News Corporation is one of the most closely studied international media conglomerates, headed by the world’s most famous media proprietor. Yet, despite its prominence in the academic literature, little attention has been paid to the company’s book publishing operations. This article seeks to rectify this oversight. It investigates some of the more controversial book deals made by HarperCollins, outlining a partisan publishing pattern that conforms to Murdoch’s proclivity for conservative politics.
Keywords agenda setting, book publishing, conservatism, media bias, HarperCollins, Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation
In September 2010, following its success in publishing Going Rogue: An American Life (2009) written by the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, the global book publisher, HarperCollins announced that it would begin a specialist imprint for books on conservative topics and by conservative authors (Bosman, 2010).
The new imprint, Broadside Books, followed other successes with conservative titles, such as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s Pinheads and Patriots, which rose to No. 2 on the New York Times bestseller list in September 2010. In charge of Broadside Books is Adam Bellow, who said the name had ‘a certain combative edge’ and that the firm would publish ‘books on the culture wars, books of ideas, books of revisionist history, biographies, anthologies,
Corresponding author: Mitchell Hobbs, Faculty of Education and Arts, School of Humanities and Social Science, University Drive, Callaghan NSW 2308. Email: Mitchell. [email protected] edu. au 836 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) polemical paperbacks and pop-culture books from a conservative point of view’ (Bosman, 2010). Forthcoming books include one on the ‘death of liberalism’ and a ‘free market capitalist’s survival guide’. Bellow predicted ‘we are on the cusp of an explosion of intellectual activity on the right’ (Bosman, 2010).
Publishers have been inspired by the sales of over 2 million copies of Palin’s Going Rogue and the likely success of a follow-up by her, also to be published by HarperCollins. The creation of an imprint for conservative thought is not unique to HarperCollins. Random House created Crown Forum and Simon & Schuster have Threshold. But HarperCollins can rightly claim that it seized strategic territory in the ideological war much earlier. For example, the publisher has made a speciality of securing the memoirs of conservative political leaders.
These include the presidential diaries of Ronald Reagan and Ronald Reagan: 100 Years, Margaret Thatcher’s books, The Downing Street Years (1993) The Path to Power (1995) and Statecraft (2002), as well as John Major’s memoir John Major (1999), Dan Quayle’s Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir (2004) and, most recently, Lazarus Rising, by the former conservative Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. This article examines HarperCollins and its considerable output of conservative books which, unlike the content of other media outlets of News Corporation has only ever been examined sporadically.
The article suggests first, that HarperCollins books has contributed to the ‘battle of ideas’ fostered by the conservative movement in the US, second, it has been institutionally linked to other politicized News Corporation media outlets such as the journal the Weekly Standard and the cable TV channel, Fox News, and third (and overlapping with the former),1 its books sometimes reflect several of the ideological enthusiasms of Rupert Murdoch himself. This article draws on several sources of academic literature. First is the political economy pproach to media and culture, which foregrounds the connection between the ownership of the mass media and its content. This approach emphasizes the way in which the mass media have been ‘increasingly commandeered by large corporations and moulded to their interests and strategies’ (Golding and Murdock, 1996). In international communication research, Thussu (2000: 81) emphasizes the significance of the critical political economic tradition, given that trends toward concentration of ownership and vertical integration are key features of ‘the US-managed global electronic economy’.
Similar views are advanced by others (McChesney, 1999; Schiller, 1999). The particular details of the connections between News Corporation and organized conservatism have been examined elsewhere (Hobbs, 2010; McKnight, 2003, 2010). Second is the literature on modern book publishing, which occasionally deals with the political views of mainstream publishers and the political and intellectual impact of their books. One account that examines ‘the politics of publishing’ is Schiffrin (2001).
Schiffrin sees the rise of Murdoch’s HarperCollins as an exemplar of the rise of global publishing conglomerates more generally, which, he argues, has led to a focus on more commercial books and a decline in substantial intellectual works published by mainstream publishers. Schiffrin (a publisher himself) recounts that one of the first consequences when HarperCollins took over the British independent publisher, Fourth Estate in 2000, was the cancellation of a contract for a political biography of Murdoch which would be critical of its subject (Schiffrin, 2001: ix). He notes that several mainstream
McKnight and Hobbs 837 publishers in post-war Britain (such as Penguin, Secker & Warburg) regularly published politically progressive and risky books, while today major publishers are singularly oriented to commercial success. This field also contains accounts of the left-wing British publisher, Victor Gollancz, whose books had a marked influence in British political culture and intellectual life from the 1930s to the 1950s (Edwards, 1987; Hodges, 1978). Another account of politically related publishing is Murray (2004), which examines the rise of feminist and women’s publishing in the 1970s.
More specialized are studies of book publishing as part of an official ideological war. Hench (2010) examined US government programmes to export books to Europe as ‘weapons in the war of ideas’ during and after the Second World War. Saunders (1999) touches on the promotion and sponsorship of books as part of the CIA’s broader intellectual offensive during the cold war. In most general historical accounts of publishing, however, the main political issue of concern is externally imposed book censorship (Tebbel, 1981: 695–718), rather than the influence of a media proprietor.
