memoir is doing better than the Palin book (#48); I don't know if it's rich in narrative and analysis, but I strongly doubt it's selling on the basis of gossipy scooplets.