05 March 2009

Huffing and Puffing about the Blagojevich Deal

Michael Viner's essay at the Huffington Post about making a deal--supposedly a headline-grabbing six-figure deal--for a book from former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is a masterpiece in avoiding unflattering facts.

From his high horse, Viner writes:

When Harper Collins decided to pay $3 million to O.J. Simpson there was no public outcry until the book turned out to be a great hoax.
That's selective on several counts. First, there was an outcry as soon as the news got out; eventually Rupert Murdoch canned the book's editor. Second, the book wasn't a hoax--the deal was, with money going to Simpson even though he claimed it wasn't.

More important, in pointing to HarperCollins, Viner manages to avoid mentioning which publisher is most notorious for exploiting the O. J. Simpson trial. That's none other than Michael Viner, who then called his firm Dove Entertainment. He published a book by one victim's sister, a book by dismissed jurors, a parody of Simpson's own book at the time, and more. Viner now argues that we must presume Blagojevich is innocent until proven guilty; he showed little interest in that presumption back in 1996.

Among Dove's other titles were The Private Diary of Lyle Menendez, which wasn't actually a diary by that murderer, and a memoir of Hollywood prostitutes. The latter led to a lawsuit by authors claiming their text had been changed without their approval and that Viner harrassed them sexually. Viner sued Heidi Fleiss for saying he'd slept with two of those women, and the jury returned a verdict in her favor.

Then Viner came up with New Millennium Press. Among its authors was Jayson Blair, the New York Times reporter who made things up. Viner's strategy for building frontlist titles is to go after people who are already household names because of controversies in the news. He's obviously trying the same strategy with Blagojevich, rushing a manuscript into print to take advantage of public attention during the trial.

Viner is also notorious for packaging books and audiotapes to exploit authors' names with old or minor material. That's produced complaints from such authors as David Baldacci and Stephen Hawking.

The reason Viner's present company is called Phoenix Books is because it was his route out of the bankruptcy of his earlier firm. A jury awarded author/editor Otto Penzler $2.8 million from New Millennium, so Viner put the firm into bankruptcy to avoid paying. He then left the company in the hands of a trustee but returned to buy its assets for this new outfit called Phoenix. Among its titles now is another memoir of Hollywood prostitutes.

All I can say is that Viner and Blagojevich seem like a good match. They have every right to go into business together, at whatever terms they choose. For those of us who dislike such behavior, the best response is not to buy their book.

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