Contextualizing HarperCollins Closely identified with its founder and principal architect, Murdoch’s News Corporation is the world’s largest media conglomerate, with its diverse cultural products consumed in ‘over 100 countries’, ‘across six continents’ (News Corporation, 2008: 1–11). Characterized as a relentless and formidable businessman by many of his biographers (see Chenoweth, 2001; Dover, 2008; Page, 2003; Shawcross, 1993), Murdoch’s strategy of global expansion is premised on the creation of mutually advantageous synergies between different media sectors (Flew and Gilmour, 2003).
He reportedly seeks to exploit ‘vertical integration’ to control the various links in the media supply chain, from production to distribution, while expanding ‘horizontally’ across different media formats and sectors, thereby creating cross-promotional opportunities and ‘spin-off’ products (Flew and Gilmour, 2003; Hobbs, 2009). News Corporation is a financially robust institution, as was recently demonstrated by the company’s success in weathering the 2008/9 global economic downturn. Collectively, the company’s eight divisions annually garner over US $30 billion in revenue (see Figure 1).
While it lacks the profile and revenues of the company’s film, television and newspaper assets, book publishing – the seventh organizational division of News Corporation, comprised of the English-language multinational publisher HarperCollins – remains a significant and prestigious component of the company. Annually contributing over US $1 billon to its parent company’s total revenue, HarperCollins reflects News Corporation’s global reach and structure, with operational divisions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and India. 2 This network of ationally focused operational hubs allows the New York-based HarperCollins to cater for local cultures, markets and authors, while providing promotional and distribution centres for books of broad appeal (including classic titles by H. G. Wells, Agatha Christie, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis – see HarperCollins, 2010). In addition to its national divisions, HarperCollins owns the publishing group Zondervan, which is perhaps the world’s largest publisher of Christian-related literature, reportedly selling over 7 million Bibles each year (see Bagdikian, 2004: 43; Zondervan, 2010).
Moreover, HarperCollins also controls 838 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) Figure 1. News Corporation’s annual revenue figures by division for 2006–10 Source: Compiled from News Corporation’s annual financial reports. over 30 distinct ‘imprints’ – publishing houses or brands that have been either created or subsumed by News Corporation’s horizontal expansion within this industry. At present the most significant of these imprints include Angus & Robertson, Collins, Fourth Estate, HarperPerennial, Phyllis Bruce Books, Voyager and William Morrow, while ReganBooks is now defunct for reasons explored below.
As well as content synergies which HarperCollins finds in cross-promotion of successful cinematic products, there are also ‘political synergies’ in the conservative, populist books, previously mentioned, of media presenters at Fox News. Moreover, HarperCollins has paid large sums for the right to publish the biographies, memoirs and manifestos of senior conservative politicians in the United States and Great Britain (as will be explored in more detail below). This intersection of conservative politics and the business operations of a division of News Corporation is not an irregularity within the company’s diverse operations.
In fact the intersection of politics and business reflects a frequent modus operandi of the company’s founder and chief executive officer. As Arsenault and Castells (2008: 508) recently argued: Rupert Murdoch holds power in the global network society through his ability to connect the programming goals of media, business and political networks in the service of NewsCorp’s expansion. Each one of these networks is programmed around a specific set of goals: conquering audiences; making profits and enhancing market valuation; and accessing political decision-making capacity. He builds NewsCorp’s competitive advantage by maintaining tight control over the terms of its connection with other media and corporate actors and by leveraging his (real and/or perceived) ability to influence audiences around the world in order to gain political favours. HarperCollins, then, provides an interesting case study into the politics of a media company controlled by ‘a frustrated politician [who] can’t leave politics alone’ (as he McKnight and Hobbs 839 was once described by one his senior executives – see Menadue, 1999: 89).
Such a case study raises two interrelated questions: first, are Murdoch’s political views expressed in the editorial decisions at his publishing house; and, if so, to what extent is the political influence of HarperCollins comparable to that of his major news media outlets? Investigating the independence of HarperCollins: an historical overview In order to understand Murdoch’s relationship to HarperCollins it is important to reflect on the company’s relatively short and controversial history. Seeking to further diversify his media operations, in early 1981 Murdoch expanded into book publishing, buying the Australian company Angus & Robertson.
At an international level this purchase was accompanied by a takeover bid for the respected British publishing house William Collins, which was suffering from financial difficulties. According to Murdoch biographer William Shawcross (1993: 374), the CEO of News Corporation had offered his services as a ‘white knight’ to the Collins family when he learned of rival media mogul Robert Maxwell’s interest in acquiring the company (which was an approach Murdoch had previously used to outmanoeuvre Maxwell for control of the News of the World).
