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Unmentionable: Best-Selling Conservative Books and the Networks that Ignore Them

Executive Summary

 

Since the 1940s, an appearance on The New York Times Best-Seller List has been the mark of commercial success for any book. Authors with titles on the list can count on media attention to help sell even more copies. Unless they are conservatives.


Conservative books and authors have been very successful recently, as evidenced by their showing on the best-seller list. Since January 2009, conservatives enjoyed 95 total weeks on the list, compared to just 80 weeks for liberal books and authors. At this writing Michelle Malkin's “Culture of Corruption” was at No.1, and several other conservative titles have prominent berths on the list.


But as the Culture and Media Institute discovered, viewers of ABC, CBS and NBC might never know of the popularity and commercial success of those conservative books.


CMI studied the coverage network news organizations gave to 25 books that appeared on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best-Seller List during the first half of 2009. Of those, 14 were liberal (either in subject or author) and 11 were conservative. The books in question covered current events and politics, political biography and economics. CMI analysis discovered a dramatic difference between the amount and quality of coverage.


Major Findings

CMI discovered a glaring imbalance in network coverage of liberal best sellers vs. comparable conservative titles.

    Liberal Books Favored: The networks covered liberal books three times as often (36 to 12) as conservatives. Liberal Authors Favored: 79 percent of the liberal authors on the list received at least a mention on the networks, compared to just 36 percent of conservatives. Levin Snubbed: The book that was by far the most successful in both longevity and position on the Best-Seller List, Mark Levin's “Liberty and Tyranny” did not garner a single network mention. Interviewers Hostile to Conservative Authors: When conservative authors did appear on the networks, they were greeted with skepticism and adversarial questions. Conversely, liberal books were complimented. ABC the Worst: ABC was the least balanced of the three networks, favoring liberals eight mentions to two (four to one). NBC was a close second at 20 mentions to six. CBS the Best: CBS did the best job ensuring ideological balance in its book coverage, mentioning liberal books eight times and conservative books five times.

Recommendations

Networks must work to balance the quantity and quality of coverage they give to liberal and conservative authors. Some suggestions:

    Watch the Numbers: While one-for-one parity isn't necessary, producers should keep in mind which authors and what books they've covered recently, and try to ensure diversity of perspective.  Make it a Popularity Contest: Networks should consider the popularity of the books – they do viewers and themselves a disservice when they ignore remarkably successful titles. Even-handed Interviews: Interviewers should either read and compliment the books of both sides, or refrain from complimenting any of them. Consistency is a Key: Before interviewing someone from either side, on-air personalities should review the tone and type of questioning they used the last time they interviewed an author.

 Unmentionable: Best-Selling Conservative Books and the Networks that Ignore Them


The most coveted real estate in the publishing industry is a space on The New York Times Best-Seller List. The list, compiled in a survey of thousands of book retailers, is a weekly reflection of what the American public is interested in reading. Since the 1940s, authors whose works make the list have been assured of even more books sales and a shower of publicity.


But not when those authors or their books are conservative. In such cases, the three broadcast networks greeted them with silence at worst and skepticism at best.


During the first six months of 2009, 25 books that can be described as “liberal” or “conservative” appeared on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best-Seller List. More of those books (14) were liberal, but conservative authors enjoyed a combined total of 95 weeks on the List. Liberals had 80. At this writing Michelle Malkin's “Culture of Corruption” had been on the list for four weeks, and was currently at No.1.


But no matter how commercially successful conservative books and authors have been, they were slighted by the three broadcast networks. The most glaring evidence of bias against conservative books was the networks' complete neglect of the single most successful book on the list, radio host Mark Levin's “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.” Levin's book spent 12 weeks at No.1, and as of this writing had yet to fall out of the top 10.


The Culture and Media Institute analyzed how ABC, CBS and NBC covered those 25 hardcover nonfiction best-sellers, and found that the networks gave liberal books and authors dramatically more (and more favorable) coverage than their conservative counterparts. Of the 11 conservative authors on the list, just four received any coverage on the networks.


On the other hand, the networks covered 11 out of 14 liberal authors. Of the three not covered, one was not an author in the conventional sense – it was President Obama, and the “book” was his January 20 inauguration speech.


When authors appeared on the networks for interviews, conservatives received markedly different treatment than liberals. From Matt Lauer calling Elizabeth Edwards' book “stirring,” to Harry Smith telling Ann Coulter, “You have this kind of sophomoric sort of simplistic kind of view of so many things,” hosts made it clear where their ideological sympathies lay.

