Publishing Giants Bob Barnett and Esther Newberg Trade Jabs in Financial Times

In this weekend’s Financial Times magazine, I.F. Stone biographer and Nation correspondent D.D. Guttenplan tries his hand at the perennial Bob Barnett profile. It’s a lovely piece, and though much of it will be familiar to those who have heard Mr. Barnett’s story before, there is one passage—in which the all-powerful D.C. book deal broker and New York literary agent Esther Newberg take a few uncommonly harsh swipes at each other over an incident involving Geraldine Ferraro—that should be of special interest to publishing people in New York.

The incident took place more than 20 years ago. The short version is that Ms. Newberg was representing Ms. Ferraro on a memoir, and Mr. Barnett, who had helped prep Ms. Ferraro for the VP debate during the 1984 presidential campaign, got involved in some aspect of the negotiations. Together, Ms. Newberg and Mr. Barnett sold Ms. Ferarro’s book to Bantam for seven figures, making her the first Washington politician ever to win such a big deal and setting Mr. Barnett on the path to becoming one of the most powerful people in publishing.

Apparently there is some disagreement over how exactly the Ferraro deal went down. When Mr. Guttenplan first asked Mr. Barnett the name of the agent he worked with on it, he initially said, "A woman. I can’t remember." When Mr. Guttenplan followed up over e-mail, Mr. Barnett dodged it, claiming "he didn’t want the ‘individual—whomever it may be—badgered by colleagues’ for launching him into publishing."

That didn’t stop Mr. Guttenplan, who found Ms. Newberg’s name in the acknowledgements of Ms. Ferraro’s book and asked her to recount what happened. "He didn’t work with me," Ms. Newberg told him. "He did the contracts later. I sold the book in an auction. He watched." Then she added that "three-quarters of the people he [Barnett] represents are morally repugnant to me".

Mr. Guttenplan brought those remarks back to Mr. Barnett, who replied via email: "[She] taught me a lot, but seems to have regretted it—and been jealous about it—ever since."

Publishing Giants Bob Barnett and Esther Newberg Trade Jabs in Financial Times