However, when Collins’s board of directors rejected his offer of ‘support’, he launched an aggressive takeover bid for the entire company. Murdoch’s bid was met with considerable resistance by the board of directors, who, led by newly appointed CEO, Ian Chapman, mobilized the publisher’s authors to speak out against a Murdoch takeover of one of Britain’s oldest publishing houses. Ultimately, the contest was decided in July 1981, when shareholders rejected Murdoch’s advances, leaving him with just 41. per cent of company’s voting stock (as well as two seats on the company’s board). Having been thwarted in his attempt to gain outright control of William Collins, Murdoch reportedly promised Ian Chapman that he would neither launch a hostile takeover bid nor interfere with the company’s daily operations. As Shawcross (1993: 376) documents, throughout the next seven years Murdoch honoured this commitment, helping Collins become, once again, a highly profitable publisher, with profits rising from ? million in 1981 to ? 15 million in 1986. Even so Murdoch could not resist the occasional political sally. In this period he argued against Collin’s proposed publication of the memoirs of Mikhail Gorbachev and told Ian Chapman, ‘He’s still a communist, you know. ’ Chapman demurred and Murdoch later added: ‘Well, Ian, if you’re content to be an arm of Soviet propaganda, go ahead and publish’ (see Neil, 1997: 207–8).
Generally, Murdoch’s assistance in the affairs of Collins improved his relationship with his former adversary Ian Chapman, who started to regard the CEO of News Corporation as a valuable business associate. In 1987 this cooperative relationship was to prove especially advantageous to Murdoch when the New York publishing group Harper & Row, which had published American authors such as Herman Melville and Mark Twain, emerged as a likely takeover target.
Seeing his opportunity to build a transatlantic publishing empire, Murdoch contacted Chapman and proposed that Collins and News Corporation engage in a takeover bid for the American publisher (Shawcross, 1993: 376–7). He suggested that Chapman use his personal contacts at Harper & Row to 840 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) persuade their board that News Corporation was, once again, a ‘white knight’ prepared to takeover the 170-year-old American publisher in order to prevent its dismemberment by competitors interested solely in acquiring their publication lists (Shawcross, 1993: 377).
In turn, Murdoch would pay US $300 million for Harper & Row (which was 55 times its annual profits), and would sell 50 percent of the company to William Collins six months after the initial transaction (Belfield et al. , 1991: 241). Chapman, who had once fought against the expansion of News Corporation into publishing, enthusiastically embraced this plan, telling ‘the Harper board that Murdoch was not to be feared [as] he had been a perfect partner at Collins’ (Shawcross, 1993: 377).
While the chairman of Harper & Row, Brookes Thomas, expressed some concerns regarding the publisher’s independence and potential commercial direction after a Murdoch takeover, commenting that ‘if somebody has your string – even if they never pull it – maybe it has some effect on you’, ultimately the board felt the offer was too lucrative to refuse and embraced the sale (Shawcross, 1993: 377–8; see also Belfield et al. , 1991: 241–3).
The cooperative relationship between Chapman and Murdoch would end abruptly in November 1988, after the latter informed the former that it was time for News Corporation to consolidate its hold on William Collins, and made a bid for the remaining 58 percent of the company not controlled by News International (News Corporation’s UK-based subsidiary). Chapman reportedly felt betrayed by Murdoch’s expansionist plans, and sought once again to rally the company’s high-profile authors in opposition to the takeover bid (200 of whom wrote letters against a sale to Murdoch – Shawcross, 1993: 434).
Chapman sought a rival bidder but this failed and in early January 1989, after Murdoch had provided ‘guarantees’ regarding the company’s future ‘editorial independence’ and ‘managerial autonomy’,3 the board decided to recommend the sale to their shareholders (Smith, 1989). Commenting on the sale for the media, Ian Chapman stated that ‘I am sad that we have not managed to keep our independence. … We have, however, received assurances we sought regarding Collins’s autonomy and editorial freedom.
Above all, the Collins business will be developed’ (cited in Shawcross, 1993: 436). With his takeover now a fait accompli, Murdoch appointed himself chairman, replaced the defeated Ian Chapman with George Craig (the former joint chief executive of Harper & Row) and began the integration of the two companies (adding his Australian publishing houses, Angus & Robertson and Bay Books, to the newly forming transnational publisher).
While Chapman would later argue that the 1989 integration of the publishers was a partial breach of News Corporation’s commitments regarding managerial autonomy (Shawcross, 1993: 437), Murdoch was clearly unperturbed. The creation of HarperCollins was primarily motivated by a desire to protect the profitability and expansion opportunities of News Corporation – yet this does not mean the creation of HarperCollins was a side venture to Murdoch’s ‘main game’, outside his focus on newspapers and television operations (as one recent Murdoch biographer seemingly assumes: see Wolff, 2008: 192).
Despite his guarantees of editorial independence, HarperCollins, much like the other assets of News Corporation, operates in accordance to the wishes of the CEO, and appears to reflect – at a broad structural level – his beliefs and political values. Indeed, shortly after his takeover of Harper and Row, management at the American publishing house began to hear Murdoch complain about McKnight and Hobbs 841 their interest in publishing what he considered to be ‘preachy books’ (Belfield et al. , 1991: 242).
