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Promotion Ain’t a 4-Letter Word


I have been evangelizing for the past couple of years about the need for progressive books to do well in not just the marketplace of ideas–but in the damn marketplace itself. On the left, we seemed to have a strange aversion to buying, supporting and promoting books, and films, because somehow these activities are perceived to have the stink of commercialism on them. This was self-defeating to our ideas, in the extreme. It’s starting to change, though, as MoveOn and progressive media have gotten behind certain films, and membership groups and blogs have started helping to get the word out about books.

The success of the Robert Greenwald projects and several books I’ve pushed to get published, such as George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, Jerome’s and Markos’ Crashing the Gate, and Glenn Greenwald’s How Would a Patriot Act? provide interesting case studies. And, have you noticed the correlation between the success of our ideas in the marketplace, and the changing attitude in the country–a warming, if you will, to our progressive and Democratic ideas?

While all of the polls proving Bush’s decline in the eyes of our fellow Americans can certainly not be attributed to just our books and films doing well, there is certainly something to the old saying that success breeds success. People who are not pre-dispositioned to progressive thinking need winning alternative ideas and analysis to turn to, as they begin to realize how much harm George Bush has done to this country. It’s important that we do the hard work of making sure our ideas reach these people. Rarely will they find us simply because we think we are right. But, joining a winning team, whose good ideas are resonating with a majority of the public? That, they’ll do.

Conservatives figured that out a long time ago. With their Conservative Book Clubs, Regnery Publishing and behind-the-scenes powerhouse PR firms and networked groups and think tanks and blondes-on-TV, they consistently and efficiently move books to the top of the bestseller lists. (And we saw the way the right-wing network can even push films onto network television this week with ABC’s Path to Shame.) By contrast, we progressives are just beginning to feel our way into creating the kinds of marketing and distribution channels that can consistently land progressive projects on bestseller lists.

I got involved in the business of publishing books because I was so frustrated with the mainstream media’s lack of will or ability to cover our views intelligently, and realized that the way around that was to create our own vehicles to carry our ideas forward. Part of this process was also learning how to make sure they sold well initially, so they didn’t die on the vine and end up sitting in a warehouse somewhere. Quick books, for me, seemed to be the way to get around a lack of media coverage about certain issues which are important to our overall progressive agenda. And, finding new voices and new frames for bringing these ideas to the public was also key for me. The mix has worked. We saw Lakoff’s ideas about "strict father" vs. "nurturant parent" worldviews enter the national discourse, just as we saw Glenn lead the mainstream media to understanding how radical theories of unitary executive power have emboldened the Bush presidency. We showed that we could get ideas out to the American people, and that they resonated.

I intend to keep publishing the occasional book, and to work editorially with new authors, such as Marcy Wheeler and her Sixteen Words project. But I also see that it’s time to help motivate the entire progressive community to understand the importance of having reliable and consistent marketing, distribution and sales channels for important progressive projects. I am a huge fan of the work Jane Hamsher has done here at FDL with the book salon, and am very interested in what Elizabeth Wagley’s Progressive Book Club can do to aid these efforts.

But the key to solving this dilemma for good is going to be getting progressive membership groups, progressive media, progressive companies and individuals to understand how important it is to promote projects that can propel progressive ideas into the public discourse.

And from what I’ve seen, particularly in the last few months, it will be the blogs that lead this important charge. Citizens engaging other citizens is how this part of the movement will really grow and spread to more Americans. We’ve shown that we can provide great resistance, as we did this past week to Disney/ABC, when we are called upon to stop injustice. And in some instances, we are finding our collective voice for promoting our new voices and ideas. We must, however, be able to regularly rally the support of the progressive community to ensure that our books and films chart well, so our ideas are there for all to see on the tops of the book and DVD bestseller lists, and box office charts.  

So, I believe part of my political calling these days is to help make folks aware of the projects I see out there that have the potential to offer solutions, to counter GOP spin, and to fight for the common good and justice for all. I’ll be working on tying together a few different efforts in the coming months, which I hope will strengthen our budding infrastructure for disseminating ideas, but in the meantime, I’ll let you know about projects I believe are worthy of your support. I have not so far, and I pledge to you now, that I will not take any money or act as a paid consultant on any book or film that I promote to the netroots on FDL. 

