We all remember Andrew Yang. He was the political outsider who liked to wear “Math” pins while running in the 2020 Democratic primary race for President. His ideas were interesting but unrealistic, and he ended up getting only a tiny percentage of the vote, but he seemed affable enough, right?
Unfortunately, after also flaming out in the Democratic primary race for Mayor of New York City, Andrew Yang decided to go full villain. He announced the launch of a new and (best anyone can tell) imaginary new political party, and he timed it to the release of his new high profile book. And therein lies the trouble.
When Yang launched an imaginary new political party, the media gave him huge free publicity, without ever once calling him out for just trying to create controversy to cash in with his new book. Why did they give him a free pass? Because books are also how the major media pundits cash in.
The dirtiest secret in all of politics these days, whether you’re a politician or a pundit, is that writing a book is how you print money. Someone else usually writes most of it for you. All you have to do is create the right controversy around its launch, you’ll make millions.
Ben Carson (Republican, 2016) and Marianne Williamson (Democrat, 2020) ran essentially fake campaigns for President, just to bring free publicity to their books – and it worked. We’re going to see more of these phony “book tour” candidacies going forward. It’s just too tempting, because it’s too profitable. You just have to suffer the indignity of losing badly and dropping out, and then you get to wipe your tears with the money you made from book sales along the way.
But the media never calls this stuff out, because they also have books to sell. The biggest names from MSNBC, CNN, Fox, the New York Times, the biggest online news sites, etc, all publish books that bring them huge paydays. It’s just how it works.
In fact a lot of political journalists see the day to day slog of working in the industry as merely the price they have to pay to build up their brand, so they can then cash in with a book.
Political journalists and pundits at the top of their career write aspirational books that their fans will lap up. Pundits who are at the end of their viability write tell-all books that people love because of the controversy and dirt involved.
Then there are people like Ann Coulter, whose entire business model is based on periodically saying strategically idiotic things, so conservatives will buy her book just to own the libs. We all think of Coulter as a punchline. But she’s the one laughing; she’s made millions by playing the fool.
If major media pundits want to get rich by using their recognizability to sell their books, so be it. It’s not as if there’s something inherently wrong with books; people should be reading more books in general. The problem is that these media hosts and pundits don’t want you, the audience, to see them merely as book salesmen. So they never call anyone else out for merely trying to create controversy to sell books, because then someone might call them out for cashing in with well-timed books of their own.
So now we’ve got people running entire imaginary political campaigns (or in the case of Andrew Yang, creating entire imaginary political parties) just to get rich selling books. And it’s only going to get worse because we’ve got a media that’s afraid to call out this behavior, because they’re also getting rich selling books. This vicious cycle has to stop.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report