Moreover, since the creation of HarperCollins, there have been several reported public controversies involving Murdoch’s direct editorial interference in the workings of the publisher. The first reported case of editorial interference occurred in June 1989, five months after Murdoch’s takeover of Collins, with the publishing group cancelling two forthcoming books concerning Salman Rushdie’s fictional novel, The Satanic Verses (published by Viking Press and condemned throughout much of the Islamic world for its perceived irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad).
A very minor footnote in the history of HarperCollins, the cancelled books were The Rushdie File, by Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland (which was to be published by William Collins), and The Ayatollah, the Novelist and the West, by neoconservative intellectual Daniel Pipes (which was to be published by Basic Books, then an imprint of Harper & Row). When these books were cancelled in mid 1989, parts of the news media suggested that the incident could represent the first case of editorial interference by the CEO of News Corporation since his takeover (see, for instance, McDowell, 1989; Pipes, 1989).
Indeed, Daniel Pipes (1989) argued that his manuscript had been cancelled because of ‘self-censorship’ by ‘corporate higher-ups’ because of a desire not to critically discuss the zealous reaction to Rushdie’s publication. In defence of the cancellations, George Craig (now chief executive of the amalgamating company) argued that the decision was made on purely ‘commercial grounds’ as the marketing department had determined that the books would not be profitable (McDowell, 1989).
The next public controversy emerged in late 1994 and concerned the publication of two political manifestos by the US Republican politician, Newt Gingrich, at that time a leader of right-wing Republican resurgence against the Clinton presidency. In August 1994, Gingrich’s literary agent, Lynn Chu, met with Adrian Zackheim (then executive editor of HarperCollins in the United States) and agreed to a US $2 million book deal on behalf of her client.
Two months later, with the book proposal still in its developmental stage, Murdoch visited Washington and met with Gingrich and several other Republicans, whose party had taken control of the House of Representatives in recent elections. He was there to discuss his recent regulatory problems with the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which at the time was investigating News Corporation for breaching media ownership laws regarding the foreign ownership of television assets (Chenoweth, 2001: 194–8; Kimmel, 2004: 186–9).
The meeting between Murdoch and Gingrich (who was the Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives) was later reported to be more of an informal exchange of political theory, but nevertheless Murdoch’s problems with the FCC were briefly raised (Kimmel, 2004: 186–9). When, on 20 December 1994, Lynn Chu, acting on behalf of Gingrich, managed to push HarperCollins’s initial offer of US $2 million for one book, to a more princely $4. million advance for two books, Democrat politicians quickly identified what they believed to be an outrageous political scandal: a media mogul paying for regulatory favours. With both parties embarrassed by the ensuing furore and media scrutiny, Gingrich agreed to accept a more modest advance of US $1, plus royalties (which eventually netted him a total of $1. 47 million for the first book, To Renew America, and $163,500 for its sequel, Lessons 842 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) Learned the Hard Way; Chenoweth, 2001: 198).
Gingrich was later cleared by a House ethics committee inquiry of having acted in an unethical manner. Another HarperCollins controversy occurred early in 1995, and involved the publication of the official biography the economic reformer and ‘Paramount Leader’ of China, Deng Xiaoping. Written by his daughter Deng Rong (otherwise known as Deng Maomao), Deng Xiaoping: My Father was criticized for being a blatant attempt at currying favour with China’s communist leaders, with critics labelling the book ‘dull’, poorly written ‘propaganda’ (see Dover, 2008: 32; Weschler, 1995; White, 1995).
Bruce Dover (2008), a former News Corporation executive and Murdoch confidant, argues that the hagiography – which reportedly cost the company approximately US $1 million – was part of a wider strategy of courting the friendship and influence of members of Deng Xiaoping’s family, in order to persuade China’s hostile political leadership that Murdoch was not a person to be feared. The CEO of News Corporation was at the time floundering in his efforts to establish his pan-Asian STAR TV satellite service. In 1993 Murdoch had been locked out of the Chinese television market after a speech he gave in Britain highlighted the political dangers posed to ‘totalitarian regimes everywhere’ by satellite-based media systems (offended communist officials responded by banning the dishes required to receive STAR TV’s broadcasting signal; Dover, 2008: 18–21). In early February 1995, so eager was Murdoch to gain influential Chinese friends (and thereby access to the enormous market of mainland China), that he personally escorted Deng Rong to the book launch of My Father in New York, held a lavish dinner party in the author’s honour, and subsequently hosted her for lunch at the family ‘ranch’ in Carmel, California (Dover, 2008: 32). Unfortunately for Murdoch the political influence of Deng Xiaoping’s children began to wane shortly after the book deal. Indeed, in mid-1995 the ailing architect of China’s ‘economic miracle’ ecame gravely ill and fell into a coma, with the authoritarian nation quickly re-structuring its political leadership for a ‘post-Deng’ era (Dover, 2008: 35–37). The publication of Deng Xiaoping’s biography was not, of course, the only reported case of a major conflict of interest involving Murdoch, HarperCollins and China. On 1 July 1997, as the former British colony of Hong Kong celebrated its handover to the People’s Republic of China, the last Governor of the territory, Chris Patten, secured a deal with HarperCollins for his forthcoming book, East and West.
