Friday, September 04, 2009

Is Anybody Surprised Ridge's Terror Alert Controversy Sells Books?

Secretary Tom Ridge (R-PA) has disavowed his book's jacket cover and denied he caved to political pressure to heighten the Department of Homeland Security's "terror alert" on the eve of the 2004 presidential election. Something stinks here.

As an author published by a significant house, Simon & Schuster, I know something about the book publication and promotion process Mr. Ridge has just experienced. After the book is written the publisher puts some pressure on the author to make the book jacket as salacious and controversial as possible - as that is what is going to get attention and sell the product. The author has plenty of say and approval of the book jacket. Ideas on what the book jacket should read are cooked up and kicked around, as is artwork (artwork for a Ridge book most likely never deviated from the traditional photo of thre author). Throughout this process the author - Ridge in this case - has the opportunity to say no to those ideas they don't like.

I was not thrilled with my book jacket cover but in the end decided that it was the best effort to make the book appealing to buyers because it adhered to the facts in the book. My literary agent hated the artwork and I was unsure so more artwork was created until I concluded the original idea offered by S&S was the best one and I chose to use it on my book jacket's cover.

To the point; something stinks about Ridge's recantation of his book's jacket. Ridge had all the power to nix the language on the book jacket cover that hints that he broke to the Bush White House's pressure to up the terror alert going into the 2004 election. So there are really only two conclusions the observer can make: 1) Ridge has taken so much heat from former Bush WH officials about disclosing such a repugnant truth that he has back-peddled; or 2) Ridge caved to pressure from his publisher to print the salacious book jacket in the interest of selling more books. Either way, Ridge comes away looking weak and easily strong-armed.

The more plausible explanation about the book cover is that the publisher used nuance to create controversy. The book cover reads: "He (Ridge) recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the '04 presidential election." Pressure is not qualified to mean political or any other defined pressure, but surely intimates that it was political pressure to create the controversy.

However, Ridge does write in the book that, ""There was absolutely no support for that position (to raise the terror alert) within our department. None. I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?'" This is a reasonable question for a politician to ask themselves. It does seem plausible that political pressure was applied, as the Bush White House was largely about making policy decisions through the political prism. Ridge's response to this after the book was published is that he made the decision to raise the alert and did not factor politics; a tough position to square with the statement in the book.

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