NewsBusters Book Review: The Bathsheba Deadline

When a conservative book comes out, the author usually spends some time talking about the media. The NewsBusters Book Review will provide excerpts from these passages and/or interview authors to learn what they think of the media and explain what they wrote.

Our first book is the novel "The Bathsheba Deadline" by Jack Engelhard. Engelhard is most known for "Indecent Proposal," which in 1993 was made into a movie featuring Robert Redford and Demi Moore.

Although "Indecent Proposal" was made into a movie, Engelhard is not a flaming Hollywood liberal (far from it). Similar to the changes made to Tom Clancy's books when converted to movies, the studio changed one of Engelhards main "Proposal" characters from an Arab Muslim to a westerner. Says Engelhard, "The billionaire in my novel who makes the million dollars for a night offer is not Robert Redford, but an Arab sheik."

Being a former journalist, Engelhard chose to make "Bathsheba" about office politics in a fictional newsroom. Inside the newsroom is replayed "the oldest love triangle of them all," the Biblical story of King David, Bathsheba, and her husband Uriah. Says Engelhard on Amazon.com:

"Fast forward and we have a new King David, only his name is Jay Garfield, blessed with good looks and power, and a new Bathsheba, call her Lyla, and call her sultry and beautiful. Jay Garfield presides over his own kingdom…the Manhattan Independent, a most influential daily newspaper based in New York. As managing editor, he rules the news, but not his emotions….

"Against a whirlwind of newsroom intrigue and international politics, Jay Garfield finds himself dazzled by his book editor, Lyla Crawford. She’s got the looks and the brains to hook any guy she wants – but she chose Jay. At Lyla’s irresistible urging, they begin a steamy newsroom love affair, which has no place to go because she's married to Phil Crawford, another reporter at the Manhattan Independent."

So far the plot would provoke at least mild interest in a Hollywood producer. But then there's the element that would have to go: "A slight case of not-entirely-secret adultery turns menacing when Phil embraces Islam as his new religion."

"The Bathsheba Deadline" is a serial novel from Amazon.com, which means you buy each installment of the book as it becomes available. It was Amazon's first experiment in serial installments and other authors have followed suit. The most recent segment, Part 5, came out February 22. Because of the nature of the book, Engelhard can make reference to current events, including editor Jay Garfield's wondering if he should publish the Danish Muhammad cartoons.

The segments cost $0.50 each and run from 28 to 53 pages.

Here is an interview I had with Jack Engelhard:

NB: Why did you choose the newsroom as the context for a novel?

ENGELHARD: I chose the newsroom for a setting for The Bathsheba Deadline because it's a place of power and the novel, the theme that keeps this novel going, is taken from the story of David and Bathsheba. I created a character, Jay Garfield, who is managing editor and thus ruler over a Manhattan newspaper and therefore a modern-day King David. Also, I know something about the workings of a newsroom because I've spent a good portion of my career in one newsroom or another.

NB: Has anyone accused you of being anti-Islam?

ENGELHARD: Actually, no. No one has accused me of being anti-Islam, not directly. What people say behind my back is another story. I am not anti-Islam at all. I happen to be pro-USA and pro-Israel. So I'd take issue against anyone who throws dirt on the USA or Israel.

NB: What do you think of the ideological balance of newsrooms?

ENGELHARD: There obviously is no ideological balance in most newsrooms here and abroad. It's mostly Left-wing. Back here in the USA, I think it all began with Woodward and Bernstein, who showed that you can topple a government simply by newspaper reporting. This alerted an entire idealistic generation that you can "change the world" through journalism. The same people who would have gone into teaching or other such services, chose journalism instead. These kids are today's grown-up editors, reporters and analysts, and they are indeed out, not to report, but to change the world, make it a better place, or rather, THEIR better place.

NB: What do you think should be done, if anything, to fix the problem of liberal bias?

ENGELHARD: I don't think anything can be done to change the balance, not in those places where the imbalances exist. Those people are tenured. Much incest. The solution is what we're doing right now, communicating by Internet. That's a whole new world of communications, which I call "bypass journalism" in The Bathsheba Deadline. Conventional journalism will always be there, but that is where America goes for "news snacks." That's all you'll get from a typical report at CBS-TV and all the rest. Real news is happening on the Web and thank goodness for this alternative, so powerful (and all of it happening so fast) that we are becoming the establishment, and I mean that in a good way.

For a while there, I was despairing about the new generation coming up - another gang of die-hard liberals? But it's interesting that those kids at Harvard voted three to one to resist the ouster of Lawrence Summers. So maybe we are not producing a generation of robots after all.

