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Left wing publishers finding their niche

AL GORE IS TALKING about creating a liberal cable network. Venture capitalists Sheldon and Anita Drobny are trying to put together a national network of liberal talk-radio stations.

So why isn’t there a liberal publishing house?

Conservative pundits have often griped that publishing is a bastion of liberal bias. But in today’s precarious sales climate — the overnight success of Hillary Clinton’s “Living History” notwithstanding — conservative publishers appear to be better organized, better funded and, arguably, better at whipping up public sentiment.

Far-flung small and mid-size presses like Nation Books, the New Press and Seven Stories produce a regular stream of left-leaning books. Producer Robert Greenwald and Artemis Records topper Danny Goldberg recently created a press with Goldberg’s father, Victor. RDV Books’ first release was “It’s a Free Country: Personal Freedom in America After September 11.” This year, it will bring out a “Artburn,” a collection of political posters by Robbie Conal. These books have small first printings and tiny marketing budgets.

Despite such efforts, the left has failed to mount a major, commercial publishing initiative of its own — even in the face of a conservative president, a republican majority in the House and Senate and a still simmering war overseas.

The right, meanwhile, is making inroads into Big Publishing. The Book of the Month Club just announced a conservative book club; and Crown and Penguin have unveiled conservative imprints.

CONSERVATIVE PUBLISHERS SAY such developments are long overdue.

A liberal publishing imprint would be “redundant,” according to Steve Ross, publisher of Crown and its new rightward imprint, Crown Forum.

The first Crown Forum title is Ann Coulter’s “Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.” After just a week on the market, the book is in its fifth printing, with nearly 500,000 copies in print.

Liberal authors have never had difficulty getting published,” Ross said. “Conservatives have.”

Bernadette Malone, editor of Penguin’s as-yet unnamed conservative imprint, agrees. “There’s been far too few comfortable homes for conservatives in New York publishing,” Malone said, though she hastened to add, “I won’t go so far as to say conservatives have been shut out.”

Malone’s first acquisition is a book by Mona Charen, author of “Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First,” set for release in fall 2004.

These imprints are borrowing a strategy from Regnery Publishing, the privately funded, right-wing Washington D.C. press, founded in 1947.

Regnery is one of the great publishing success stories of our time. It publishes fewer than 18 books a year; last year, seven of its titles were bestsellers. These books don’t disguise their ideological bent. Regnery published Charen’s “Useful Idiots”; it also published Robert “Buzz” Patterson’s bestseller about the Clinton presidency, “Dereliction of Duty” and William J. Bennett’s “Why We Fight.”

Malone used to be an editor at Regnery. Ross, too, admits, he sees Regnery as a model. “They’re the only publishing company that has consistently served the conservative readership,” he said.

IT’S NO SURPRISE that Eric Alterman, author of “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News,” doesn’t share that view.

“We have a right-wing movement in this country,” Alterman said. “We don’t have a left wing movement.”

Conservatives in the media, he said, “couch themselves as the alternatives to the “liberal mainstream” when in fact there’s nothing liberal about the mainstream.” That attitude, he says, is “a combination victimization, psychosis and smart political strategy.”

Alterman said that stridently conservative bestsellers like David Brock’s “The Real Anita Hill” and Allan Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind” received plenty of favorable coverage in the New York media. Right-wing bestsellers, he said, also get a boost from well-subdizized right-wing organizations that buy them in bulk.

“Conservatives tend to be more combative and think that money and organization will win in the end,” said Simon & Schuster executive editor Geoff Kloske, who has published books by a number of Democratic consultants and pundits, including James Carville and Paul Begala.

“Liberals believe in the First Amendment,” Kloske said. “Conservatives are very suspicious of the mendia. They tend to think that the only way to win is a well frunded, well organized and well armed group that’s something like a militia.”

If Democrats are determined to win back the White House, it may be time for them to form their own militia.

Or maybe not.

“Whether it’s Michael Moore or Arianna Huffington,” Robert Greenwald said, liberal writers “have had real success going through the mainstream publishers. Ironically, they don’t seem to be as afraid of the marketplace.”

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