Digital television, satellite radio, videogames, iPods — so much media. Do books even matter anymore?
Apparently so. Over the past couple weeks, we've seen books brandished by world leaders, virtually weaponized, for a range of objectives.
At the U.N., Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resurrected Noam Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" — great beach read — to rip President Bush. The 3-year-old book shot to No. 1 on Amazon. (Hey, Bob Woodward: get Chavez' people on the line, pronto.)
On Fox News, President Clinton made big news defending his anti-terrorism record by invoking Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" six times.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf nailed a spot on 60 Minutes with his own book. (When asked earlier that week about details of the book, he demurred. He and Simon & Schuster — strong allies in the war on leaks.)
Then there's the tireless former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey who refashioned a story largely about alleged corruption — not to mention infidelity — into a civil rights manifesto. Pure political alchemy.
In each case, the book played a strategically vital role. Without the Chomsky, Chavez would have sounded a little loco. A book-less Musharraf would have been a lot less bookable on TV. And McGreevey would never have known the feel of Oprah's couch.
It's funny, since Americans are reading less than ever before, according to the NEA.
Maybe books — these books especially — have taken on a special aura of power precisely because they're unlikely to be read.
If we sat down and actually read Chomsky, well, we'd realize that Chavez probably didn't make it past page 20. If we read Clarke, we'd see that, yes, he's hard on Bush but hardly flattering to Clinton. (By the way, I own Clarke's book. Never opened it. I only know what I've read "about" the book on the Internet.)
President Bush has shown restraint on this count. You don't see him grandstanding, flaunting a book to burnish his image: he's too busy getting through those 60 books on his summer reading list.
By Mo Rocca