I surely agree that John Bolton is a hypocrite and a traitor for refusing to testify at the impeachment hearings of Donald Trump so that his book, when it came out months later, would be seen as fresh and explosive and earn him a reported $2-million advance.
But for me the larger and more delicious story lies with the role of his publisher, Simon & Schuster.
First, we know that Bolton is almost as big a blowhard as Donald Trump, not to mention a pigheaded warmonger who’s wanted to play king years before he was ever appointed as the bellicose toady in the White House.
So let’s not fall for Bolton’s claim that he himself decided not to testify because “It wouldn’t have done any good.” That was never the reason. Bolton yearned for his own bully pulpit to teach the world his kill-‘em-all foreign policy. The impeachment trial would have given him that rare chance while he stabbed the president in the back and front as his duty called for.
And I bet as far as Bolton was concerned, his new memoir – a diary of tidbits parading as an honest work of disclosure — would have sold fine anyway. People will buy anything with the kind of suspense and expectation that’s been orchestrated since the Bolton-book rumors started circulating.
Plus if Bolton had testified, enough time would have elapsed between his sworn statements and his book’s publication date to give him a second shot at the spotlight. There he could have portrayed himself as a national hero for speaking out at the impeachment trial while duty again called him to knife the president front and back a second time.
So my question is this: Who was it who convinced John Bolton not to be the star of the impeachment hearings? Who was it who must have said,
Oh, no John: If you want our money, shut up until we tell you to speak, and by the way your book is crap by anyone’s standards. We know it’s crap because after all, we’re your publisher.
Why, Simon & Schuster must have persuaded Mr. Bigmouth (not Trump, the other one) to stay silent until publication, thus disallowing the world a glimpse at some really awful truths at a critical time.
But here is my issue: The role of a publisher is to do the opposite of Twitter — to responsibly represent, through a fully integrated work in print, what the author wants to say. I have no problem with a publisher signing this clown Bolton on. If his book looks like thoughts written on the backs of toilet-paper squares, no problem – that’s probably the real John Bolton, anyway.
But the corollaries to that principle are tough. Once committed, the publisher owes the work at least three things: the largest possible audience, the most expeditious timing for release, and a promotional campaign that best suits the sales of the book. You just can’t question those kinds of priorities.
So this is my question: If I were S&S, for the sake of the book and the huge advance that must be earned back by sales, would I have done the same thing?
First I’d have to acknowledge that larger priorities do exist. For example, I’d have a hard time, morally speaking, paying millions of dollars to someone like Harvey Weinstein, say, or that weasel Jared Kushner, for the rights to publish their books.
No house ever has to agree with every author it publishes – but it does have to believe in and support its publication, and that’s not such a fine line. Just this March the staff of Hachette Book Group walked out in protest of Woody Allen’s work-in-progress, and won: Four days after it announced the memoir’s publication, Hachette cancelled it The house cancelled Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, four days after it had announced the book’s publication.
With Bolton’s book, I’d like to think I would have sat John Bolton down and said, Look, we both know what’s the right thing for you to do here: testify now in the impeachment trial, and when your book is published, we’ll promote the hell out of secrets you didn’t disclose. The book’s sales will take a hit, so let’s cut the advance to one million dollars and see what happens.
It’s not that Bolton is so principled he’d go along – his morality seems to be hidden behind those Weapons of Mass Destruction he never found in Iraq. But he is a practical guy who knows he’ll never get a job in government again, so I bet taking the $2 mill and staying away from Congress was always the chosen path for John. If the publisher got all uppity about his choices, you just know some other corporate opportunist would come a’knockin’.
So far, I’ve loved reading books about the inner workings of the Trump administration because they’re so funny, unfortunately in a gallows humor sort of way. Each one more self-serving than the other, they tell us about the chaos that reigns in the Oval Office while smarmy loyalists like Stephen Miller scheme in the background doing Trump’s dirty work. Somewhere between elements of Shakespeare and Cruella de Vil, we get glimpses of the truth, which has to be enough for now.
But I hope that people pull a Tulsa* on Bolton’s book by showing early interest and — really, come on, you guys! as that energetic grandmother said on Facebook — never showing up.
By the way, if you find that illegal PDF edition that’s been floating around the Internet, try not to fall for that, either. Reading any pirated work supports a vast system that jeopardizes the rights of all authors.
* “pull a Tulsa” — a refreshingly coordinated insurgence on TikTok that called for viewers to reserve tickets for Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, but not attend. So many expressed interest that Trump predicted overflow crowds of 100,000, and was surprised, irked, deflated, impatient, undone, furious, disappointed, exhausted and immediately scheming (see photo) when only 6,200 showed up.