The deal – which included an advance of ? 125,000 – was made between Patten’s literary agent Michael Sissons and HarperCollins’s UK head, Eddie Bell, without the knowledge of the CEO of News Corporation (the price was slightly less then the level requiring approval from head office in New York; Chenoweth, 2001: 282). At that time, STAR TV was still in a financially precarious position, losing approximately US $100 million a year (Dover, 2008: 152).
As such, Murdoch continued in his attempts to convince China’s political leadership that he did not pose an ideological threat to their rule; indeed, he had recently sold one of his most profitable newspapers, the South China Morning Post, in order to avoid any ‘journalistic complications’ during the handover of Hong Kong (see Dover, 2008: 26–7). When the idea of publishing Chris Patten’s book had first been raised with Murdoch in July 1997, he reportedly expressed his ‘personal opposition’ to the project, raised objections to ‘Patten’s views on China’ and suggested that ‘other’ – presumably
McKnight and Hobbs 843 more ‘suitable’ – publishers would be interested in publishing it (Dover, 2008: 149). Yet Murdoch’s views went unheeded by Eddie Bell and his editorial team in the UK, who pushed on with the project. According to Bruce Dover (2008: 149) this was an unusual act of non-compliance for his colleagues: The thing about Murdoch is that he very rarely issued directives or instructions to his senior executives or editors. Instead, by way of discussion he would make known his personal viewpoint on a certain matter.
What was expected in return, at least from those seeking tenure of any length in the Murdoch Empire, was a sort of ‘anticipatory compliance’. When, in December 1997, Murdoch learnt that the book was still being developed by HarperCollins, he reportedly became incensed, called Anthea Disney (chief executive of News America Publishing, the parent division of the publisher) and instructed her to ‘kill the fucking book’ (Chenoweth, 2001: 283; Dover, 2008: 145).
Ultimately Murdoch’s instructions were carried out on 10 February 1998, with disastrous repercussions. While the official justification for the cancellation was that the book was commercially unviable, HarperCollins had it leaked to the news media that it had in fact been dropped for being ‘boring’ and ‘failing to meet professional standards’ (a view that was radically contradicted by their own in-house editorial assessment of the initial manuscript; Chenoweth, 2001: 287; Dover, 2008: 154).
In March 1998, with some authors now threatening to boycott the publisher, and in an attempt to end the ensuing barrage of public criticism and media furore, HarperCollins ‘unreservedly apologized’ to Patten for deliberately misrepresenting the quality of his book, and agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement with the aggrieved author (Chenoweth, 2001: 286–7). Murdoch, reportedly concerned by the level of public outrage generated by the handling of the affair, acknowledged that his executives had severely bungled the cancellation, and that all parties had ‘made mistakes’.
However, while the Chris Patten incident is one of the most widely known cases of self-interested editorial interference, it is unusual in that it is linked to a direct edict from the CEO. Partisan publication patterns This is not, of course, to suggest Murdoch does not have influence in the publication decisions of his book publisher. As an anonymous senior executive of HarperCollins once remarked: Murdoch is ‘less hands-on than people assume. … It’s not done in a direct way where he issues instructions. [Rather,] it’s a bunch of people running around trying to please him’ (Becker, 2007).
In other words, Murdoch’s influence on the publication lists of HarperCollins arises because he regularly makes his political views publicly known. A self-censoring and acquiescent staff thereby conform to the CEO’s widely known political dispositions (rather than merely following explicit instructions). While not as dramatic or detectable as overt editorial intervention, self-censorship surreptitiously constrains the intellectual freedom of a publisher and ‘responds to contingencies which planned suppression cannot reach’ (Page, 2003: 477).
Murdoch has actively contributed to the creation of a conservative culture within the offices of his publisher. As 844 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) William Shinker (a former publisher at HarperCollins) told a journalist in 1995, staff are well aware of the types of books Murdoch wants to publish: ‘Rupert would accuse me on several occasions of not publishing enough conservative books. … He’d joke: “You’re all a bunch of Pinkos”’ (see Auletta, 2007).
In addition to Murdoch’s complaints to his staff regarding the publication of ‘preachy’, ‘pinko’ books, he has impacted the culture of his media organizations through the appointment of key ‘lieutenants’ sympathetic to his worldview (see Neil, 1997: 204). While HarperCollins has employed many executives and publishers since its creation in 1989, none have been more controversial than Judith Regan. Indeed, according to Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff, when the CEO of News Corporation met Regan in 1993 ‘he took to her right away – and hired her, not least of all, to annoy the people at HarperCollins’ (2008: 215).
