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Seeing red over yellow. (Letters).

Seth Mnookin's review of my book Coloring the News ("Yellow Journalism," January/February 2002) is filled with mistakes and misrepresentations. He writes that "McGowan acknowledges that the Free Press was willing to publish his book; it was the author who balked" before seeking a new publisher, Encounter Books. Completely untrue. I never acknowledged in the least that the Free Press was willing to publish my book because they were in fact not willing to do so, for reasons which were entirely political and in no way connected to the manuscript's quality. My comment, which he quotes, about the Free Press not supporting the book had I stayed, was entirely hypothetical, and wrenched completely out of context.

Shortly before I delivered my manuscript, in November 1998, the Free Press had a change in editorial director who initiated a substantial shift in editorial vision. I gave the Free Press exactly the book they had contracted for, but they no longer wanted it. Two different literary agents, a publishing industry consultant and a prominent Manhattan literary attorney reviewed my situation. Although the Free Press was being legally coy in their handling of my book, these advisors concluded that if I wanted Coloring the News to see daylight I should take it elsewhere. I did this, reluctantly. Why would I want to leave an established house like the Free Press for a then-fledgling, Encounter, and to do so still owed the second half of my advance?

I urged Mnookin to contact former Free Press editorial director Adam Bellow, who clearly believes Coloring the News was purged for "ideological" reasons. Instead Mnookin relied on the sole opinion of the former second-string editor, Mitch Horowitz, who said it was a "complete fabrication" that the Free Press had backed out. Mnookin makes no mention that Horowitz had left the Free Press months before I delivered, and had absolutely no awareness of what had transpired in the back and forth between me and the new regime.

Mnookin also writes that "McGowan seems to have done little research since the mid-90s, when he initially signed on to write his book." He adds: "A humorous example of how out-of-date this book is: Anna Quindlen is the most frequently cited New York Times columnist, and she hasn't worked for the paper since 1994." This is also not true. Six of the book's eight chapters open with substantial anecdotes from 1996 and beyond. I examine a few dozen stories from after February 1995, including the UNITY Convention of 1999; the Miami Heralds coverage of Elian Gonzalez case in 1999 and 2000; the New York Times coverage of the Amadou Diallo case in 1999 and subsequent trial in 2000; and miscoverage of the running battle between the courts and the Boy Scouts over gay issues in 1999 and 2000.

As for the Quindlen jab, Bob Herbert is the most frequently cited New York Times columnist--seven citations in the index to Quindlen's four--and he's still at the Times. Additionally, every reference to Herbert relates to news stories that occurred after I signed on to do the book. Yellow journalism? Mnookin's review, not my book.
WILLIAM McGOWAN
Author, Coloring the News
Former editor, The Washington Monthly


Seth Mnookin replies: McGowan's publicist at Encounter Books claimed that the Free Press refused to release Coloring the News because it was too controversial. This is simply not true. What happened is McGowan's original publisher asked for revisions to a manuscript. As any writer knows, this is common practice. If McGowan felt like this call for revisions meant his project wasn't going to get the time and energy it deserved, it was certainly within his rights to pull his book and sell it elsewhere, which he did. But to use this as proof of the liberal media conspiracy is ridiculous. Ignoring the question of whether 1996 counts as the mid-1990s or not, I'll stand by my claim that this book is woefully out of date. A couple of choice illustrations, sprinkled in at the beginning of this or that chapter, do nothing to change that.
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Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:676
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