The Great Gravy Train Robbery

by Michael Bérubé on November 8, 2007

Well, it looks like <a href=””>everyone’s</a> making <a href=””>popcorn</a> for <a href=””>the big Regnery suit</a>, looking forward eagerly to the discovery phase in which we may finally learn just how many copies of Regnery books are “sold” by being shipped from one wingnut outfit to another. As the <i>New York Times</i> reports:

<blockquote>The authors also say in the lawsuit that Regnery donates books to nonprofit groups affiliated with Eagle Publishing and gives the books as incentives to subscribers to newsletters published by Eagle. The authors say they do not receive royalties for these books.

“You get 10 per cent of nothing because they basically give them away,” Mr. Patterson said in an interview.</blockquote>

<a href=>Jane Hamsher asks</a>, “Do these authors really not understand that it takes incredibly deep pockets to do what they’re accusing Regnery of doing, and that they are the beneficiaries of it?” Since the answer to this question is something like, “sadly, no,” it appears that this lawsuit might also suggest an answer to a question that has long vexed the philosophy of wingnuttery: <i>can there be a group of Regnery authors so stupid that other Regnery authors would notice?</i>

Elsewhere, in other wingnut welfare news, <i>New Criterion</i> editor/publisher Roger Kimball has <a href=””>donned pajamas</a> and is now <a href=””>complaining</a> that NYU is having a one-day conference about public toilets. No, you really can’t make this stuff up. (And the comments are priceless! –though some of them are probably subsidized by Regnery.)

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11.10.07 at 2:02 pm



Rich Puchalsky 11.08.07 at 4:55 am

But Roger Kimball quoted Wittgenstein — in German, too. (Followed by an English translation, but hey, he’s writing for wingnuts.) Surely that makes him a serious intellectual.

I remember that, back when I was being an astrophysics grad student, a professor told us all that no published paper could have the phrase “white dwarves” in it; it had to be “white dwarf stars.” Because otherwise, some wingnut in Congress would be going on about look what nonsense those scientists are studying now.


JP Stormcrow 11.08.07 at 6:47 am

But Roger Kimball quoted Wittgenstein—in German, too

Yes, but sadly, at times Roger apparently finds that he must stoop to contemporary idiom. Try to wrap your head around this construction from his essay on “Openness” & “The Closing of the American Mind”

The point is that the “openness” that liberal society rightly cherishes is not a vacuous openness to all points of view: it is not “value neutral.” It need not, indeed it cannot, say Yes to all comers, to the Islamofascist who after all has his point of view, just as much as the soccer mom has hers.


Colin Danby 11.08.07 at 6:58 am

My question is about the politics of Freddy the Pig, whose adventures feature prominently in the “Kids’ Corner” of the Conservative Book Club, part of the Regenery empire. It’s possible that when I read the complete works of Walter R. Brooks I was too young to catch certain nuances. Should we be organizing an MLA panel?


JP Stormcrow 11.08.07 at 8:04 am

the big Regnery suit

And you may find yourself as the author of a best-selling book
And you may not ask yourself … how did I sell all of those books?
And you may ask yourself well…where are my jillions of dollars for those books?


Mrs Tilton 11.08.07 at 11:33 am

jp@4 has won the thread. The rest of us might as well just go home.


Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 12:43 pm

And you may say to yourself, “well, how come I’m not making as much money as the author of How We Got Here?”

And Rich, Rankin’ Roger’s Pajamas gig raises another difficult philosophical question: his career to date really does not qualify him as a wingnut. Indeed, I believe that his portrait in James Atlas’s 1995 New York Times Magazine profile of the New Conservatives (“The Counter Counterculture”) established him as someone who owns a great deal of the Loeb Classical Library. But if a Kinda Serious Intellectual goes on about (a) OMG tuition!! and (b) OMG universities are talking about public rest rooms!! in the same essay, writing for a wingnut outlet, is he not bearing out Wittgenstein’s claim that “For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which we employ the word ‘wingnut’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of the word ‘wingnut’ is its use in the language”? Or, as Rorty rephrased this in Philosophy as Cultural Politics, “wingnut is as wingnut does.” (Note, however, that this pragmatist account of wingnuttery applies only to a large class of cases; as Alisdair MacIntyre has pointed out, Mark Steyn remains a Class-A wingnut even when he is writing “serious” essays for The New Criterion.)