Leaving the publisher Simon & Schuster to join News Corporation in May 1994, Regan reportedly held many of the same anti-Establishment sentiments often attributed to Murdoch and viewed books as merely another commodity (Brock, 2004: 354). Impressed by her conservative politics and her tabloid instincts (Wolff, 2008: 213–17), the CEO created for her a weekend television programme on the Fox News Channel, This Evening with Judith Regan, and a HarperCollins imprint: ReganBooks.
Within his company, Murdoch also gave her unprecedented publishing power, as she made clear in an interview in 1995: ‘“there’s no one person I mainly liaise with at HarperCollins, and it’s hard to believe, but I don’t really report to anyone. ” She laughs. “I report to God”’ (cited in Feldman, 1995: 25). Under her stewardship, ReganBooks quickly established itself as one of the most successful imprints of HarperCollins, reportedly accounting for 25 per cent of the publisher’s total annual revenue and setting the political tone of the company’s catalogues (Brock, 2004: 354).
While some of this commercial success would come from novels such as The Happy Hooker and Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star, Regan identified and published many ‘bestsellers’ from conservative (and neoconservative) commentators, including ‘Sean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ring, Peggy Noonan’s The Case Against Hillary Clinton, and Dick Morris’s Off with Their Heads’ (among other titles discussed below; Brock, 2004: 354).
In successfully publishing both titillation and conservative politics, ReganBooks became the embodiment of the Murdoch entrepreneurial formula (such as has long been used to increase the audiences of the company’s newspapers and television programming; see, for instance, Kimmel, 2004; Pasadeos and Renfro, 1997). Yet the commercial success of ReganBooks did not ingratiate its director with the other executive staff at HarperCollins. Nor did it prevent her from being fired in December 2006, after she allegedly made anti-Semitic comments regarding a ‘Jewish cabal’ at the company (Italie, 2008).
In what was the last public scandal involving HarperCollins and Murdoch (at least at the time of writing), Regan instigated a US $100 million defamation lawsuit against her employer, telling the news media that the real reason she had been sacked was to protect the presidential aspirations of the Republican Party’s Rudolph Giuliani (she had previously ended an affair with Bernard Kerik, a former police commissioner of New York City supposedly in a position to damage the credibility the Giuliani campaign).
Embarrassed by the ensuing media coverage, Murdoch agreed to a confidential settlement, with both parties claiming ‘no admission of liability’ (Italie, 2008; Wolff, 2008). McKnight and Hobbs 845 HarperCollins and the war of ideas It is impossible to determine whether political rather than commercial criteria are employed for the commissioning of particular books on onservative themes or by a conservative author. Such books are often commercially successful enough to justify their publication, with Sarah Palin’s book selling over 2 million copies. It is, nonetheless, possible to identify an approximate taxonomy of HarperCollins conservative books. This article suggests four elements of taxonomy of conservative books published by HarperCollins.
First, the nurturing of the conservative and Republican political culture, especially its history and heroes; second, books arising from specific ideological campaigns fostered by the conservative movement in the US over the last 20 years; third, books institutionally linked to other conservative News Corporation media outlets such as the journal the Weekly Standard and the cable TV channel, Fox News; and, fourth (and overlapping with the former), a number of books reflecting the ideological enthusiasms of Rupert Murdoch himself. The first category of conservatism’s history and heroes is the most diverse.
It includes a large number of political memoirs and autobiographies such as: Margaret Thatcher’s The Downing Street Years (1993), The Path to Power (1995) and Statecraft (2002); former Republican vice-president Dan Quayle’s Standing Firm: A Vice-Presidential Memoir (2004); senior Republicans Jack Kemp and Bob Dole’s Trusting the People (1996); Republican congressman Gary Franks’s Searching for the Promised Land (1996); former Conservative Prime Minister John Major’s John Major (1999); Republican Senator Arlen Specter’s Passion for Truth (2000); several books by UK conservative (and London Mayor) Boris Johnson including Jottings on the Stump (2001) and Friends, Voters, Countrymen (2001); Republican Senator Trent Lott’s Herding Cats (2005); Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s American Heroines (2005); former Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole’s One Soldier’s Story: A Memoir (2005); Republican Senator Chuck Hagel’s America: Our Next Chapter (2008). Iconic conservative intellectual William F. Buckley’s The Rake (2007); Paul Kengor’s God and Ronald Reagan (2004) and God and George W. Bush (2004). Finally, a key ‘hero’ of the Reagan years, the disgraced former soldier, Oliver North, whose books included Under Fire (1991) and One More Mission (1993). The second category covers specific ideological campaigns which arose during the period of perceived failure of the George H. W. Bush presidency (1988–92) and the Democrat presidency of Bill Clinton (1992–2000) (Brock, 2004).
A number of these are loosely grouped around the conservative notion of a ‘culture war’. HarperCollins books from this period included Roger Kimball’s influential attack on progressive academics Tenured Radicals (1991) as well as Michael Medved’s Hollywood vs America (1992). (Medved argued that Hollywood was dominated by liberals and undermined American values; Medved also worked as a cinema critic on Murdoch’s New York Post. ) A major ‘culture war’ battleground was the bitter (and successful) Democrat campaign against the appointment of Robert H. Bork to the US Supreme Court. His book Slouching towards Gomorrah (1995) was one result of this.
