Manipulation and the bestseller lists

by John MacBeath Watkins


Republicans found an argument they liked in Edith Efron's 1971 book, The News Twisters. Efron used her judgment of whether television news reports were biased to show that in fact they were. Nixon liked the book so well that he told Charles Colson to make it a best seller. Colson found out which stores the New York Times consulted in determining its best seller list, then took $8,000 from the Nixon campaign fund and bought out the stock in those stores. The book, which Colson had thought destined for obscurity when he read it before Nixon spoke to him about it, became influential as a result.

The problem, of course, was that Efron's judgment was far from unbiased. For example, when hecklers disrupted a Nixon speech, she counted the fact that the news media reported this as an example of anti-Nixon liberal bias. When Hubert Humphrey had a speech disrupted by hecklers, this was counted as pro-heckler, rather than anti-Humphrey, therefore liberal bias again. She didn't want an unbiased press, she wanted one that matched her bias, a dream that would one day be realized in Fox News.

Say what you like about Nixon, he was in his own way a genius.

That's just one example of how such lists are manipulated, and one more reason not to trust bestseller lists. Nixon wasn't the only one to do it.

Al Neuharth, CEO of the Gannett newpaper chain, claimed he manipulated the bestseller list for his autobiography, Confessions of an S.O.B.

I suppose if you have a herd instinct, and must know what others are reading, such lists are some good, but I have to wonder, how often does stuff like this happen? And how much good are bestseller lists?

Watch out for books with a political bone to pick, or with a moneyed man with a large ego behind it.  Those are ripe for manipulation.

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