When Hillary Clinton went on the Today show in early 1998 to defend her husband against the malefactions of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," she was pitied and disparaged in roughly equal measure. Rightly so: Her husband, it turned out, was dallying with an intern less than half his age. And while the president has garnered more than his share of conservative vitriol, the notion that he was the victim of a conspiracy--a "vast" one, no less--seemed paranoid, the stuff of an especially bad Oliver Stone movie.
But perhaps Hillary's main mistake was her choice of words. Rupert Murdoch's varied holdings, for example, are vast and right wing, but far more concerned with profit as an ultimate end than with ideology. And though the fortune of Richard Mellon Scaife has helped underwrite such enduring conservative institutions as the Heritage Foundation and Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation, those relationships are either not very secret (Heritage's funding is a matter of public record) or not very vast (only a half-dozen or so of the lawyers associated with the Paula Jones lawsuit were involved in dishing Linda Tripp's Lewinsky gossip to the Office of Independent Counsel).
A real right-wing conspiracy would have to be more densely networked, more full service. It would need both a fundraising arm and a propaganda arm--and it would have to be below the radar screen, beneath mainstream notice. Such a conspiracy would have to link together not just Murdoch and Scaife, but also the veterans of conservatism (say, William F. Buckley, Jr.) with its youth corps (Ann Coulter, for one), its political operatives (Haley Barbour) with its intellectuals (Dinesh D'Souza), its incumbents (Dick Armey) with its aspirants (Steve Forbes), its eminences (Russell Kirk) with its cranks (David Horowitz), its godfathers (Barry Goldwater) with its wayward sons (Pat Buchanan).
With the publication of Buchanan's A Republic, Not an Empire, the wayward son has joined the godfather. Having dropped Little, Brown, Buchanan issued his latest book through a small, Washington, D.C.-based publishing company named Regnery--a development far more significant than Buchanan's latest update on Jewish bankers. Regnery's fold, which has been swelling impressively in recent years, now includes Horowitz, Coulter, Armey, Barbour, Roberts, D'Souza, and even Forbes, whose election-year tome A New Birth of Freedom was released by Regnery in October.
Welcome to the world of Regnery Publishing--lifestyle press for conservatives, preferred printer of presidential hopefuls, and venerable publisher of books for the culture wars. Call it--gracelessly but more accurately--a medium-sized, loosely linked network of conservative types, with few degrees of separation and similar political aims. Just don't call it a conspiracy.
Regnery Publishing's right-leaning corporate philosophy actually goes back to 1947, when the late Henry Regnery, Sr., set out to publish "good books," as he wrote in the company's first catalogue, "wherever we find them." Works by Regnery's friends among the nascent conservative intelligentsia soon followed, including Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, William F. Buckley, Jr.'s God and Man at Yale, Whittaker Chambers's Witness, and Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative. Henry Regnery's son, Alfred Regnery, who took over in 1986 and moved the company to Washington, D.C., has likewise been both a friend to and publisher of conservative authors. After stints in law school (where he roomed with American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene) and as college director of Young Americans for Freedom, Alfred Regnery was appointed head of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention by Ronald Reagan in 1983. While there, as reported by Murray Waas in The New Republic, he helped run Edwin Meese's ill-fated President's Commission on Pornography; disbursed generous grants to Jerry Falwell's Liberty College, Meese pal George Nicholson, and professional antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly; authored, with then-Assistant Secretary of Education Gary Bauer, a much-ridiculed report called "Chaos in the Public Schools"; and in general cultivated an updated version of his father's network of friends.
But by the time Alfred Regnery took over the family business, the firm had slipped into semi-dormancy. Regnery Publishing's 1993 purchase by newsletter magnate Tom Phillips woke it up. Phillips, one of the Republican National Committee's "Team 100" and a board member of the Claremont Institute, lavished both money and attention on his new acquisition. Leaving Alfred Regnery at the helm, Phillips folded the company into his Eagle Publishing division, an overtly political enterprise with a distinguished stable of conservative media: Human Events, a 56-year-old,ultra-right weekly newspaper; the Evans-Novak Political Report; the 75,000-member Conservative Book Club (founded in 1964 as "America was walking down Lyndon Johnson's path to a socialist 'Great Society'"); and a similar operation called the Christian Family Book Club. But perhaps most significant--given the central role direct mail has played in the conservative resurgence of recent decades--is Eagle's list brokerage operation, which rents out Eagle's own customer lists and those of organizations like Newt Gingrich's GOPAC, Empower America, the Western Journalism Center, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, not to mention Pat Buchanan's American Cause and the Steve Forbes for President campaign.