NB: What experience do you have as a journalist? What has prepared you to know about the newsroom environment?

ENGELHARD: As for my experience in journalism, which led me to write a novel about journalism, well, to keep it short - I began by editing and writing my own newspaper as part of a newspaper chain in Southern New Jersey; the paper was called The Willingboro Suburban (a weekly) - good way to learn the business inside/out. Moved on to reporter-columnist for a daily, The Burlington (NJ) Country Times. Following that I began a 20 year off-and-on career with the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I wrote an op-ed column, among other duties. Also, I served as editor at KYW all-news radio for some three years, over in Philadelphia. KYW (at that time at least) was America's largest regional all-news broadcaster, reaching about a million during drive-time, my shift. CNN supposedly learned from KYW.

NB: Are there liberals, such as those in Hollywood, who liked you for “Indecent Proposal" but have changed their minds because of your more recent work?

ENGELHARD: I made no new friends in Hollywood when I went after Spielberg and his Munich movie. I may have been first out of the gate when I wrote a piece on him for Israel's leading newspaper, which goes by ynetnews.on the web. (Yediot Ahronot.) The column was titled "Spielberg is no friend of Israel," and brother, that sure got things started. The piece was republished, whole or in part, all around the globe, even reaching Pravda. Spielberg has attacked me in turn, by referring to the article but without mentioning my name. But we know whom he's talking about.

As for Indecent Proposal, Hollywood took the theme, the plot, but left out all the rest (except for some striking dialogue). The billionaire in my novel who makes the million dollars for a night offer is not Robert Redford, but an Arab sheik. The husband is a Jewish speechwriter and the wife is a Grace Kelly type. So the novel, obviously, has many layers, political, religious, cultural, which Hollywood won't touch, not when it favors the USA or Israel. (The NY Times gave the novel a very good review.)

Spielberg had no problem with a moral equivalent movie like Munich - but could a Leon Uris get a novel like Exodus published and produced these days? Now - they will not turn you down for being "conservative." They use other words. Years ago when The Bathsheba Deadline was still in rough form and under a different title, I approached a leading Hollywood producer about it and he read it and said he loved it but that he was concerned about "demographics." Likewise publishers. I had several offer to publish Bathsheba if only I would tone down the pro-USA, pro-Israel approach and knock off being so tough on the Liberal press. I said, no thanks, without that I have no novel. Thank goodness Amazon came along.

My novel The Days of the Bitter End is about a guy who arrives in Greenwich Village practically the same day JFK is assassinated. He's originally from Europe, this character, and gets a job as a doorman at the Bitter End, and cannot understand what all the protesting is about. He is so grateful for being an American. This novel is being turned into a movie by a New York producer, Roger Paradiso. Would Hollywood touch a novel that stars someone who is "grateful" for being an American? Never mind.

NB: How has your Amazon.com experiment worked out?

ENGELHARD: Talk about "bypass journalism" - we've now got bypass literature. Amazon.com has been terrific. The Bathsheba Deadline - well, I update the novel month by month (it is a newsroom setting after all, and news keeps happening) and can keep it so current that my latest installment, Part 5, includes Editor Jay Garfield's deciding whether or not to publish those Danish cartoons.

That is a powerful new approach coming from Amazon, and if I need tech help, well, they are really good. Yup, there's a new sheriff in town. Back to "bypass" - the (mostly) New York publishing establishment has been lording it over writers for more than a century. They've got their own crowd, their own agenda, and if you're not John Updike, goodbye. We all saw Nan Talese when she had to face Oprah about James Frey, how Nan had to be dragged from her high offices to face the "masses." She hated every minute of being questioned and facing real people.

I had my own tiff, recently, with an editor at Knopf, whose name I will mention - what the hell - Ann Close. She was considering another novel of mine, Slot Attendant, and after about six months I contacted her by e-mail, and sent along a short piece I had published about Maureen Dowd and other women over 30, even over 50, still having fun (Dowd Does 43rd Street - chronwatch.com) I thought it was a light piece in favor of "you go girl" no matter the age. I had the piece tested by other women and they loved the article.

Ann Close went bonkers. She said the piece "undid" her and instructed her assistant to "give him the ax." (That's how they talk in those genteel offices?) Obviously, I had fluttered some sort of feminist agenda. How is it possible for non-agenda, free-thinking writers to get published when editors are so closed-minded, so petrified in their ways? Thank goodness for the Internet, thank goodness for Amazon.com - our only hope is bypassing them all and creating our own new world.