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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The New Face of Patriotism

by Jennifer Nix

I want to thank Glenn for giving me a chance to explain why I am so moved by his forthcoming book, How Would a Patriot Act. It represents the combined passions of many people, and I hope it's an illustrative tale of what can happen when we are committed to, as Glenn would say, doing the right thing.

For the past year, I've been evangelizing about the need to create a reliable and effective counterweight to the independent, pro-Bush publishing powerhouse, Regnery. This publisher ushers right-wing ideology onto the bestseller lists with the help of massive investment from Bush supporters, the support of right-wing groups and media--and political campaign-like publicity efforts that monopolize media coverage and influence the national discourse. Think Swiftboats.

Judging from the tremendous reactions I've gotten in the past week, I firmly believe we have hit on the right idea, at the right time--particularly, too, as the corporate-owned publishers have seen the success of Regnery, and have been racing to set up their own politically-connected and -driven right-wing imprints. I wrote a piece last week that led me into some email and phone discussions with various folks, and I learned about other efforts to create some kind of nimble, alternative publishing venture that could be counted on to usher instant and other books out, to help new ideas and leaders get a fair hearing in the corporate and right-wing media landscape. Part of this quest is to create marketing and distribution channels that start with those most passionate about the book's message, as Regnery has so successfully done with the pro-Bush base.

As it turns out, there have been several proposals floating around with various groups and funders, envisioning what this venture would look like. Mine was one of them. Shant Mesrobian's was another. Rick Perlstein shared some info about his efforts to get a discussion like this started a couple of years ago. A number of us have been saying that we need some kind of concerted, politically-connected and -driven effort to effectively usher progressive and other good ideas--in the form of books--onto bestseller lists and via special sales and distribution, if we are going to have a chance of competing with the right-wing message machine. The problem is that while many folks seemed to get that this is a good idea, no one was throwing any money at it to help develop the plan further.

A couple of months ago, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, Will Rockafellow (who works with a major book distributor) and I met to discuss how we could jumpstart this idea. I'd had the experience of landing and marketing the George Lakoff bestseller while at Chelsea Green, and knew what it felt like to get a book out fast, at the right time--and into the hands of the right folks. Markos knows what it's like to build a new community, and to deliver information and commentary to the netroots and beyond: to meet a need no longer best-served by only traditional media. Will knows the business of distributing books, and the many challenges therein. What we realized was that we had to prove to funders that something like the Lakoff book could happen again, in order to prove the worth of this fast-acting, nimble publishing venture, which would be focused on finding the new voices that can lead us out of our political quagmire. Oh, and to promoting the hell out of them.

We envisioned an editorial board made up of progressives and others who want to take action to defend this country from the misguided crew currently in ensconced in the White House: bloggers, representatives from various membership groups, media and political action organizations. But, we needed a project on which to focus our efforts, and to bring the project from idea to reality.

Enter Glenn Greenwald. I was introduced to Glenn's blog, Unclaimed Territory, through a project at Working Assets. Michael Kieschnick and Becky Bond had offered me a fellowship to work with bloggers to help usher them, and their ideas, out into the wider media landscape. To, in effect, help create a new pundit class--one that could speak intelligently on radio and TV and in op-eds about new ideas for getting this country back on track, and for moving us beyond the bitter partisan divide. I thought Michael had come up with a great idea. I knew wanted to see some new faces, and I was sure the country could use that, too. During that 10-week fellowship, I worked with several bloggers and we recently held a media-training day for a number of them in San Francisco. I was proud to meet every last one of them. The strength of their convictions was palpable. Talk about refreshing!

My editorial interest was particularly piqued by Glenn's ability to reach both liberals and conservatives through his writing about the NSA scandal and Bush's radical theories of Presidential power. He is able elevate this discussion beyond liberal and conservative frames, to cut through the morass of political posturing, and to talk about what it means to be a patriot today. On occasion, Glenn has even gotten nods from the mainstream media, when he beat them to various aspects of the story.

I saw in Glenn an author who could meet the fast deadline of an instant book, based on the work he'd already done on his blog. I saw the topic and timing as being right--the need for a strong defense of the Constitution and American values in the face of a presidency run amok. I heard a voice that is worthy of larger audience. And I saw an opportunity to try again, to show that bloggers, progressives and others passionate about defending this nation can drive books onto bestseller lists--and influence the national discourse. Luckily, I got to Glenn before all the agents started calling him, and explained to him how important it is to create this alternative, independent infrastructure, and to build the right marketing channels to ensure bestselling numbers, so that progressive and other new ideas get out into the minds of more Americans.

Glenn saw the power behind this idea and wanted to sign on. Then I went to a number of forward-thinking leaders and asked for their support. Simon Rosenberg stepped up, and offered me a fellowship with his New Politics Institute (of the New Democratic Network) to help develop the idea. And the directors of Working Assets stepped up with the funding and organizational support to make this book a reality. I've joined Working Assets, and this experiment will be ushered into the world by Working Assets Publishing.

As Glenn's book makes its way to reality, I urge you to realize the importance of supporting other important books, too. Like American Theocracy, Crashing the Gate and Hostile Takeover. The better progressive-minded books do in the marketplace, the further these ideas will spread. Right-wingers realized a long time ago the importance of controlling and beefing up sales of their books, so they reach bestselling numbers and dominate news coverage. We cannot stand by and let corporate- and right-wing media continue to control the debate.

A number of independent publishers had bestsellers since 2004, proving that by being creative with new technology and financing, we can compete with the big, corporate publishers--and actually keep the money to be made in progressive coffers, to fund more progressive ideas and authors. We'll be able to take risks on new authors, develop new talents and leadership. What hasn't been proven yet, is what aspects of those models are replicable, and THAT is what part of this experiment is about: showing that quick progressive and cross-over books can RELIABLY be ushered onto the national stage, and impact political debate . If the media won't cover our ideas intelligently, we must create our own successful vehicles to generate discussion.

I'm looking forward to talking further with interested folks. Shant Mesrobian is joining this collaborative team to figure out how we can create the best model for this publishing venture/creative campaign agency, to better usher out our ideas with power and verve--and the commercial success that will lift all progressive boats.

There is much work to be done, but we have to start somewhere, and we invite everyone to participate and contribute ideas and energy. The more input the better. We need to build this thing together. Feel free to email me at jnix@wafs.com.

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