And Colin, I’ll propose that MLA panel if you can get Regnery to sponsor it.


Barry 11.08.07 at 1:34 pm

“jp@4 has won the thread. The rest of us might as well just go home.”

Posted by Mrs Tilton

I can hear it in my head now.


Seth Edenbaum 11.08.07 at 1:52 pm

One of the commenters on Kibball’s screed adds this:

“I think a big contributing factor to the nonsense being peddled in the high-degree level of the liberal arts is the requirement that a PhD dissertation must be original research.”

Kimball and NYU deserve each other, as Jerome Corsi deserves Regnery.


Bruce Webb 11.08.07 at 2:06 pm

Look I’ll maintain to the death the right to wear any neckwear one wants too. But the day that I would allow my picture on my webpage where I would fulminate about identity politics to feature me with a yellow bow-tie is the day that Irony is Officially Dead.

Because nothing shouts “I am a representative of the Daddy Party” better than a yellow bow tie with blue candy stripes.


Down and Out of Sài Gòn 11.08.07 at 2:22 pm

9: Too true. That bow tie is pretty horrible. Why the hell does he wear it? It’s not like he’s trying to emulate José Ramos Horta.


Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 2:43 pm

Now, now, the bow tie’s not entirely Roger’s fault. It’s New Criterion standard issue, required attire for all Hilton Kramer epigones.

However, studies show that men who habitually wear these bow ties tend to tie them tighter and tighter with each decade, leading to what researchers call “Kramer Anoxia.” (This is a gradual process, not to be confused with the extreme, early-onset Tucker Carlson Syndrome.)


alkali 11.08.07 at 2:57 pm

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man wingnutten.


OHenry 11.08.07 at 3:12 pm


dsquared 11.08.07 at 3:45 pm

Oh wonderful. The great thing about having one’s enemies sue each other, as opposed to, say, having a fistfight, is that in a sufficiently acrimonious lawsuit it is eminently possible for both sides to lose.


Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 3:46 pm

That’s a much looser tie, ohenry, but I still think it helps to account for the writing of The Disuniting of America. There’s no other way to explain that volume’s almost-Medvedian sentence, “the West needs no lectures on the superior virtue of those ‘sun people’ who sustained slavery until Western imperialism abolished it.”


Bruce Webb 11.08.07 at 3:48 pm

@13 Nope. Look at the angle of the tie. Clearly Schlesinger tied it loosely precisely to avoid Kramer Anoxia. I can’t tell if he is wearing formal wear which would require black tie or just another suit. On the other hand we are in the nineties not the fifties. If Dad comes home and changes into Father Knows Best sweaters today, well hopefully none of your friends come visiting ever.


c.l. ball 11.08.07 at 4:45 pm

Alas, it’s “Alasdair” not “Alisdair”. Bérubé spirals lies like an NYU flush!


Karl Steel 11.08.07 at 4:55 pm

Comment I just tried to leave on PM:
wherein he ridiculed that pseudo-scholarship which gloried in a “funeral parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non problems

You’re right, because nobody poops. This actually has nothing to do with Lucky Jim, which, surely you recall, directs its greatest acrimony at medievalists. Which just shows what a nitwit Amis was even in his best novel.

Now here’s a panel where I’m sure people got their money’s worth.

Is your point that if NYU students were paying less for tuition then they’d be justified in discussing public toilets? Otherwise I don’t see the connection between the first half of your piece and the second.


lemuel pitkin 11.08.07 at 5:15 pm

And you may say to yourself, “well, how come I’m not making as much money as the author of How We Got Here?”

Has anyone else here actually read How We Got Here? It’s really shockingly not bad.


