April 11, 2004
The Ties Behind the News in Author Interviews on TV
n the space of a month, the CBS News program "60 Minutes" has landed two highly sought-after interviews with authors of books promising news-making revelations about the Bush administration.
In both cases the interviews stayed in the corporate family.
A week from tonight, "60 Minutes" will have a long interview with Bob Woodward, whose soon-to-be-released book, "Plan of Attack," reportedly will contain important new details about the administration's decision to go to war against Iraq.
The Woodward interview, already taped, follows a similar interview with Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism official whose book, "Against All Enemies," described the administration as ill-prepared for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Both books happen to be published by units of Simon & Schuster Inc., a company that is owned by the Viacom Corporation — which also happens to be the parent of CBS.
Earlier this year, CBS landed another big Simon & Schuster book on public affairs, "The Price of Loyalty," Ron Suskind's account of Bush administration policies as viewed by the former secretary of the treasury, Paul O'Neill.
Both CBS News executives and Simon & Schuster executives say there is nothing at work in this relationship besides good marketing and mutual benefits. CBS News and "60 Minutes" want to break the news available in hot political books, and Simon & Schuster wants to promote sales by first exposing books and authors to the biggest and most book-oriented audience the company could find.
"60 Minutes" has a demographic of older viewers most interested in politics and current affairs, so the match makes sense, executives of both companies say.
The policy of matching books with television shows has become a minor art form, aggressively pursued by networks and publishers alike. Deals are often offered by networks to land news-making authors, "gets" in the parlance of the television news business, usually by granting authors appearances both on prime-time newsmagazines and morning news programs.
NBC is also active in the game of securing important books and authors. Only last week, NBC staged a cocktail party for publishing company executives attended by the president of NBC News, Neal Shapiro, and other division executives, along with some of the most recognizable names of NBC News — Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and Brian Williams.
Mr. Shapiro said the purpose of the meeting was to demonstrate how effective NBC could be in publicizing new books across all its news platforms. David Rosenthal, the executive vice president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, said he attended the party.
"It was a lovely event," Mr. Rosenthal said, "and an indication of how competitive the `get' business is becoming."
He said NBC was selling the benefits of tie-in appearances on its newsmagazine "Dateline," its morning show "Today" and its cable networks CNBC and MSNBC. Mr. Rosenthal joked that if NBC really wanted an author, "they might offer nine parts on `Today,' and Katie will do one interview in the nude."
Asked about the success of "60 Minutes" in getting books, the show's executive producer, Don Hewitt, said: "There are quid pro quo deals made for interviews with book authors. We never do them. I think Simon & Schuster is smart enough to put their books where they can do them the most good."
He noted that most of Mr. Woodward's books had been publicized with an initial interview on "60 Minutes" long before 2000, when Viacom bought CBS. He also said that Mr. Woodward had a longstanding relationship with Mike Wallace, who conducted the interview.
"60 Minutes" got the Clarke interview, Mr. Hewitt said, because Richard Bonin, a producer who worked with Leslie Stahl, the correspondent on the piece, had a relationship with Mr. Clarke that long predated his book. "We got it in an old-fashioned journalism way: a personal connection," Mr. Hewitt said.
In the wake of the news generated by Mr. Clarke's interview, "60 Minutes" was criticized for not revealing that the book was published by an imprint, Free Press, which is a part of Simon & Schuster Inc. Mr. Hewitt and others at CBS said that criticism was part of the White House attempt to discredit Mr. Clarke.
Mr. Hewitt said he did not even know Free Press was part of Simon & Schuster. "Who the heck was Free Press?" Mr. Hewitt said.
Mr. Rosenthal noted that if any network should have had an advantage in landing Mr. Clarke it would have been ABC, because Mr. Clarke is a paid on-air analyst for ABC News. Executives at ABC News and NBC News, both of which did seek to land Mr. Clarke, said they believed CBS and "60 Minutes" were granted the interview because of personal connections, not the corporate connection with Simon & Schuster.
"60 Minutes" doesn't always win. Mr. Hewitt noted that perhaps the biggest recent public-affairs book from Simon & Schuster, Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir, "Living History," went to ABC.
Mr. Rosenthal said that he delivered authors where it made the most sense for profits, explaining, "I base decisions on where to place authors on my self-interest: what is going to sell me the most books."
Mr. Clarke's appearance certainly seemed to have that effect. The program was seen by more than 16 million viewers; it generated enormous news and Mr. Clarke's book instantly became the No. 1 nonfiction best-seller.
For his part Mr. Hewitt acknowledged he was interested in maximizing ratings for his program by generating news. He even asked Mr. Rosenthal to move up the date of Mr. Woodward's appearance to April 4, so that it would have completed a kind of triumvirate of news-making interviews related to the Bush administration's actions.
The program booked Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, for the week after Mr. Clarke and again scored a big rating. Mr. Hewitt said he wanted to keep that momentum going by moving up Mr. Woodward's appearance.
But Mr. Rosenthal refused to switch the date of the interview because "the books would not have been in the stores yet." Mr. Hewitt acquiesced.
The Woodward interview will also "make big news," Mr. Hewitt said, and the program has scheduled it at special length, two sections of the program, the same amount of time given to Mr. Clarke's book.
But one thing will be different. Though he still argued that he did not believe it was necessary to do so, "60 Minutes" will take note of the fact that the book is being published by a company also owned by Viacom. "I'm doing it from here on out, only because of the brouhaha about it," Mr. Hewitt said.