By the time Phillips Publishing spun off Eagle last July, an entirely new entity had emerged: a company that treats publishing less as a media enterprise than as a form of political activism. With a new, almost Gingrichian sensibility, Regnery's titles have begun to reflect the particular ideological and policy concerns of foundation-funded, third-wave conservative thinkers. Believe that the American family is in its death throes? Read Maggie Gallagher's The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love. Worried that American higher education is overrun by radical feminists and licentious left-wingers? Pick up the late George Roche's The Fall of the Ivory Tower: Government Funding, Corruption, and the Bankrupting of American Higher Education, or David Horowitz's The Heterodoxy Handbook: How to Survive the PC Campus. Believe that corrupt teachers' unions are the bane of the American education system? Read G. Gregory Moo's Power Grab: How the National Education Association is Betraying Our Children. If you suspect that the Walt Disney Corporation is out to lead children astray with Miramax films and "Gay Day" at Disney World, have a look at Disney: The Mouse Betrayed, by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer. And if you wonder whether more assault rifles equals less crime, imbibe the pithy wisdom of Wayne LaPierre's Guns, Crime, and Freedom.
Most of these authors hail from the tight-knit world of conservative think tanks and advocacy groups--the ideological heirs of Kirk, Buckley, and Goldwater. LaPierre, for instance, is vice president of the National Rifle Association, and Peter Schweizer is a media fellow at the Hoover Institution. Horowitz, whose career lately consists of writing one book every two years about his personal transformation from left-wing radical to right-wing reactionary, runs the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.
But the Phillips publishing family does not shy away from more direct forms of political engagement: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Phillips International (then called Phillips Publishing International) gave $125,150 in soft money to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 1997-1998, while Eagle Publishing gave the RNC another $19,500. (The RNC, notincidentally, was chaired by Regnery author Haley Barbour until January 1997.) The Phillips Publishing PAC has contributed $64,450 to various Republican officeholders and seekers during the same period, while Phillips himself gave $1,000 in contributions to 15 different Republican candidates in 1998. Eagle/Regnery, in other words, is more than just a conservative press--it is a partisan press, with close personal, organizational, and even fundraising ties to the Republican Party. It should thus come as no surprise that a frequent topic in the Regnery catalogue is one William Jefferson Clinton.
Since 1996, Regnery has published no less than eight presidential exposés: Roger Morris's Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America, Bill Gertz's Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security, Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett's Year of the Rat: How Bill Clinton Compromised U.S. Security for Chinese Cash, Ann Coulter's High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories, Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House, and R. Emmett Tyrrell's The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton: A Political Docu-Drama and Boy Clinton: The Political Biography. To date, five of these books have made various best-seller lists.
For all intents and purposes, the eight are interchangeable--with each other and, stylistically, with most of the other political books in Regnery's catalogue. Each posits a nebulous conspiracy centered around the Clinton White House, a murky stew that typically blends one or more of the following ingredients: shady banking and land deals loosely grouped under the "Whitewater" rubric; the murder--or induced suicide--of Vince Foster; Filegate and Travelgate; dalliances with prostitutes and nymphets; rampant drug use; treason via Chinese spies; and an Arkansas-based, Clinton-masterminded drug-smuggling outfit.
Thus constructed, Regnery's Clinton books run from the racy to the absurd. Tyrrell's Boy Clinton follows the future president from alleged cocaine benders with Little Rock entrepreneur Dan Lasater to his sojourn with communists in Prague during the late 1960s. ("Inquiries I had made about his trip to Moscow turned up little that was new," Tyrrell writes breathlessly. "People were still wondering where he had gotten sufficient funding for such a trip. Some still suspected a KGB front. Others suggested the CIA.") Coulter, although her tone is even more vicious than Evans-Pritchard's ("We have a national debate about whether he 'did it,' even though all sentient people know he did," she writes. "[O]therwise there would only be debates about whether to impeach or assassinate."), relies mostly on the standard litany: Whitewater, Foster's "mysterious" death, Filegate, and Clinton's Paula Jones deposition. It is Evans-Pritchard who proposes what is easily the most tangled web of Clintonian malfeasance, touching not only on the usual stuff--booze, women, land deals--but also on the Oklahoma City bombing, which he argues was actually an FBI sting gone wrong and one of many Justice Department operations by which Bill Clinton has sought to turn America into a police state.
