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Battle breaks out inside DeLay publisher, sources say; Staffer likens editor to OJ publisher

John Byrne
Published: Wednesday January 10, 2007
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Publisher calls charges "groundless," won't deny specific claims

WASHINGTON – OJ Simpson's "If I Did It" isn't the only unpublished book that's creating a stir in New York.

Sources deep inside Sentinel Publishing, the Penguin-owned imprint slated to release former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's "No Retreat, No Surrender" in March, tell RAW STORY a battle over the cover is being fought behind closed doors.

The current cover shows a gently smiling DeLay against a black backdrop. Penguin sources say that Senior Editor Bernadette Malone originally wanted a cover that showed DeLay alongside a flag and a cross.

"Everybody is fed up with this editor both inside the company and in the industry," said a well-placed Penguin source. "She is Penguin's Judith Regan. They don't think it is appropriate to put this book out. They view this book in the same way they view the OJ Book. This is an indicted man, driven to resign from his leadership by his own questionable actions and hubris.

"It is appalling that he will be promoted as a sage elder statesman," the source added.

In a call Monday, Sentinel founder and Publisher Adrian Zackheim called the staffer's claims "groundless and slimy," but refused to deny any specific claims. Malone was not on the call.

"It is an unfortunate feature of many off the record, anonymous statements to politically motivated web sites that such comments contain wild inaccuracies," Zackheim said. "This is certainly the case with these comments about Sentinel and the forthcoming publication of Tom DeLay's book. Your source is inaccurate in so many particulars, and so scurrilous in general, that we see no purpose in commenting on it further.

"When Congressman DeLay's book is published, everyone will be free to comment, hopefully on the record and for attribution," he added.

Pressed as to why Sentinel wouldn't deny specific claims after denying the story in general, Marketing Director Will Weisser replied, "Internal discussions are confidential."

Penguin did not return a call seeking comment, but higher-ups had previously disavowed statements from one of Malone's book's last year.

Judith Regan’s publication of “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened,” in which O.J. Simpson penned a hypothetical confession to his wife’s murder, sparked a national uproar and led to her dismissal from Regan Books, a News Corporation subsidiary. Sentinel sources say Malone shares Regan’s hot-headed, controversial style – though those opposing the DeLay cross cover apparently won out.

“After heated discussion, saner heads prevailed,” the Penguin source said. “Sentinel has now prepared to go with a cover that will not include Tom DeLay with the editor's strong desire to place him against an American flag backdrop and a cross, both seemingly implying he's a man that respects the constitution and some sort of religious messiah.

“They got it right with this latest cover,” he added. “He's a man with a black background.”

Employees from the bottom of the company to the very, very top are fed up with the editor's style.

"They're looking at it purely from a bottom line point of view," said one disgruntled staffer who was critical of Malone. “The imprint is built on pure demagoguery. People are just disgusted that an indicted man is getting a platform."

Concerns that Malone’s editing is focused more on dollars than sense aren’t new. In 2005, after myriad factual errors were found in a book about Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Penguin went so far as to disavow itself from the accuracy of perhaps Malone’s most recognized title – Edward Klein’s “The Truth About Hillary.”

"It is the author’s responsibility to assure factual accuracy,” Penguin said in a statement published without a spokesperson’s name. Klein’s book, they said, does “not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Penguin Group (USA) or our parent company.”

“Mr. Klein's interpretation of what he reports is unabashedly his opinion,” the firm added.

So badly was the book received that even conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh began claiming that conservatives had "nothing to do with" the book, suggesting it was a "left-wing idea" intended to "inoculate" Clinton from charges by giving the media a chance to dismiss negative claims as part of "a right-wing hatchet job."

According to staffers, Amazon and The Drudge Report both sought an exclusive on DeLay’s cover. Amazon has now posted a small version of the cover; Drudge has to date ignored it. Sources say the fight was so intense that they worry the cover could be swapped with something more controversial at the last minute to help Sentinel's bottom line – which they liken to the recent imbroglio over publisher Judith Regan's drive to sell a book about OJ Simpson's hypothetical confession.

“There is concern that this isn't the final version of the cover and that in the end DeLay might come out wrapped in a flag or resort to his theocratic subtext by superimposing a religious cross on the cover,” one source said.

Malone freely acknowledges – and regularly exhibits – her bias.

“A distinct imprint with an acknowledged political bias has plenty of advantages,” she told a magazine in 2006, saying Sentinel is “devoted only to one philosophy.” In 2003, Malone told USA Today conservatives "need editors...who won't hold their nose with one hand while they edit with the other."

In a column authored in the run-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention, Malone called would-be protesters “junior terrorists” who planned on “giving false directions to little blue hair ladies from Kansas.” She punctuated the piece by declaring that “prostitutes with AIDS plan to seduce Republican visitors and discourage the use of condoms.”

Sources inside the company say they’re also tired of what they see as hypocrisy by conservative authors.

"There are people like Bill O'Reilly who recently had a rant about liberal media not giving conservative voices a book, and this book is actually coming out from the same umbrella publishing company, Penguin, that published Al Franken," said a Sentinel source. "It's going to be interesting to see how DeLay comes out attacking left wingers and Democrats when he's being published by the same company that published Franken and Frank Rich."

DeLay's book is currently embargoed. "Basically there are signed affidavits saying they will not release this book or this cover to anybody," the staffer added. The staffer provided RAW STORY with a copy of the full sized cover, viewable here; this is the first time the full sized image has been printed.