Magazine article Insight on the News

Publishing Powerhouse a Conservative Success

Magazine article Insight on the News

Publishing Powerhouse a Conservative Success

Article excerpt

Tom Phillips, the force behind Eagle Publishing Inc., which produces the venerable weekly Human events and the Evans-Novak Political Report, talks about putting his vision on paper.

Tom Phillips launched Phillips Publishing, one of the great American success stories, in January 1974 with two newsletters, three employees and a $1,000 investment. Now Phillips Publishing International is a Potomac, Md.-based firm with 1,200 employees, producing more than 100 newsletters, magazines, newspapers, books, directories and online information services. The company closed out fiscal 1998 with $310 million in sales.

Eagle Publishing Inc., a subsidiary of Phillips Publishing International, publishes the conservative weekly tabloid Human Events and the Evans-Novak Political Report. The Conservative Book Club is part of Eagle, as is Regnery Publishing, a firm created 50 years ago by Henry Regnery and one of the earliest conservative book publishers in America. Regnery was acquired by Phillips in 1993.

"I have a strong belief in liberty and in the values and ideas of the Founding Fathers," Tom Phillips tells Insight. "Because I grew up in the conservative movement of the 1960s and 1970s, I was aware that there were little pockets of conservative publishing activity here and there. I always thought there was an opportunity for a greater vision that would pull things together, specifically a multimedia publisher that could do periodicals and books, and book clubs and so forth." It's this vision that Tom Phillips has realized

Insight: What's your advice to the conservative movement about publishing, a field in which you've proved impressively successful?

Tom Phillips. I think we conservatives have the very best ideas for America's future, but I don't think we market or sell them very well. Let me put it this way: What you have to do is listen to the marketplace; you have to be very market-driven. That's some of what I bring to our company and our philosophy -- experience and talent for marketing and management that is all too scarce among conservatives.

People talk about Slick Willy being a great salesman! But basically he's a salesman of an outmoded, outdated philosophy -- if he has one, I mean. Liberalism has failed, and yet the left is always out there hustling, selling, selling -- and they have a willing media in general, a liberal media that transmits their ideas.

Rather than just saying we have the better ideas, we have to learn how to present them to the public better; and when we present them to the public, we have to present them in a way it can understand and react to positively. Then we will be far better off both commercially and philosophically.

Rather than wring our hands about the fact that we don't dominate the public media, we need to do something about it. We need to learn how to be better businesspeople, better marketers. With all due respect, all the media moguls who are liberal know how to be very good capitalists when it comes to their own businesses and pocketbooks, yet at the very same time they are spouting leftist drivel on their editorial pages!

Insight: Liberty, hard work and discipline are values that helped make America great. They are the conservative values advocated in Regnery books and in Human Events. Do most Americans still value these qualities?

TP: I think too many people have taken our success for granted. You see immigrants come to this country and many of them appreciate it more than those fortunate enough to have been born here. I feel lucky to have been born here and lucky to have found my niche in life early on. ! was editor in chief of my yearbook in high school, and I was involved in politics in my college days at Dartmouth.

So I'm appreciative of the opportunity this country has given me. I think a great deal of affluence in America has basically caused people to forget what it took to achieve it, and I think that the values of our civilization are not taught in the school systems. Not from public elementary schools to high schools to public and private colleges. Since we aren't teaching free enterprise and capitalism these days, it's not a surprise that the values of our Founding Fathers aren't appreciated as they should be.

Insight: What about the values of American publishers?

TP: The book industry, and this would be admitted by most of those in that business in New York, is pretty much dominated by those with a liberal viewpoint. That's quite well established, as you know. So there's only a handful, at best, of publishers who will consider a manuscript seriously advocating the ideas of freedom and liberty or advocating the values of the Founding Fathers or of Western Civilization in general.

Insight: Did you ever consider creating a chain of conservative bookstores to go along with your publishing and book-club empire?

