Broadside Books

When it Comes to Politics, Where Should Publishers Draw the Line?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature story profiles Lynn Gaspard, the 28-year-old publisher of Telegram Books. Gaspard’s family business has, in the past, published books on Hizbullah and on Arab attitudes to the Holocaust.

Undeniably American

In the profile, she answers a question about whether or not she would publish a book favoring Israeli settlements in the West Bank by noting that while her company does publish books about Jews and Israel, “If someone’s writing a book in which you are disregarding another people, then no, I don’t want to publish that.”

Her view can be seen a variety of ways, depending on your political position.

When it comes to politics, many people agree to disagree. But there are those who don’t, and often, they write books.

Publishing has been, over the past decade, diligently courting these pundits and attention magnets, folks who publish works that are highly provocative, at best, and deliberately misleading, at worst. One needs only to think of the various books stemming from the “Birther Movement,” such as Jerome Corsi’s Where’s the Birth Certificate published by WND, an independent publisher.

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What message does making your colophon look like the bottom of a bullet send?

Of course, it’s not just the indies presses that are overtly political — several of the Big Six publishers in the USA have established “conservative” imprints over the past decade, largely motivated by the success in the early 2000s of specialist publishers like Regnery Press. HarperCollins has Broadside Books, Simon & Schuster has Threshold Editions, Penguin has Sentinel.

What seems a long time ago, I challenged Random House’s Crown Forum imprint over several of the statements made in one of Ann Coulter’s book, suggesting that Coulter — who I believe had deliberately misappropriated quotes — needed to be edited more rigorously. (And Coulter turned her dogs on me). But when it comes to political books, editing rigorously may just be asking more than a publisher is willing to do, especially when “editing” may be misconstrued as “tampering” or even “censorship.” Or what of books that simply skim over uncomfortable issues and unflattering issues, such as George W. Bush did in his memoir Decision Points.

What’s a publisher to do? When should they draw the line? Is the lure of cashing in on a book by a wildly popular media personality, no matter how suspect their opinions, simply too enticing? Or is it something altogether more troubling? Perhaps publishers simply don’t have the power or influence over authors of this status to demand that they produce better, more rigorous, and less biased books.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.