Sunday, July 11, 2004

At Fox News, it's Author! Author!
Anchors writing books - and shamelessly plugging them - is hardly news any more at the cable network


July 11, 2004

The June evening must have been a perfectly pleasant one, and Roger Ailes must have been in fine Ailesian form (which is to say amusing and caustic). The guests had gathered at Studio D at Fox News headquarters, and the shrimp platters were running low. Time to get down to business.

The chairman of Fox News then took the stage to introduce his longtime friend and Fox News Channel anchor, Neil Cavuto, who was about to publish his first book, "More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life's Ultimate Lesson" (which, by the way, included a hagiographic chapter on one Roger Ailes).

And then, the Ailesian zinger. Cavuto, he observed, is "just the first person from Fox News Channel to put out a book this week."

An exaggeration? Well...

Consider the zinger of the long forgotten Duke of Gloucester, who once famously uttered to Edward Gibbon, the famously productive author of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire": "Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh Mr. Gibbon? Another damn thick square book."

One wonders what the dear old dim-bulbed Duke would say of the publishing industry that has sprung up at Fox News headquarters, of all places?

Authors list goes on

The list is quite a list: There is Bill O'Reilly (scribble, scribble), who is banging out a new book for kids for the fall, as well as Sean Hannity (scribble), and now, Cavuto. But were you aware of "The Big Story" host John Gibson's book ("Hating America: The New World Sport?") or "On the Record" host Greta Van Susteren's ("My Turn at the Bully Pulpit: Straight Talk About Things That Drive Me Nuts"), which has been out since the winter. Alan Colmes' "Red, White & Liberal: How Left Is Right and Right Is Wrong," appeared in the fall. "Fox & Friends" co-host (and onetime jock anchor-reporter) Brian Kilmeade will become a publishing newbie in the fall with "The Games Do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports." Also in the works are books by Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday," "Fox News Watch" host Eric Burns (who already has several books to his name) and a White House correspondent James Rosen, completing a biography of Richard Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, a book that would impress even Mr. Gibbon.

Rosen began work on this big square book nearly 14 years ago, just after graduating from college. Forgetting anyone? Almost certainly, and to them, our sincere apologies, because it is said (by me, actually) that if you throw a rock inside Fox News headquarters, you will a) get arrested, and b) injure someone who has a book or book deal pending. Potential scribblers include Ailes, who has been approached on several occasions by HarperCollins' big imprint, ReganBooks, to write his own exceedingly colorful life story (so far, he's declined). It's believed that the anchor of "The Fox Report With Shepard Smith" also has been approached about a book. We won't even get into Fox's on-air consultants, most of whom are published authors or have become big-time bestselling scribblers since joining Fox News; political consultant Dick Morris is the most notable example, and even Chicago shock jock and "Fox & Friends" guest Mancow Muller has a book to his name.

You know the obvious question (why?) and can guess the obvious answer (money). The TV-star- as-author category has been a relatively hot one of late (Tim Russert's "Big Russ and Me" recently topped The New York Times' nonfiction list). Publishers like these authors because they have a ready-made audience and promotional vehicle - their own show - and that means publishers don't have to shell out big bucks themselves to hawk the books.

Loyal audience

Brad Miner, executive editor of American Compass, the conservative "wing" of giant book club Bookspan, adds: "The thing about the Fox books is that their authors have a loyal audience watching them and hanging onto their every word, week after week. That builds up a sense of authority, and those guys have it."

Overall, though, the trend's become a controversial one, simply because the TV news star authors have proven such relentless floggers, and that - say the critics - has subverted the objectivity of both author and news organization. An Associated Press column recently scoured NBC News and Russert for their in-house promotional zeal, while also sent a well-guided bullet NBC and Fox's way.

But Fox News' lit stars have proven to be tub-thumpers beyond compare. Cavuto interviewed most of his book's "heroes" on his show and incorporated book plugs in numerous other ways. O'Reilly and Hannity are masters of the tout who especially use their huge radio shows to get out the word and boost sales. Anyone got a problem with this? Says Cavuto, who got his idea back in 1997, in the wake of the diagnosis of his multiple sclerosis: "When you can bring the heroes out and show them to people...then I think that's fine. But if you're trying to push something that's bad, with no added value to it, there's no question that then it's bad."

Burns (whose book on journalism in Colonial times will come out sometime next year), says, "I can understand why [critics] would be upset, but if you watch this guy, whoever he is, on the air, then it means you care about his view and probably want to know there's another forum" where those views have been expressed in greater detail.

Besides, he adds, "imagine how strange it would be for people to have a show on four or five hours a week and not mention the book? That would be anti-social."

Because no one at Fox News wants to be a party-pooper, it all comes down to this question, then: How much plugging is too much? As the lit industry has surged at FNC, the answer has become a sensitive one there, say industry observers (who ask not to be named or quoted). The reason, they say, are perceived inequities over who can flog and how much. There's a common-sense realization that the more on-air flogging you do, the more book sales you ring up. But Ailes has limited the tub-thumping. Van Susteren, for example, refused to tout her book (published by Crown, a division of Doubleday) on her show, "On the Record," because she reportedly thought it was wrong to do so. The book tanked.

There's also long-standing speculation at FNC that O'Reilly has been allowed to build an "O'Reilly Factor" industry - replete with volumes (published by Broadway Books, a division of Bertelsmann) and tchotchkes like doormats - because several years ago he spurned a huge offer from NBC News and instead opted to stay with Fox. Because he walked away from so much money - as much as $20 million, goes the speculation - Ailes allowed him to go hog-wild on the promo front.

'Everyone rows the boat'

Baloney, says Bill Shine, FNC's vice president of production, who declined to comment on O'Reilly but said, "Everyone rows the boat together" at Fox News. "Over eight years, the success of this company has come because Roger has avoided situations where someone thinks they can have more or get more." (Ailes, who hasn't talked to the press in about a year, was on vacation and couldn't be reached.)

Shine adds that there are no hard and fast rules on tub-thumping, because "you've got to look at this on a case by case basis....You can't have a cookie- cutter 'Everybody Follows This' approach."

As for Van Susteren: "From day one when she told me she was going to write the book, she told me and her publisher that she wasn't going to put the book on her television show. At the time, she was fairly new here and wanted to focus on the TV show, and if you know Greta more than 20 minutes, you'd know she'd want to make sure she puts her head down and into the show."

Meanwhile, Shine says the book logjam hasn't created any logistical (or ego) problems. To the contrary: "If you look at the process of this whole book phenomenon, it's never hurt ratings of a show with [?]

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

New York City - Entertainment

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