TP: The retail business is a tough one, and we've always believed in going directly to the customer when we can. That's what a book club does, and our book club presents the opportunity of getting a monthly selection as well as access to a wide range of other conservative, liberty-oriented books.

As we publish books under the Regnery banner, very powerful books, exciting books, and then create a demand for them, individuals go to their bookstores with purchase orders and the [bookstore] chains then order and carry them. I am more concerned about supply than about the distribution channel.

Insight: You're a Dartmouth College alumnus. Has the increasingly liberal reputation of your alma mater bothered you over the years?

TP: Well, sadly, Dartmouth has always been more liberal than its reputation. Back in the sixties, as an example, my first political-science professor was the chairman of the local Democratic committee in Hanover, N.H., and at: the end of our first survey course he said, "You can write your term paper on anything you want but Barry Goldwater." Why? He said, "Because Barry Goldwater has nothing worthwhile to say?"

There's an incredible intolerance on the part of liberals, and especially hard-core leftists, for any opposing point of view. You still find that on the college campuses. It's quite incredible. In the university, where you're supposed to have academic freedom, where you're supposed to be challenging yourself with new ideas, to be exposed to a wide range of new thought, that's where you have the most dogmatic and intolerant collectivism you could imagine. The radicals of the 1960s are the entrenched, tenured faculty of the nineties.

Insight: What did you do when your professor forbade a term paper on Goldwater?

TP: That was in the sixties. Barry was big news then, but he was just being dismissed out of hand. And that announcement by the professor was just exactly what I needed to point me to the bookstore to buy Barry Goldwater's book and find out what was so obnoxious -- what in this professor's view was so worthless -- that I shouldn't be bothering with it!

I read Conscience or a Conservative and it had a very profound influence on many of us who were growing up in the sixties.

Insight: Are you a lifelong conservative?

TP: When I went off from high school I had instinctive patriotic beliefs, but they had not been informed by studying political science all the way back to the Founding Fathers, John Locke and the British heritage. I didn't have the context, but I had the predisposition for conservatism, which I believe many Americans do. Too bad the elites are not giving them the leadership that is necessary as we go into the new millennium.

Insight: So there's a basic conservatism among Americans that publishers can tap into with books by conservative authors? Books like Conscience of a Conservative?

TP: Oh, that's how I became an ardent supporter of Barry Goldwater and president of Youth for Goldwater in New Hampshire in 1964. I was, of course, disappointed when he lost. So it was a great victory for conservatism when Ronald Reagan won in 1980. That marvelous Reagan decade followed. But when Clinton came into the White House, I realized that no longer did conservatives have a spokesman -- that we had just the opposite -- and I thought there would be an opportunity for someone who wanted to publish conservative ideas to get the word out! I'd like to do a magazine. I'd like to do more of everything so that our point of view has an opportunity to be heard at its best by the American public.

Insight: What's coming soon from Regnery that's going to interest the reading public?

TP: We are publishing High Crimes and Misdemeanors by Ann Coulter. It's the case against Bill Clinton, and I suspect it's going to be a blockbuster success. Fortunately, the president is Cooperating with our book's publishing schedule by stretching things out! His delaying tactics have allowed us to publish in tandem with his troubles.


Thomas L. Phillips as an active young conservative

Currently: President and chief executive officer of Phillips Publishing International.

Born: Dec. 25, 1941, near Cherry Hill, N.J.

Family: Wife Jan and two children, Karen and Mark.

Education: BA in political science, Dartmouth College; MA in journalism from American University.

Organizations and Honors: Founding member of the Newsletter Publishers Association in 1977, and later NPA president. NPA "Publisher of the Year," 1989. Five years later, elected as first member of the Newsletter Publishers Hall of Fame. Member, the Republican National Committee's Team 100. Serves on board of Junior Achievement of Metropolitan Washington and the board of the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Currently, chairman of the Board of Visitors of the Institute on Political Journalism.

Influences: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Fountain-head; Witness by Wittaker Chambers.

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