Investigative journalist Russ Baker, who has written an explosive new volume on the Bush dynasty called Family of Secrets, did not need to convince anyone at his book party at SoHo House on Monday night that he wasn’t a crazy conspiracy nut. Dressed in a suit and tie and standing before a microphone at the front of the dimly lit dining room that had been rented out for the occasion, Mr. Baker was the image of trustworthiness as he read excerpts from his book and took questions from the audience.
One person asked to hear more on what Mr. Baker had learned about George H. W. Bush’s connection to the Kennedy assassination. Another asked how Mr. Baker’s book might be used to teach young people about journalism.
Then someone brought up the million dollar question: Namely, how is Mr. Baker planning to convince the mainstream media that the startling discoveries he’d made about the Bush family—discoveries that Bloomsbury Press, Mr. Baker’s publisher, has advertised as revelatory and paradigm-shifting—were worth paying attention to?
“I don’t know!” Mr. Baker said at first. “I mean, my entire career I have done stories that people said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is just going to go everywhere!’ But the reality is the bigger the story, the [harder it is]—and I have many, many friends who work for major news organizations—several of them are here today—and they tell me it’s very difficult to get this stuff out there. Because it’s explosive, and it questions some of the underlying structural values of our country.”
He said corporate interests at mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, CBS and ABC—which are “still run on a bottom-line basis”—prevented reporters there from addressing sensational information of the sort he had uncovered during his research.
Some promising glimmers had already shone through, though, Mr. Baker said. Time magazine had reviewed the book, for one, and word was that The Washington Post was planning to also. “We’re getting things like Huffington Post and those types of places,” he said. “We’re hoping everybody will spread the word.”
Judith Regan, the former publisher who last year accused Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes of conspiring to defame her in order to advance the presidential ambitions of Rudy Giuliani, sat in the back of the room wearing a dark brown fur coat and a large golden necklace. Mr. Baker was going on her radio show the next day, she said.
Pub Crawl asked Ms. Regan how, if you’re sitting on some volatile piece of information that no one else has really documented before, do you convince people not to dismiss you as a lunatic?
“It’s impossible,” Ms. Regan said. “The forces of the corporate-owned media are so powerful that a voice like this is hard to be heard because all they do is marginalize you and demonize you and defame you. The truth is, these are the few people left who do real reporting. It’s very hard to find people who do real investigative reporting anymore, and it’s these lone guys who don’t have any ax to grind, they’re not serving any corporate agenda, they’re not serving anything but their own reporting. They’re very brave and they’re very courageous and they’re very uncelebrated, because the mainstream media will not listen to them. People who are responsible have to help him. They do.”
She added: “The other problem is the big corporations hire people to sit in little rooms in Brooklyn and blog and to interfere with people like Russ. I’m quite familiar with this process. If you’re one little person, it’s you against the world, it’s David and Goliath, and it’s hard.”
Ms. Regan excused herself, explaining that she had to go home and read Mr. Baker’s book in advance of their interview the next day.
Dan Rather, meanwhile, whose controversial 60 Minutes report on George W. Bush’s military service record Mr. Baker’s book all but ratifies, was telling a group of people that even if Mr. Baker’s book got a bad review in The Washington Post, it was better than getting nothing.
“It’s a good book and he’s a nice guy,” Mr. Rather said, turning to Mr. Baker’s agent Andrew Stuart. “But it’s a proverbial third rail.”
Asked a moment later how a reporter like Mr. Baker should go about establishing his credibility among people who might dismiss him out of hand as no more reliable than a 9/11 truther, Mr. Rather said it was a difficult thing.
“Journalism is filled with a lot of decent-intending, wanting-to-do-the-right-thing people,” he said. “You just have to keep constantly asking a version of ‘please read the book.’… You know, fear runs rampant in journalism—I do not except myself in that criticism—and with a subject like this, the fear is if you touch it, you’re gonna get burned, and you may get burned to a crisp.”
The editor Peter Ginna, who acquired Mr. Baker’s book for Bloomsbury, said that what won him over were Mr. Baker’s extensive footnotes and rigorous sourcing.
“I didn’t just take it on faith,” he said. “When [Andrew] brought him to meet with prospective publishers, I spent a fair amount of time grilling him about what the sources were, what he could tell us how about he’d done the research and so forth. I worked at Oxford University Press for 10 years and published several Pulitzer Prize–winning historians, and I have not published any book that was more extensively documented and more impeccably footnoted than this one.”
Mr. Baker, for his part, during a post-reading interview, did not seem overly concerned with his reception.
“My response is, I’m the last guy in the world that anybody could label a conspiracy theorist,” he said. “You know, I have two decades of doing fact-filled stories that have never been contested. Knock on wood, no corrections or lawsuits. My stuff is pretty good! It’s pretty accurate.”