Another conservative nomination to the Supreme Court was that of Clarence Thomas, which was accompanied by allegations of sexual harassment from an assistant, Anita Hill, who was then subject to ferocious attack 846 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) by the right. Thomas joined the Supreme Court and his book My Grandfather’s Son was published in 2007. The Right’s anti-Clinton campaign is marked by Peggy Noonan’s The Case against Hillary Clinton (2000) and by Jerry Oppenheimer’s State of the Union: Inside the Complex Marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton (2000). Anti-green activism is represented by Wallace Kaufman’s No Turning Back: Dismantling the Fantasies of Environmental Thinking (1994). More recent campaigns against left and liberal enemies saw the publication of books defending the George W. Bush administration.
These include Jason Clarke and David Hardy’s Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man (2004); Bill Sammon’s Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters (2004). Related to the ‘culture war’, a particular section of intellectuals now widely known as the neoconservatives emerged in the 1990s. Because of their connection with Murdochowned magazine, the Weekly Standard these form part of the third category of the taxonomy, which are books by writers directly associated with News Corporation media outlets. A compendium of articles from these sources was published by the magazine’s editor, William Kristol, as The Weekly Standard: A Reader (2005). Linked to the Weekly was David Frum, whose books were Dead Right (1994) and What’s Right: The New Conservative Majority and the Remaking of America (1996).
An earlier generation of neoconservatives is represented by Midge Decter’s An Old Wife’s Tale (2001) and her Rumsfeld: A Personal Portrait (2004) and Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Making War to Keep the Peace (2007). The neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard campaigned for an attack on Iraq and argued falsely that Iraq was linked to the 11 September 2001 terrorists. One result was Stephen Hayes’s The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America (2004). Hayes also wrote a celebratory Cheney: The Untold Story (2007). Another key book also supporting the false claims of the Bush administration was Laurie Mylroie’s The War against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks (2002), which was originally published by the right-wing think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute.
The other HarperCollins authors linked to media institutions of News Corporation are those associated with the controversial cable TV channel, Fox News. Among their works are Sean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ring (2002), Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (2004) and Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda (2010) and Bill O’Reilly’s O’Reilly Factor for Kids (2009), Kids Are Americans Too (2009) and Pinheads and Patriots (2010). After the success of Going Rogue, Sarah Palin was made a Fox News Contributor in January 2010. Interestingly, as an indication of Murdoch’s investment in books and ideas, the Wall Street Journal has now (2010) launched a stand-alone book review section, to be edited by a former staffer of the Weekly Standard.
Among the personal enthusiasms of Murdoch is the celebration of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, with the CEO of News Corporation serving as a trustee of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. HarperCollins has published several books associated with Reagan or the Foundation, including a 550-page pictorial tribute for the centenary of his birth. Another Murdoch enthusiasm is conservative education reform (Murdoch, 2008). In 2007 HarperCollins announced that it would publish a children’s book written by Mrs Laura Bush and her daughter, Jenna Bush. Part of the authors’ and the companies McKnight and Hobbs 847 proceeds from the sale would be donated to two conservative initiatives in education, one of which, Teach for America, has been the recipient of Murdoch donations. 6 Conclusion
Like Murdoch’s news media, much of HarperCollins’ output is not directly political and is motivated by commercial, rather than political, considerations. Furthermore, like Murdoch’s news media, HarperCollins publishes criticism of the right from time to time. For example, at the same time it launched its conservative imprint, HarperCollins also published a book attacking the right-wing Republicans (Will Bunch’s The Backlash). A year earlier it published a critique of the neoconservatives (Colodny and Shachtman’s The Forty Years War). While any of the HarperCollins books discussed in this article could have been published by other mainstream book publishers, aggregated together the plethora of conservative books published by HarperCollins suggests a distinctive pattern.
This is reinforced by several instances of editorial interventions at HarperCollins, which are similar to the ideological interventions by Murdoch that shape and influence the content of his media outlets. In the case of the news media owned by News Corporation, this pattern is well documented (Chenoweth, 2001; Shawcross, 1993), but so far HarperCollins has been insulated from the general critique of the conservative editorial output linked to the ownership by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. This is unfortunate because the publication of books can contribute to a form of intellectual agenda-setting that is deeper but more diffuse than that traditionally associated with daily newspapers.
In the context of book publishing this point is illustrated by Barnet and Gaber’s comment that, while Murdoch’s support for political parties may vary: ‘there are consistent messages within his newspapers that taken together constitute a coherent ideology … that infuse[s] his publications and which, when a particular issue of political significance arises, usually colour[s] [their] coverage’ (2001: 66–7). Accordingly, while Murdoch is not dogmatically beholden to a single political party, he has demonstrated remarkable consistency in his ideological beliefs, remaining committed to neoliberalism and some of the broad principles associated with US conservatism.