The most infamous of the Regnery titles is undoubtedly Gary Aldrich's Unlimited Access, which included such "revelations" as lesbian encounters in the White House's basement showers, Hillary Clinton ordering miniature crack pipes to hang on the White House Christmas tree, and the claim--backed by anonymous sources--that Clinton made frequent trips to the nearby Marriott to shack up with a mistress "who may be a celebrity." That last bit helped catapult Unlimited Access to the top of The New York Times's best-seller list, though Aldrich soon revealed to The New Yorker's Jane Mayer that the Marriott story was "not quite solid" and, indeed, was "hypothetical." But according to Aldrich, it was Regnery editor Richard Vigilante who had moved the Marriott bit out of the epilogue (where it had been presented as a "mock investigation") and into the middle of the book (where it was presented as an actual occurrence). Vigilante, Aldrich told Mayer, threatened not to publish the book if Aldrich didn't agree to the changes.
In fact, the defects of Unlimited Access--a reliance on loose or anonymous sourcing; the blending of fact, fiction, and fantasy; the influence of Regnery's anti-Clinton esprit de corps--can be found, to varying degrees, in nearly all of Regnery's Clinton books. The drug-smuggling charges in Tyrrell's and Evans-Pritchard's books, for instance, were first aired in the pages of the Scaife-funded American Spectator, the hysterically conservative magazine of which Tyrrell is editor, founder, and chief polemicist. "The Arkansas Drug Shuttle," published in the Spectator in 1995, was a fanciful tale of cocaine smuggling, the CIA, and black cargo jets told to Tyrrell by former Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown--who happened to be on the Spectator's payroll at the time. Indeed, Tyrrell's dispatches stirred considerable controversy among the magazine's own staff. "Even within the Spectator, people had problems with the [drug-smuggling] stories," says David Brock, the Spectator's star investigative reporter at the time. "People didn't feel that they met the standards of the Spectator." Senior editor Christopher Caldwell jumped ship for The Weekly Standard, and when longtime Spectator publisher Ronald Burr tried to order an independent audit, Tyrrell fired him. "I can't really comment on the Spectator," says Alfred Regnery, who stands by all his company's Clinton books. "But a book publisher doesn't have the same obligations as a magazine. We cross-examine the authors to some extent, but publishers do not have the wherewithal to check every single fact."
Yet Regnery Publishing seems not just to encourage conspiracy theorizing from its authors, but to demand it. In 1997 Alfred Regnery approached veteran crime reporter Dan Moldea about writing a book on the Vince Foster case. Regnery, says Moldea, hoped that his contacts within the law-enforcement community would shed new light on the case. But Moldea came to the same conclusions as all the official inquiries did. "There were some mistakes, some omissions," says Moldea. "But this was a dead-bang, bona fide suicide." When Moldea turned in A Washington Tragedy: How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm, the editors at Regnery "were less than thrilled. There were some real battles that went on between us, between me and the staff," he says. "Things were being cut out of the book that I was really upset about, like this section on Scaife. It got so bad that I was almost hoping that they would reject the book, because I knew that they were just going to seal it and it would never see the light of day."
That, according to Moldea, was roughly the fate of Linda Tripp's own account of the Lewinsky scandal. In January, Alfred Regnery told The Washington Post that Vigilante had turned down Tripp's book in 1996 because her asking price of a half-million dollars was too high. "I came away with the impression of a woman who valued her privacy and her professional career," Vigilante said at the time, "and who was distinctly uninterested in writing a book." That wasn't quite the case, says Moldea. Regnery told him that Tripp "had come to Regnery wanting to write a book about Vince Foster and her experiences in the White House." But, says Moldea, she believed that if she ticked off her superiors, "she would have trouble with her job as a federal employee. So she was pulling her punches, and Richard Vigilante decided to reject her book."