 

 

Liberty, Tyranny and Silence


Reaching No. 1 on the Nonfiction Hardcover List is a notable achievement. To maintain that spot for more than a single week is truly impressive.


Two liberal authors reached the No.1 spot on the List in 2009. Elizabeth Edwards' “Resilience” was No.1 for just one week and Thomas Friedman's “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” held that spot for two weeks.


They received media coverage befitting No.1 best-sellers, garnering nine instances of coverage on the networks between the two.


But there was another book that hit No.1. In fact, it held the No.1 spot for 12 of 18 weeks, and has yet to fall under the No. 4 spot. (Also, at this writing, it ranked No. 24 on Amazon.com, and has enjoyed 186 days in Amazon's Top 100.)  


That book, “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” by conservative political commentator and nationally syndicated radio-host Mark Levin, was by far the most successful book on the list – nothing even came close.


What makes the success of Levin's book more impressive is its subject. It's a work of political philosophy, a serious, scholarly exploration of conservative first principles. As CNSNews.com recently reported, “'Liberty and Tyranny' draws on thinking, and points to the influence, of the 17th century English philosopher John Locke, the 18th century Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith, and the 18th century Irish-English statesman and writer Edmund Burke.”  


And as Levin himself wrote on the first page of “Liberty and Tyranny,” “… what follows are my own opinions and conclusions of fundamental truths, based on decades of observation, exploration, and experience, about conservatism and, conversely, non-conservatism – that is, liberty and tyranny in modern America.”


So “Liberty and Tyranny” is an improbable best-seller. And that makes it all the more newsworthy.


Yet Levin's book received zero coverage from any of the networks since its release on March 29. Nor did his name appear on any of the news programs since the release. 


Contrast that with Edwards' and Friedman's nine instances of coverage for books that spent one and two weeks respectively at the top of the list. Equivalent coverage for Levin would require 36 mentions on the networks.


And the media blackout of “Liberty and Tyranny” extended beyond the networks and has been nearly complete.


Levin confirmed to CMI that “we have not heard from any of the major networks, and the only major newspaper that has interviewed me is Philadelphia Enquirer, and that's because I'm from Philadelphia.”


The lack of mainstream media attention made “Liberty and Tyranny's” success the more stunning. “The book is selling by word of mouth,” Levin said. “I've done very little media, and its chugging along.”


And the author, whose radio show just celebrated its sixth anniversary, said he wasn't “stressed about” being ignored. “I don't need Matt Lauer's imprimatur to believe what I believe and to speak to my audience,” Levin told CMI.


But he did have thoughts about why Lauer and the networks withheld coverage.


“Maybe the book's too darned complicated for these people,” Levin said. “It's not your typical book – not even your typical conservative book, with a laundry list of what's wrong. It's a deeper look at the roots of conservatism, of our God-given liberties, of society and civil order and at why conservatism is humane. It's also a look at the roots of statism and why it's a threat.”


The morning shows, which Levin said have their talking points and hosts with a clear political bias may have other conservatives on. But they do so if they believe they can marginalize those guests. “But in my case, I think they fear I would marginalize them. They fear me, they fear the message of the book.”



The Author They Love to Hate

 

There is one conservative author popular with the networks. And it's small wonder: she doesn't pull punches or shrink from controversy. Ann Coulter makes great TV appearances.


Coulter accounted for almost half of all conservative author and book coverage by the networks. But whereas liberal authors were met with praise and hosts said things like she “great book,” “always a pleasure,” and “I read it,” Coulter typically met adversarial questioning, if not outright hostility.


In early January 2009, Coulter was scheduled to appear on NBC's “Today” twice in the same broadcast to discuss her best-seller, “Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America.” NBC cancelled the appearance the afternoon before it was to occur. The Drudge Report investigated the story and reported that Coulter had been banned from the show. NBC denied the story and booked Coulter a couple of days later.


When she did finally appear, Matt Lauer spent the first half of the interview accusing Coulter of helping to "fan the fire here a little bit to make a controversy to sell the book," and their conversation included this exchange:

COULTER: The point is I was cancelled twice and it wasn't until the Drudge Report ran a headline, on its own reporting, and the Drudge Report has never had to retract a report …

LAUER: You know …

COULTER: … the way NBC News has.

When they finally reached the topic of the book Lauer claimed Coulter's words were “outrageous” and went as far to ask “when you make outrageous comments and you use that kind of venomous tone, in some ways do you cut your own credibility off and take away from the real viable points you make in some of this?”

           

Later on the program Coulter's “tone” was once again called into question by interviewer Hoda Kotb: “I think the point's valid, but I think it's when you – when you read through it, it's all about tone. I feel like it's dripping with venom. So when you read it you go, 'ugh!' and you just roll your eyes and flip through …”


Things weren't any better at CBS. On January 6, “Early Show” host Harry Smith greeted Coulter with, “You want to be taken seriously, I think. I sense that, right?” He went on to say, “Because you try to be funny, because you have this kind of sophomoric sort of simplistic kind of view of so many things…” any serious issues Coulter raised were lost.


Coulter wasn't the only conservative that got a less-than-enthusiastic reception on the set. In introducing Dick Morris on “Today” July 2, Meredith Vieira read the full title of his book, “Catastrophe: How Obama, Congress and the Special Interests are Transforming a Slump Into a crash, Freedom Into Socialism and a Disaster into a  Catastrophe…and How to Fight Back.”


“Well, what an indictment of the administration…” Vieira said to Morris.


“Yeah,” he replied.


“Where do you come up with that?” she asked incredulously. And for the rest of the interview, Vieira did her best to argue against Morris' points and defend President Obama: “But then why, Dick, do you think a majority of Americas, 56 percent by our latest poll, think he's doing a good job?” “But he [Clinton] didn't inherit the mess that Obama inherited.” “But the – but the president clearly has said that's not the road he's headed down.”


Meanwhile, Vieira's “Today” co-host was handling liberal authors with kid gloves.

Introducing Elizabeth Edwards, Lauer cooed that “Resilience” was “a stunningly candid look at how she's dealt with some painful challenges in her own life, including the tragic death of her 16-year-old son Wade, her bout with cancer and her husband's affair.” He later called a paragraph from the book “stirring.”


To Richard Wolffe, author of an account of the 2008 Obama campaign, Lauer lobbed this softball: “And, Richard, let me ask you about some criticism you received for the book. You got incredible access during the campaign to the Obamas. And some have said because of that access, you may have lost your perspective and have written more of a PR account of the campaign than a balanced, journalistic account.”


“Well, Matt, the first leak of this book came out on Fox News, and they found plenty in that book that was very uncomfortable for the White House, especially for the vice president's office,” Wolffe responded. “You know, my book has a whole chapter on failure. I think you actually learn more from failure than you do from success. And there's plenty in the book that speaks for itself.”


That was good enough for Lauer, who ended the interview.



The Numbers Don't Add Up


Levin, Coulter and Morris were just the most obvious examples of network bias. There were 25 political and current events books on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best-Seller List between January and June 2009, and the numbers tell the story.


CMI analyzed the coverage – or lack thereof – ABC, CBS and NBC gave each book since its official release date.


The three networks combined covered liberal best-sellers 36 times. They covered conservative volumes only 12 times. That's exactly 3-to-1 in favor of liberal books.


Analysts found that the networks covered nearly four out of five liberal authors on the Best-Seller List, but they covered less than half that (36 percent) of conservative authors on the same List.


A notable exception was conservative author Joe Scarborough. His book, “The Last Best Hope” proposed for conservatives a route out of the political wilderness. “It is especially critical at this chapter in our nation's history for conservatives to set aside the dogmas of the quiet past and instead explain their vision to a new generation,” reads the introduction. “This book will lay out that vision.”


With three interviews on NBC, Scarborough received more coverage than most of his conservative counterparts. Of course, the fact that he hosts “Morning Joe” on MSNBC might have something to do with it.


With a 4-to-1 discrepancy, ABC was the most biased network, covering liberal books and authors eight times, and conservatives just twice. NBC was a close second. It covered liberals 20 times and conservatives only six.


CBS offered the most balanced coverage, with eight liberals to five conservatives.


Part of the discrepancy in coverage can be attributed to the overall structural bias against conservatives on the networks. Liberal authors often appear as analysts and subject experts, and their books are mentioned in the course of introducing them. Few conservatives fill those roles on news broadcasts. For instance, David E. Sanger of the New York Times and Richard Wolffe of Newsweek both had books on the List recently, and both are fixtures on the networks' news shows. That still doesn't explain how the networks could completely ignore very successful books.


Take for example the case of Richard Wolffe vs. Bill O'Reilly. Wolff's “Renegade: the Making of a President,” about Barack Obama and the 2008 election was released June 2. It was on the list for six weeks and made it to the No. 4 position.


Bill O'Reilly, however, released his book, “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity,” September 23, 2008. It was on the list for 39 weeks, and made it to the No. 2 position. In two months, Wolffe's book has received three times more coverage than O'Reilly's has in the 10 months since his book's release.


Clearly, the networks weren't considering popularity in determining which books and authors to highlight. If there be any doubt of that, consider the case of what is far and away the most successful book on the Nonfiction Hardcover List.



Conclusion


The networks showed a clear bias against conservative authors and their books. The news broadcasts completely ignored wildly successful books like Mark Levin's “Liberty and Tyranny” while covering far less popular titles by liberals. When conservatives did appear, they faced skepticism at best and open hostility at worst.


Given the popularity of books like Levin's, it's easy to conclude that their exclusion from the networks was ideologically motivated.


The networks must address these discrepancies, first by considering popularity when allotting coverage. They should also insist that on-air talent treat all authors equally.


Despite the chilly reception (in some case no reception) of the networks, conservative books and authors continued to more than hold their own atop the best-seller list. Imagine what they could do with some publicity.



Recommendations

 

The mainstream media often argue that where liberal bias does exist, it's a byproduct of the natural pursuit of ratings and ad revenue. CMI's study of authors clearly refutes this, at least in the case of network coverage of liberal vs. conservative authors.


Conservative books led liberal books in time on the Best-Seller List and in the highest positions they achieved. At this writing, Michelle Malkin's “Culture of Corruption” was at No.1 on the List. “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity,” “Catastrophe,” and “Liberty and Tyranny” all kept their berths in the list's top 10.


By ignoring these and other very successful conservative titles, the networks do themselves and their viewers a disservice. They must work to balance the quantity and quality of coverage they give to liberal and conservative authors. 


While one-for-one parity isn't necessary, producers should keep in mind which authors and what books they've covered recently, and try to ensure diversity of perspective. Networks should consider the popularity of the books. Perhaps they should consider only a liberal or conservative book's popularity according to the List when planning coverage.


Interviewers should either read and compliment the books of both sides, or refrain from complimenting any of them. Network personalities who want to avoid charges of bias shouldn't be applying words like “stunning” and “stirring” to the books of liberals while calling conservatives “sophomoric” and “outrageous.” Before interviewing someone from either side, hosts should review the tone and type of questioning they used the last time an author was on.


Methodology

 

CMI compiled a list of 25 titles that appeared on the New York Times Best Seller Non-Fiction Hard Cover List during the first half of 2009. Each book was judged to be either conservative or liberal based on subject covered, how issues were addressed and/or professed political orientation of author.


Using the official release date of each book as a starting date, analysts used Nexis and actual recordings to search network transcripts for mentions of the book, its author, or both. If a book or author was mentioned at least once in a segment, CMI counted it as an instance of coverage.  


The books studied were:


“A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity” by Bill O'Reilly

“A Slobbering Love Affair” by Bernard Goldberg

“The American Journey of Barack Obama” by the Editors of Life Magazine

“The Breakthrough” by Gwen Ifill

“Catastrophe” by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann

“Do the Right Thing” by Mike Huckabee

“The Gamble” by Thomas E. Ricks

“Guilty” by Ann Coulter

“Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by Thomas L. Friedman

“The Housing Boom and Bust” by Thomas Sowell

“The Inheritance” by David E. Sanger

“The Inaugural Address 2009” by Barack Obama

“Inside the Revolution” by Joel Rosenberg

“The Last Best Hope” by Joe Scarborough

“Last Lion” by Peter S. Canellos

Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto” by Mark R. Levin

“Losing Mum and Pup” by Christopher Buckley

“The Meltdown” by Thomas E. Woods

“My Remarkable Journey” by Larry King (and Cal Fussman)

“Obama” by Jill Abramson

“Renegade” by Richard Wolffe

“Resilience” by Elizabeth Edwards

 “The Return to Depression Economics” by Paul Krugman

“We can Have Peace in the Holy Land by Jimmy Carter

“Why We Suck” by Dennis Leary


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