I could not have dreamed that "The Commission'' would be so successful. The book seemingly had the misfortune of being released on Super Tuesday, when the Hillary-Obama fight was really starting to get good. In early February, most Washington reporters weren't paying attention to anything beyond the presidential campaign, and who could blame them? Still, thanks to a brilliant publicity campaign, the book caught fire and finished up on the NYT bestsellers' list a week after its release. John Stewart, Keith Olbermann, Terry Gross, Diane Rehm, all of it a happy blur in the first few days of a book tour. Fantastic reviews. Within days of the announcement of the bestsellers list, The Times decided to offer a generous buyout package for veteran reporters, an effort to trim the paper's staff to deal with the brutal economic realities of the newspaper business. That sure seemed to be a message from the heavens. The Times remains the gold standard for daily newspaper journalism, but these are dismal times for newspapers, including The Times. Could things be much worse? And "The Commission" proved to me that there are other, probably better ways for me to practice my craft. So on the afternoon of April 17, sitting at a desk in a room in the the Hilton Hotel in Portland, Ore., where I was on my last out-of-town assignment as a newspaper reporter, I signed the buyout paperwork, walked to a nearby Fedex outlet and sent it off to The Times in New York. I'll be leaving this month after more than a quarter-century on the payroll of The New York Times, the only employer I've known in my adult life. (I joined the paper in the Washington bureau -- as a copyboy for the great James Reston, my first and best boss at the paper -- eight days after graduating from college.) There is a sense of melancholy as I walk out the door, of course. The Times is The Times, and I leave behind many, many friends. But there is also plenty of excitement about the next chapter of my career.
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Foreign Affairs magazine: #1
In its new issue, Foreign Affairs magazine declared "The Commission" to be the nation's top-selling book on international affairs. The magazine, which is published by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, says its rankings are determined by sales at Barnes and Noble and its website. Here's the list: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/book/bestsellers. In the small-world department, I should note that the number-two book on the list, "Marching Toward Hell," was written by Michael Scheuer, the former CIA analyst who is a key figure in my book. And the number-five and number-14 books were written by colleagues at the NYT: Tim Weiner and Elizabeth Bumiller. Phil Shenon
The 9/11 Truth Movement and Me
Just got back from Los Angeles and the LA Times book fair, which is an incredible event. Essentially the LA Times takes over the entire UCLA campus for two days to celebrate books. I was on a panel Sunday morning on books about "checks and balances," or the lack thereof, in government. The book fair was also something of a community festival, with plenty of booths set aside for political and other activist groups, including several tables for what is often referred to as the 9/11 Truth Movement. These are people who, by and large, believe that elements of the American government had some hand in the 9/11 attacks. Many of the movement's leaders have been critical of "The Commission," since I am perceived as an establishment journalist who has bought into the government's official line on 9/11. The book fair presented me with a chance to meet my critics, and so I went over and introduced myself. It was a pretty civilized conversation all in all, must have lasted an hour, and the results are available on Youtube. com, posted by a couple of the "truthers." It's in five parts, and here's the link to the first of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poZy8CPaQ4U. Phil Shenon
Saturday, April 12, 2008
The Book Review: "A lack of intelligence"
And here's the review of "The Commission" from the Sunday Book Review: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/books/review/Heilbrunn-t.html?ref=books Two months was a long time, but worth the wait. (The wait is understandable, I'm told, since the book was embargoed until the day of publication; usually reviewers get a book months in advance of its formal publication.) If you're online this afternoon, I welcome your questions at firedoglake.com. 5 p.m. Saturday. My first blog interview about the book. Phil Shenon
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
NYT Book Review: "Mesmerizing"
It's been a long wait, or at least it seems like one to a nervous first-time author, but the New York Times Book Review is about to publish a review of "The Commission." And it's a rave. "Mezmerizing account ... vivid portraits of everyone from Henry Kissinger to Samuel Berger ... vividly illuminates the obstacles to holding high-level intelligence and government officials accountable for their bungling." The Book Review is the Book Review, and it may be the best place on earth to find praise of your book. The review takes up a full page, with a nice color photograph of Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton taken by my NYT colleague Doug Mills, and was written by Jacob Heilbrunn, author of the new "They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons." (For the record, I don't think I've ever met Mr. Heilbrunn, but I'm grateful to him.) I got a taste of the good news last week, when I received an invitation to travel to New York this Wednesday to appear on "New York Times Close Up," the weekly television show produced by The Times and NY1, the local all-news station. The host is an old friend, Sam Roberts. The show is broadcast on Saturday night and Sunday morning, and it previews what is in the Sunday edition of the paper. The show's producer explained that I'd be talking about the book, which would be reviewed the following Sunday, April 13. I didn't dare ask if the review was good, but I hoped and assumed I wouldn't be asked up to New York if I were about to be panned. On Tuesday, I got a call from Cary Goldstein, the terrific publicity director at Twelve, my publisher, who read out portions of the review. He was excited. I was excited. Off to New York in the morning. I'll post the electronic link to the review as soon as it's up in the NYT website. Phil Shenon
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Karl Rove replies to "The Commission"
Well, this is interesting. Karl Rove was questioned about my book during an apperance at the University of Pennsylvania late in February. He was asked specifically about his phone contacts with Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, in 2003. The video of Rove's appearance was just brought to my attention and is posted at 9/11blogger.com: http://www.911blogger.com/node/14225. Rove says, as my book attributes to him, that his contacts with Zelikow were entirely innocent and involved Zelikow's old work at the University of Virginia. Rove says he knows nothing about why Zelikow might have ordered his secretary to stop keeping phone logs of his White House calls. Phil Shenon
"The ultimate cynical newsman," that's me
I wear that as a badge of honor. It's a description of me a fine new review of "The Commission" in the Buffalo News by the paper's former managing editor, Edward Cuddily. He takes a couple of digs at me as representative of the evils of my employer -- the "anti-administration, know-it-all" New York Times. But overall, he praises the book, saying it "offers a luminous window into the world of the power-hungry, sleep-deprived overachievers who control our destiny; it is a testament to how difficult it is to sort out the truth about anything in 21st century Washington." Here's the link: www.buffalonews.com/entertainment/booksliterature/story/311278.html. I'm looking forward to my first interactive blogging experience next week on the Fire Dog Lake book salon. http://firedoglake.com/booksalon. Saturday, April 12, 5 p.m. eastern. I invite tough questions. I'm on WBAI radio in New York Monday afternoon at 5 p.m., talking with Mike Levine of Expert Witness radio. Mike's a decorated DEA agent turned provocateur. There will be a link to the interview (which continues into a second hour next week) on Mike's website: www.expertwitnessradio.org. Phil Shenon