He has built an international media empire that has an historical tendency to support right-wing ideologies, with key executive staff and occasional editorial interventions used to create a partisan pattern of media content. This is perhaps the most important lesson from the story of HarperCollins, and indeed that of News Corporation. For significant parts of his international media conglomerate constitute what might be labelled a ‘multi-state ideological apparatus’ (to draw on the language and political economic tradition of Louis Althusser, 1971). Moreover, this media apparatus has deliberately been used (if not always effectively) by Murdoch in an attempt to promote some radically conservative ideas. As he reflectively told a journalist: We [in the media business] have special powers: We can help set the agenda of political discussion.
We can uncover government misdeeds and bring them to light. We can decide what television fare to offer children on a rainy Saturday morning. We can affect the culture [sic] by glorifying or demonizing certain behaviour. (Murdoch cited in Rohm, 2002: 32) 848 Media, Culture & Society 33(6) Thus, even if the 79-year-old CEO of News Corporation was to retire tomorrow, the collective output of HarperCollins will remain a significant contribution to the important cultural and political debates of the last 21 years. Moreover, such publications will eventually be regarded as an important part of his broader cultural and political legacy. This is a conclusion that Murdoch would likely embrace.
For he has stated that he hopes history remembers him as being more than merely a successful businessman, but rather as ‘somebody who has hopefully had an impact on the world and an impact for good’ (Murdoch cited in Rohm, 2002: 261). Addendum Since this article was written, a series of exposures about the hacking of private voicemail in Britain by the (now closed) News of the World has underlined the significant political role played by News Corporation and its senior executives. The government of Prime Minister David Cameron has now made public the degree of access given to News executives, revealing an interconnected relationship that has surprised many observers.
The subject of Murdoch’s political influence and the role played by his news media in Britain, the United States and Australia will be the subject of book in 2012 by one of the authors of this article (David McKnight).
The research for this article was funded by a Discovery grant from the Australian Research Council (DP0774025).
- Sold by News Corporation in 2009 to conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz. Anschutz has reportedly instructed the magazine’s editors, William Kristol and Fred Barnes, ‘not to alter the publication’s ideological complexion’ (Arango, 2009).
- Unlike the other international divisions of HarperCollins, News Corporation does not fully own HarperCollins India, but rather has a 40 per cent share of the company.
- In acquiring the British establishment newspapers, The Times and the Sunday Times, Murdoch made similar promises of editorial independence, and yet he has shaped the political disposition and editorial tone of these newspapers. As Andrew Neil (former Murdoch confidant and editor of the Sunday Times) remarked in his memoir: Editorial freedom … has its limits: Rupert has an uncanny knack for being there even when he is not. When I did not hear from him and I knew his attention was elsewhere, he was still uppermost in my mind. When we did talk he would always let me know what he liked and what he did not, where he stood on an issue of the time and what he thought of a politician in the news. Such is the force of his personality that you fell obliged to take such views carefully into account. And why not? He is, after all, the proprietor. (Neil, 1997: 203)
- Other actions that formed part of Murdoch’s strategy to ingratiate himself with China’s communist leadership include: (1) the removal of the BBC World Service in April 1994 (which was critical of China’s repeated violations of human rights and had reportedly offended the country’s ruling elite by airing a documentary touching on Chairman Mao Zedong’s ‘unusual sexual predilections’; Dover, 2008: 28–9); and (2) the financial subsidization of an Australian tour of a Chinese disabled persons performing arts troupe headed by Deng Pufang (Deng Xiaoping’s eldest son, who was paralysed from the waist down after Red Guards threw him from a fourstorey building during a ‘purge’ of the Cultural Revolution). The 1995 tour to Sydney and Canberra was to raise money for the United Nations disabled people’s programmes, and McKnight and Hobbs 849 culminated in a week-long, all-expenses-paid vacation at the Murdoch owned Hayman Island Resort (at the time, one of the world’s most expensive luxury resorts; see Dover, 2008: 34).
- According to Bruce Dover (2008: 21), the anti-totalitarian speech was written by the Sunday Times columnist Irwin Stelzer (a neoconservative intellectual and Murdoch confidant).
- Murdoch has a history of contributing financially to causes and intellectuals which match his ideological proclivities. For example, after Murdoch’s friend and editor of the New York Post, Eric Breindel, died in 1998, Murdoch established the Eric Breindel Journalism Awards. This award provides an annual prize of ‘US $20,000 [formerly US $10,000] for excellence in the field of opinion journalism’. More importantly the award gives the recipient the option of a ‘paid internship of his or her choice at either Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Post’ (see Horowitz, 1999; Eric Breindel Journalism Awards, 2010). To date the recipients of this award have all been conservative-leaning commentators, such as Jeff Jacoby (1999), Tom Flannery (2000), Jay Nordlinger (2001), Victor Davis Hanson (2002), Michael Kelly (2003), Daniel Henninger (2004), Claudia Rosett (2005), Mark Steyn (2006), Max Boot (2007), Bret Stephens (2008), Charles Krauthammer (2009) and Mona Charen (2010).
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