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

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.

broadside books logo

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.

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  1. Posted February 7, 2012 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    I think there are no lines drawn by anyone against publishers. No limits to publishing political pamphlets, it’s something that’s always been done with gusto, at least since the 1700s (and pamphlets certainly helped to heat up the French political scene and bring down the monarchy and usher in a new post-Revolution age).

    In my view, there’s no issue here: publishers are free to publish whatever they wish and it’s up to them to decide on whatever public image they want to maintain: left, right, centre, extremist, terroristic, conservative etc

  2. Nick M
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Thay Broadside logo doesn’t look like te bottom of a bullet. It looks like the mouth of a cannon (broadside being a naval term). So it’s a bit different but along the same lines.

  3. Posted February 7, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    We have libel laws to protect against outright lies against people, but those are mostly useless against a public figure. The First Amendment does not assume that people tell the truth in a balanced way. It asserts instead that the truth arises out of a competition between freely published materials of all kinds. In politics, the information delivered always serves the interests of the sending and not the interests of the receiver. Fox News deliberately distorts the news toward a particular audience, but it does this with great success financially. They could care less about journalistic standards of fairness and balance because they produce a news that makes money for them. There is nothing stopping the left from doing the same thing. The lies and distortions may make some true believers very happy and disturbe those lied about, but freedom is a hard process where the alternative is some central authority that tries to tell everyone what they can hear and think — such as China, Russia, Syria and their friendly dictators they love so much.

  4. Edward Nawotka
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    @Nick — Yes, it certainly is a naval term — I’m a Patrick O’Brien fan, like so many others — and the name makes sense, but when I see it I think “bullet.” Must just be me.

  5. Dennis Abrams
    Posted February 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Of course publishers are free to publish whoever and whatever they wish, but by the same token, they are then responsible FOR those works, in the same way that a newspaper is responsible for the editorials they publish. If there is fallout from those books, they can’t just walk way and say, “Hey, we didn’t write those books,” — they bear a moral responsibility if nothing else for bringing them to the public.

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