The Flop of The Secret Man


The NYT has reported that The Secret Man, Bob Woodward's book that officially outed Deep Throat of Watergate fame, has sold far fewer copies than the publisher (and the NYT) expected.  Here was a book from the author who brought us Deep Throat actually naming the name and explaining the background of the clandestine source.  With such a momentous admission about the identity of the most famous corroborator in journalism history, why has the public largely yawned to the publication?

It is surmised that pre—publication new articles that reported Deep Throat was W. Mark Felt took the steam out of the public's curiosity.  One store owner was 'flabbergasted' when he sold only 5 of the 50 copies he ordered.  Overall, the sales are around 65,000 over the past 6 weeks (3500 sold this week).  Simon & Schuster printed a reported 750,000 copies.

Earlier in the year Woodward's book on the preparation of the Bush administration for the Iraq War ('Plan Of Attack') sold 183,000 copies.  'The Secret Man' has been no flop in the sense that it did make the NYT bestseller list reaching 4 and dropping to 12 last week.

How could the publishing of the name of Deep Throat not have sparked a buying spree of the book?

One thing may be that Mark Felt is a relative unknown.  If it had been Al Haig or someone of that stature, as some people had guessed, then you have a block—buster.  But no one remembers the team that finished in second place.  And Felt was an also—ran of the names familiar to the public.

More important, Watergate does not have the draw that it used to.  Since Watergate, we have seen the flop of the century in Jimmy Carter's term.  Reagan had the Iran—Contra affair.  The Clintons, besides Lewinsky, used their position to use the FBI and IRS as proxies to intimidate enemies.  And last, the heated Bush administration.

These debacles and abuses of power make Nixon more palatable.  Certainly not those on the Left, but the silent majority book—buyers have gotten over it. The 65,000 purchasers are probably represented by journalists who entered the profession largely due to Woodward and Bernstein and fossils of the Left who are stuck in the quagmire of the mind of Vietnam and Watergate.

The publisher is stuck with about 700,000 unsold copies, so watch for The Secret Man to show up in the discount bins at Borders and elsewhere. Political junkies should brace themselves for 2 or three copies as Christmas presents.

Neal Phenes of Et Tu Bloge   8 19 05