It's not clear whether such decisions result from a top-down editorial policy or simply from a sort of reverse vetting process conducted by overeager staff editors. Alfred Regnery himself is no fire-breathing demagogue; Phillips, the more enthusiastically ideological of the two, may be more directly responsible for the direction Regnery's books began to take in 1993. "I always liked Al Regnery, even though we had nothing in common," says Moldea, who credits Regnery with standing by his version of the Foster book in the face of heavy intra-company criticism. Similarly, David Brock says that after criticizing the Aldrich book in Esquire, "I got a weird call from Alfred Regnery. He said he agreed with what I had said, and he conceded that there were problems with the book. Then I wanted details, but he didn't want to talk about it anymore." It is Vigilante's name, moreover, that comes up most frequently regarding editorial heavy-handedness.
What is clear, however, is that Regnery's conspiracy theorizing has benefited greatly from Eagle Publishing's web of media enterprises. Sometimes the synergies are transparent, as when Human Events published a list of the "10 Best Conservative Books of 1998," five of which were Regnery titles. Sometimes they're more subtle--not to say conspiratorial. Human Events editor Terrence Jeffrey had ample time, for instance, to convince Buchanan to switch to Regnery during the 1996 presidential race, when he served as Buchanan's campaign manager. (Jeffrey also failed to disclose his relationship with Buchanan when he penned a lengthy, front-page defense of A Republic, Not An Empire in the September 17 issue of Human Events). When Human Events excerpted the "Cox Report" in its June 4 issue, the weekly's lead feature was none other than Caspar Weinberger's introduction to Regnery's edition of the "Cox Report." Regnery's "Cox Report", in turn, was published the same month that Bill Gertz's Betrayal hit the stands (and just a few months before Regnery put out a second Timperlake and Triplett book, Red Dragon Rising: Communist China's Military Threat to America). Similarly, after Aldrich's Unlimited Access was published in June 1996, Human Events ran a five-page excerpt of the book in its July 5 issue--followed, in subsequent issues, by eight more articles defending or discussing the book. Tyrrell's Boy Clinton was also excerpted that year, while the Schweizers' Disney: The Mouse Betrayed was excerpted last spring. Like all Regnery titles, each was heavily hyped by the Conservative Book Club.
Certainly such coordination would not have required many phone calls; Human Events, Regnery, and the Conservative Book Club all share the same Washington, D.C., address. "There's no contract that exists that says we have to carry 'x' number of Regnery titles each year," says Brin Lewis, who doubles as vice president of Eagle Publishing and president of Eagle's book club division, which owns the Conservative Book Club. "But we carry a lot of them."
Normally, implausible exposés are relegated to remainder bins and the back pages of The National Enquirer. But partly thanks to Eagle's pipeline to the conservative elite, and partly thanks to a powerful direct mail operation that doubles as a de facto Eagle publicity machine, the likes of Aldrich's miniature crack pipes make it into broader forums like The Weekly Standard and The Wall Street Journal--and from there out into the political ether. Allegations of Clinton-related drug smuggling at Arkansas' Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, for instance, filtered up from the Spectator and Regnery's Clinton books to The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal--the latter running favorable reviews of the books as well as numerous editorials about the Mena "scandal"--which led to further recycling by The Washington Post and dozens of other newspapers in 1996 and 1997. Indeed, as recently as last March, a Wall Street Journal editorial writer used the Juanita Broadrick controversy as occasion to flog, yet again, the Mena connection. Such ludicrous charges might easily be dismissed as rant. Yet in the past three years, Republicans in Congress have opened not one, but two official inquiries into the matter--one under the auspices of the House Banking committee and one by the CIA Inspector General's office.
But if nothing else, attacking Bill Clinton has been a lucrative endeavor. "What's bad for the country is good for Eagle Publishing," gushed Tom Phillips to his audience at the annual right-wing convocation known as "the Weekend" last February. "Seven successful anti-Clinton books! We took six of them and put them in a shrink-wrapped six-pack for $99." When Clinton leaves office, there's always his presumptive heir; released in May, excerpted in Human Events--and offered free, via direct mail, to new Human Events subscribers--was former ABC analyst Bob Zelnick's Gore: A Political Life. And if Gore sells poorly, Eagle can always to go back to the Clinton well: Currently in bookstores, just in time for primary season, is Barbara Olson's Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton.