March 24, 2004

An Actual Majority Do Feel This Way

Yesterday, Glenn Reynolds ran an interesting bit of email from a reader concerning the attitudes of an editor in an not-to-be-named major media outlet. The original item is here at

The text of the email goes:

I realize you generally assume that the vast majority of reporters are praying to their pagan gods for our failure in Iraq and the war against terrorism (I am not one of them), and are now crafting their stories to reflect and facilitate such a thing. While I think you are dead wrong on this, I have to admit I was taken aback by a conversation I had recently with a colleague.

I work as a freelancer for a major national publication, and was talking to my editor as we were closing a piece last week. It was Thursday, and the reports were coming out of Pakistan that we might have Ayman al-Zawahiri surrounded. I passed this news on to the editor, who was crestfallen: "Oh, no. I don't want anything good to happen for Bush before the election," was the reaction (P.S., this editor does not edit foreign or political stories).

It was a sickening moment. This is a man responsible for thousands of American deaths. So while I have no desire to see Bush re-elected, and I disagree with our attack on Iraq, to hope for our failure in capturing one of the deadliest people in the world is a moral blindspot.

Reynolds' comment contained the following statement which set me to thinking
Yes, it is. And -- based both on reports like this one, and on the obvious slant of some stories -- I don't think that editor is alone, though I doubt an actual majority of his colleagues feel that way. But some clearly do, letting their Bush-hatred trump their patriotism.
After some reflection I sent the following comment on to the Professor:
I beg to differ. At the end of the not-very-surprising anecdote about the reporter and his editor, you comment:

"I don't think that editor is alone, though I doubt an actual majority of his colleagues feel that way. "

Based on my 30 year career as an editor, writer and literary agent, I'm afraid I'd have to say that you are but hoping in one hand here. I've worked in San Francisco, London, Boston, and New York over those years, and they have all been spent either in publishing magazines or publishing books. In that time, I've known hundreds of editors. Please believe me when I tell you that not only does a majority of editors feel the same way, it is a vast majority.

Publishing types, such as editors, agents and writers, tend to come out of the same sort of background. (Hey, those English Major degrees have to be good for something.) If they do not, the climb to influence within the publishing houses will bend them into a compatible mind-set. Like promotes like in these institutions and you'd best be a true believer or good at mimicry if you want to thrive.

I've sat in endless editorial meetings where books have been declined because they didn't seem to have the right political slant even though they promised great financial rewards.

The code for this is: "It doesn't seem like the kind of title we do." If the same book were to wind its way onto the list at, say, Regnery, and become a best-seller, (as a couple did) the fact that the house passed on it is certainly not sent up the line to the corporate masters.

In the same manner, I've seen dozens of books published that didn't have a hope of making a penny in profit (a fact that was acknowledged at the time) because they would bring "luster to the house." This was code for invitations to a lot of dinner parties and exclusive events at Harvard Business School or the Kennedy Center.

I once sat in a meeting where the financials for a book by Jimmy Carter looked very bleak and the "sponsoring" editor was asked to meet with the sales director so that the numbers could be given a "better glow." By the next meeting, this frog had been kissed into a prince and the book went on to lose a small fortune. We did get a visit by Carter and his entourage to the house though. Somewhere I have a photo of this expensive photo-op paid for by the shareholders. This was not a rare incident, but in all fairness neither was it commonplace. It just happened from time to time.

With rare exceptions, people in publishing, like, I suppose, many in academe, are not in it for the money, but for the status. I've been to Park Avenue dinner parties thrown by the likes of Bob Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, where never is heard a conservative word. Don't get me wrong, Bob's a fine fellow, but you'd no more find any other than carefully vetted liberals at his table than you'd find a magic mushroom in the soup course at the White House. And you have to reflect that for decades, Bob was the head of Random House. Much has changed during the years since he headed the house, but third generation hires directly descended from Bob's reign persist in bringing like-minded souls onto the payroll.

Ditto during my five years at Houghton Mifflin in Boston. There the axis of liberal interests between Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Cambridge was as solid and tangled as the Gordian Knot. At these dos backscratchers were as common as bowties. Again, with all the supper parties and summer events I attended in those years, the most conservative person I could cite as ever in attendance would be John Kenneth Galbraith.

In all those years of publishing or meeting with editors at various houses (and as an Agent you meet a lot of editors) I can perhaps think of one magazine editor that was not, in bone and blood, a liberal. I'm sure there are more and I'm sure that I met them. They were just very careful about giving that sort of information away. Ruins the protective coloration, you know.

While there may be an impression that overtly conservative tomes are tending up in publishing as a result of the vast sums earned by a few writers, that impression is very shallow indeed. A brief click and browse through the 100 top sellers on Amazon today with an eye towards political titles would confirm this.

Tonight, when I went back to look at the item, I noted this scary update had been added from the original correspondent.
A word of thanks for leaving my name out of that post.

Realized after I sent the email that if my name were posted it might easily make its way back to the editor. I'm barely making enough money at the journalism thing as it is... the last thing I need is to be blacklisted.

Ah, blacklisting. The last refuge of the liberal scoundrels of our age. We've come a long way, babies.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 24, 2004 12:11 AM | TrackBack
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