Uncle Kvetch 11.08.07 at 5:25 pm

You’re right, because nobody poops.

Wrong’em, Boyo.

Dirty fucking hippies poop.
Liberals defecate.
Conservatives just scowl.


There is No There 11.08.07 at 6:12 pm

Best damned title of the day, Mike (can I call you “Mike”?).

Truly, I cannot be the only one who has noted the perhaps metaphysical between the cratering of an economy based on nothing and the collapse of a pseudo-intellectal ponzi scheme based on saying nothing.

Can I?

It is as if the gods of ontology had loosed a pack of wolves on a meeting of a prep-school chess club just to watch them scream. In about eighteen months we’ve gone from having to humor the little Fauntleroys to wondering how we’re gonna clean their blood off the wall.


There is No There 11.08.07 at 6:14 pm

… the perhaps metaphysical PARALLEL between …

Apologies. Discovered a new label of Irish Whiskey last night …


Doug 11.08.07 at 6:28 pm

20 reminds me of the two requirements for a career as a DC consultant: grey hair, to appear serious, and hemorrhoids, to look concerned.


Dave Maier 11.08.07 at 6:58 pm

Speaking of Rorty, I imagine both he and Roger K would be appalled to see the similarity between the former’s “ethnocentrism” and the quotation from the latter provided by jp stormcrow in comment #2.

Kimball likes that Wittgenstein quotation a lot, but to paraphrase someone else entirely: he keeps using that quotation; I don’t think it means what he thinks it means. On the other hand the idea of reading Roger Kimball explaining Wittgenstein makes me feel faint.


Michael Bérubé 11.08.07 at 8:02 pm

Alas, it’s “Alasdair” not “Alisdair”.

Dang it all. You know, there was a time when I knew that. But I was much younger then.

And yes, Karl, Roger’s point is that NYU would be justified in discussing public toilets if the tuition rate were lower. $24,400, I believe, is the cutoff; above that level, one is required to get one’s mind off one’s fundament and discuss more elevated subjects.


Gary Oxford 11.08.07 at 10:05 pm

So the Regnery business model is:

1. Game the best sellers lists by subsidized dumping of otherwise unsellable (and unreadable) books.

2. ?

3. Profit (not to be shared with “authors”).

Even assuming a closed system with Richard Mellon Scaife’s trust fund, doesn’t this violate some law of Friedmanomics


sbk 11.09.07 at 2:42 am

God, Kimball looks uncannily like David Brooks, except somehow… more so.

On the other hand the idea of reading Roger Kimball explaining Wittgenstein makes me feel faint.

No joke. I don’t think you get to wear that bowtie until you can furnish a signed statement from God that you have never read, and will never read, anything between the first and last lines of the Tractatus. The back of the left half of the tie says “Die Welt is alles, was der Fall ist,” and the right side says, “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen,” and this way you can tuck your chin into your neck and slur either of them out at a party without anyone being the wiser. The tie also has a valve to spray ink on hostile art professors and allow Kimball to escape quickly in a cab. The only catch is that if he ever meets the man wearing the tie that says “Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt,” that man will destroy him. Or such is my understanding.


andrew cave 11.09.07 at 2:51 am

In a Sadly,NO! thread on this very topic, Roy Edroso made a magnificent (and apposite) comment to the effect of:

They’ve realised the wheels have fallen off the gravy train – now they’re just raiding it for provisions.

making the point that the wingnuts have seen the writing on the wall for wingnut welfare and are now trying to make hay while the sun is still peeking over the Nov 2008 horizon.

