IDEA AND REALITY ARE OFTEN MILES apart, especially when it comes to business schemes. It's a Panglossian truism displayed a few weeks ago with the release of Ed Klein's The Truth About Hillary, the first high-visibility title from Sentinel, the imprint of the august publishing house Penguin that was launched in August 2004 for the specific purpose of publishing red-meat, right-wing fare.
The idea was that a high-profile, "ideology-free" author with mainstream credentials would give Sentinel a bit of ideological cover and get the book taken seriously in literary circles in a way that titles from Regnery, the hydra-headed monster of right-wing publishing, do not. The Truth promised startling revelations about the junior New York senator that would, as Matt Drudge put it in a breathless April 10 posting, "sink [her] candidacy for president." Sentinel even moved up the publication date from fall to June 21 to get the most out of the incipient publicity.
The reality, of course, is that the book is nothing more than a cynically fourth-rate homage to the long-standing obsessions of the well-organized Hillary resistance movement on the right. It's been exposed as rife with inaccuracies and attacked--and the author vilified--by both left and fight.
But in spite of--or because of--all the criticism, Klein's book is a financial success, debuting at No. 2 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list on July 10. So, far from being a warning to other publishers, The Truth, it's sad to say, represents a new trendlette in a Manhattan publishing industry that will do just about anything to improve a lagging bottom line. Call it the "Regnery North" strategy.
THE HISTORY OF RIGHT-LEANING book publishing in New York has been an episodic one at best. Some traditional nonfiction houses have carved out occasional runs of right-wing books. The Free Press, first under Erwin Glikes and later under Adam Bellow, ruled the conservative roost during the 1990s, with the wildly successful marketing of books like Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education, the since-converted David Brock's The Real Anita Hill, and Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve.
But that was one imprint (within Simon & Schuster; it still exists but is no longer right-leaning). And it was accepted because, however problematic the titles referred to above, The Free Press published actual intellectual fare as well; it leaned left with the odd title, and both Glikes and Bellow were respected in the trade. Now, however, three imprints have arisen: In addition to Sentinel, there's Crown Forum, started by Random House in June 2003, and the just-announced Threshold, Simon & Schuster's new entry, headed by that well-known literary lioness Mary Matalin (her first book: a memoir by Mary Cheney, the vice president's lesbian daughter, due out in May 2006). Having observed the commercial success of last year's Unfit for Command (another Regnery title), the New York publishing scene seems willing to serve as a ready megaphone for the ardent partisans of the conservative movement. And it's doing it in the most crudely effective way possible--by ransacking Regnery talent outright (Jed Donahue at Crown Forum and Bernadette Malone at Sentinel are both from the Regnery stable).
Malone came to Sentinel after having been lured from her Alexandria, Virginia (red state), digs for dark-blue Gotham. "Everything I saw coming out of New York were books for New Yorkers by New Yorkers," she told me not long ago. "I never had any desire to go join that exercise. But if New York was going to start publishing conservative books one way or another, I wanted to make sure they were going to be done by conservative editors. I want to see these books work and influence as many people as possible."
Malone is constantly on the prowl for new names and faces, movement figures primed to rant their way into the media spotlight. At one event in early 2004, a suggestion from former Ronald Reagan press secretary Marlin Fitzwater led Malone to sign Jim Kuhn, a onetime executive assistant to Reagan, to pen Sentinel's debut title, last July's Ronald Reagan in Private, which turned out to sell poorly. …