Newt Gets the Dagger

When House Speaker Newt Gingrich's tawdry sci-fi novel, 1945, was released this summer, its promotional copy was adorned with a blurb by perennially dour ABC political correspondent Sam Donaldson: "An instant classic!" Critics panned the book. So did Sam Donaldson. What Donaldson actually said of the book was, "This is an instant classic which will be draped athwart the Speaker's neck by his opponents in every election he runs in from now on." As with the Contract with America, Newt's public relations campaign took a few liberties with the truth here. Now Gingrich's To Renew America is scaling the New York Times non-fiction best seller list. Both The Wall Street Journal and Business Week have recently run stories about how the influential NYT's list is padded and manipulated. The Times compiles its list by polling a "secret list" of selected bookstores across the country. But the list is no secret, and authors have been known to don sunglasses and order their own books by the case from these stores in an effort to nudge their titles onto the list. It's gotten so bad that the Times started using a dagger next to books on its best-seller list to indicate "bookstores report receiving bulk orders for a book." In one recent week, the second-highest ranked book reported to benefit from bulk sales was Gingrich's To Renew America. This isn't just a crime of vanity. Books mean bucks for authors. The $29.50 you put down for a hardcover in a bookstore translates into about $4.50 for the author of a well-negotiated contract-an author like Newt Gingrich. When someone buys a thousand copies of To Renew America to distribute to friends or adorn their garage, another smack of cash lands in Newt's pocket. A rummy book deal was among the charges for which former Representative James Wright of Texas was drummed out of his influential position as Speaker a few years back. The ringleader of Wright's ouster? None other than Newt Gingrich. On a related note, it's hard to tell if General Colin Powell is using the hoopla over his recent memoir, My American Journey, to launch a presidential bid, or whether he is using the feint of an independent ticket to bolster his book sales and usher him into a cozier retirement.

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