I’ll find other ways to pay the bills (perhaps a mix of publishing quick books from new voices, writing, producing and alliance-building). But I will not take money to promote others’ worthy projects. This is too important a task and juncture, in the development of our movement, for anyone to be able to question my motives. I am not advocating that no one else should be paid for doing publicity and outreach work–in fact, it’s a very under-appreciated talent and skill to understand how to get the word out about projects. Pay the folks who do this work for you HANDSOMELY!

I’ve just realized that there is a need for someone, or perhaps a group of us, to act as a clearinghouse for getting the word out about worthy books and films, and that perhaps it will help the trust factor to know that my/our praise cannot be bought, that it can only be earned through the quality of the ideas and products. Jane’s made such a great leap on this with the book salon, so FDL seems a good place to start. I’m going to use my platform here, in part, to begin acting as a clearinghouse promotion effort, and hope that other progressives will join me in helping to get the word out.

So, this week, as you know, I’ve been urging you to support "9/11 Press for the Truth." Please watch this film. If you agree with me, that this film can be instrumental to our efforts to hold government accountable, primarily because of its non-partisan nature and affiliation with the 9/11 Families, then please spread the word. You can still watch the movie for free in various places, such as MediaChannel and on Google. But, buy copies and urge people to go to the screenings, listed on the movie’s web site. If you need more urging, please read exec producer Rory O’Connor’s "Path from 9/11" piece.

The other project I want to tell you about today is a new book from John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, of the Center for Media and Democracy. It’s called The Best War Ever. I put up a viral video for the book at the top of this post. John sent the book to me a month ago, and I urge everyone to read it, in order to better understand the Bush Administration’s unprecedented use of propaganda–on its own citizens. After reading the book, I wrote down the parts that resonated most with me and sent it to John’s team, which they then used on the book’s web site. I believe The Best War Ever:

Offers the most compelling and complete study to date of the propaganda campaign that led us to war, and which continues to trap the Bush administration within a “mirrored echo chamber” of its own “message consistency”—with catastrophic consequences for the United States and the world.

Provides meticulous accounting of the polling and spin-doctoring of GOP and administration officials in laying out language to obscure the reality of this unilaterally-declared war of choice, and occupation.

Details how the Bush administration has aimed its propaganda not at a tactical deception of enemy combatants, but at the American people themselves. This violates long-standing and important American political traditions dating back to the Smith-Mundt Act, which was first passed by Congress in 1948 after lawmakers saw the harm that propaganda had done during Hitler’s reign in Germany.

Gives necessary context and background on the administration’s use of leaked information and ad hominem attacks to discredit their critics. It examines the case of CIA analyst Valerie Plame and her husband Joseph Wilson, showing how the administration’s eagerness to discredit a critic came at the cost of sacrificing important policy goals, including preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Is the first book to compile and compare various accountings of Iraqi and U.S. casualties as a result of this conflict. Why is there no official U.S. count of Iraqi dead? And why have pro-war pundits engaged in smear campaigns against respected research journals such as the Lancet for conducting their own research into the number of casualties?

As support for the war dwindles, Rampton and Stauber predict a next round of propaganda that will likely be aimed at rationalizing the failures to bring stability and democracy to Iraq. They also warn that the same officials who misled us into war with Iraq are now gearing up to argue for war with Iran. The authors urge all Americans to understand the lies that were told, and to hold accountable those responsible for creating and disseminating them.

All the authors’ proceeds from this book will be funneled right back into the Center for Media and Democracy’s important programs, like Congresspedia and Sourcewatch. These are some very good people, and worthy of support from the progressive movement, en masse.

So, send me word of your upcoming book and film projects, and I’ll check them out. For now, you can email me at 

thenixlist [at] earthlink [dot] net. No phone calls please.

I’m sure this effort will evolve as I go along, but for now, I’ll pick a post or two a week to point folks toward what I believe is worthy of support. And, hopefully, you’ll all agree!

We’ve got the ideas and new voices this country needs! Let’s take those book and DVD bestseller lists, and the box office, by storm.

May Ann Coulter and shadowy, wingnut film producers never find their way there again.

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Jennifer Nix

Jennifer Nix