What a difference a year makes. Three hundred and sixty-five days ago this Wednesday, Knopf released Bill Clinton's My Life, amid a publicity campaign the likes of which had rarely been seen. By the end of its first week of publication, it had sold a reported one million copies. Tomorrow, another Clinton book will appear. This one—Ed Klein's The Truth About Hillary—has a first printing of 340,000 and arrives amid a publicity campaign that includes a Vanity Fairexcerpt and the customary dissections in newspapers and magazines.
But The Truth About Hillary is a very different kind of Clinton book, a none-too-nice look at the ambitious New York senator's personal and professional lives. Supposedly embargoed—Hillary Clinton's spokesperson, when asked last week if the senator had read it, offered only this non-denial denial: "It's not out until Tuesday"—it has fired up everyone from the bluebloods at the New York Observerto the Bush-reds at the New York Post, the latter of which disses both Klein's reporting and (hilariously, given that this is the Post—and I should know, I'm a former Post employee) his misspellings. It also offers up the requisite salacious anecdotes, including stories about Bill and Hillary's sexual relationship that even the prurient would file under TMI.
Still, nasty books about the Clintons are hardly new—former Clintonista Dick Morris has been making a career of them—and if this were being published by, say, Judith Regan (Morris's publisher) or Regnery, the inside-publishing set would hardly raise an eyebrow. But not only is The Truth written by a once-reputable former editor of the New York Timesmagazine, it is being published by Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group (USA), headed by Adrian Zackheim, who also runs the Group's Portfolio.
Sentinel is among a group of recently established conservative imprints in New York, and Klein's book is the first out of that lot to generate real political heat. The Sentinel catalogue compares The Truthto the Swift Boat veterans' book that helped snuff the Kerry campaign and which became a bestseller.
But Sentinel, unlike, say, Swift Boat publisher Regnery, is not the creation of an ideologue out to boost conservative principles so much as it is a brainchild of business-minded executives looking to create and then serve a market they learned to covet. That one of Sentinel's first books is now being accused of having a political agenda—one report says Klein's "stated intent" was "to [inflict] electoral damage" on Clinton—seems laughable. Of course it has an agenda. It was chosen because of that agenda.
Which is exactly why the publishing world will be watching this one closely. Even apart from the usual schadenfreude, competitive publishers will surely be ambivalent about the book's showing in the marketplace. Should The Truth succeed, it will verify that perhaps these conservative imprints (Mary Matalin's, Crown Forum, et al.) were a good idea, at least businesswise, and ambitious publishers will begin ponying up for more of them. Should it fail, everybody can blame poor Sentinel for its "bad taste" and "pandering"—and breathe a sigh of relief that their bosses might not push them so hard to buy such a piece of work next time.