I’d provide the link but SN’s language is so NSFW that I don’t want to risk it on a work PC.


dsquared 11.09.07 at 8:21 am

26: nah, Regnery’s business model is quite comprehensible and probably even profitable. The books are a marketing tool for the mewsletters and the Conservative Book Club. Taken as a whole, the operation probably breaks even or makes money. But it’s a newsletter business with an expensive hobby (as insurance companies can often be analysed as a closed-end mutual fund with an expensive hobby), not a book publishing business. The authors believe that when Regnery sells 40,000 books at cost price to the Conservative Book Club, they’re losing out on 40,000 full price sales, but this is pretty transparently wrong. The matter at issue is whether they’re being done out of say 20,000 full price sales by the book club (in which case Regnery probably is doing something unethical if not necessarily illegal), or whether the only way those copies would ever have shifted is through the book club at knocked down prices, in which case Regnery’s doing the authors a big favour by allowing them to call themselves “NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER WRITERSS!!!111!!” and they are being quite disgracefully ungrateful.


Karl Steel 11.09.07 at 12:22 pm

It’s also funny to me that Kimball graces his column with the title of Mary McCarthy’s academic satire. I’ve yet to read it, but I’m inclined to think that after the takedown-for-all-time it got in Randall Jarall’s marvelous Pictures from an Institution, Kimball would hesitate. But I suppose an academic who lovingly references the fantasy of Lucky Jim (a novel in which our hero is rescued by a sugardaddy) might not quite know what he’s up to, allusionarily speaking.


Matt Weiner 11.09.07 at 1:12 pm

Here’s the link to Edroso’s comment.

I’m not sure I buy the theory. We’re probably entering an era in which Democrats are more dominant than they have been, but I’d figure that would be good for the wingnuttiest wingnuts. More targets of anger.

On the other hand, Richard Mellon Scaife’s messy divorce could deal a serious blow to the wingnut welfare economy.

[Note: I’m talking out of my ass here.]


publishing type 11.09.07 at 1:29 pm


You are correct that Regnery’s business model is both clear and profit-driven. The legal issue for the authors however, isn’t that the sales though bookclubs substitute for bookstore sales at a higher royalty. It’s that Regnery is supposed to treat their subsidiary companies at an arms-length basis, and if they did the authors would have received a higher royalty than they did. It would have been reduced, but not as much.

If they had licensed books to Book of the Month Club, for instance, it would have resulted in a royalty per copy sold by BOMC that the authors split with the publisher. That is the standard in the industry and every pubisher who owns a bookclub treats internal licenses the same way they would one with a third party publisher.

The authors probably have a winning case that all authors ought to be aware of and concerned about. I would expect that the Author’s Guild would support them. If they don’t have a clear cut win, it’s only because they signed contracts that are so far out of industry standards as to be laughable, and they should fire their agents or lawyers for being fools or accept that they are fools for not not having had representation.

What’s delicious here is that the authors, all surely capitalists in tooth and claw, have been taken to the cleaners by cut-throat capitalists. I expect they’ll gladly accept the assistance of the Author’s Guild and other writers’ unions in pressing their case, which they’ll get even if they don’t deserve it.

By the way, bookclub sales and bulk sales through retail booktores don’t count towards placement on bestseller lists. Regnery did this to increase their profits, plain and simple, although they’ll argue that there was pubicity value in what they did. My bet, based on many years in this industry, is that they will end up paying the authors, probably in a settlement.


Clyde Mnestra 11.09.07 at 10:32 pm

#32 is exactly right. This is a very unsympathetic group of authors, and they are stupid if they think that every dumped book is a foregone sale at full price. But Jane Hamsher’s ill-informed ridicule suggests that she doesn’t have the firedoggiest clue about how these issues arise in other, more sympathetic contexts. I would surprised if every author “would kill to have their works seeded out there at such great expense” — if so, you would see authors, and music artists, clamoring for more discounted distribution.


thompsaj 11.09.07 at 11:28 pm

@33, please download my bands songs for free!


Clyde Mnestra 11.10.07 at 12:06 am

#34, touche. I dropped the “every” — of course, it’s up the author/artist to decide. Not everyone is so obviously served by upping distribution that an insistence on contractual rights (which may or may not exist here) is idiotic, as critics of the suit seem to be suggesting. What pleases Radiohead may not suit Metallica. And not every discounted distribution channel is free from self-dealing. If Sony started bundling its artists’ CDs on the cheap or as freebies with Playstations, they might have a beef.

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