O'Reilly vs. DNC: Who's telling the truth?

Posted: Jan 28, 2004 12:00 AM

 Last year was the year for political book wars. The three top-selling political non-fiction books were Hillary Clinton's "Living History," followed by Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," and then Bill O'Reilly's "Who's Looking Out For You?" O'Reilly has touted the book-sales races on his television program, radio show and Web site.

 The competition between O'Reilly's book and Clinton's book has become a major issue for O'Reilly. On NBC's "Today," O'Reilly stated, "We're running against Hillary for most copies of non-fiction books sold this year." On Dec. 16, O'Reilly touted the sales race on the FoxNews.com Web site, saying that "we've got a real shot at overtaking Mrs. Clinton ... Ridiculous? Only if you're rooting for her."

 O'Reilly has alleged that Clinton's book-sales numbers are inflated by bulk sales to the Democratic National Committee. On FoxNews.com, on Nov. 7, O'Reilly wrote: "Word is the DNC has purchased thousands of copies of Hillary Clinton's book." On his Web site, on Jan. 12, O'Reilly labeled "Hillary's sales" the "Most Ridiculous Item of the Day." "Right now, after a little more than three months, 'Who's Looking Out For You?' has sold about 800,000 copies ... Senator Clinton's book, as far as we can determine (and information is hard to come by), has sold about 1.1 million copies. However, the Democratic National Committee has bought a ton of copies -- and it's giving them away in exchange for donations," O'Reilly wrote.

 O'Reilly has also jumped into the fray with Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them." On "Today," he said, "We've outsold that guy all over the place." Matt Drudge immediately posted Nielsen BookScan statistics contradicting O'Reilly's assertions. "Nielsen, the same company that ranks O'Reilly No. 1 on Cable TV, currently places O'Reilly at No. 6 for the year on the non-fiction charts -- trailing rival Al Franken by nearly 30 percent!" he wrote on DrudgeReport.com.

 O'Reilly fired back by quoting Nielsen vice president of sales and services Jim King, who said Nielsen had put Drudge on notice regarding his unlicensed use of BookScan numbers. O'Reilly wrote this on his Web site: "So let's sum it up, folks: The 'irrefutable source' that Drudge cited in bashing Bill ... is telling Drudge: 1) It's not irrefutable; 2) it undercounts book sales by as much as 35 percent; 3) don't publish the list on your site again."

 O'Reilly alleges that Franken's book sales are inflated because of bulk buys, especially bulk buys from the Democratic National Committee. According to O'Reilly, Tony Welch, DNC press secretary, refused to answer specific questions about the number of "smear books" the DNC has bought. "A political party jacking up book sales of dubious people is bad enough," O'Reilly wrote on Nov. 7 on the FoxNews Web site, "but using the publishing industry to advance political power is disgraceful."

 I spoke with Welch by telephone on Sunday afternoon. He disputed O'Reilly's allegations about Hillary Clinton's "Living History" and denied that the DNC bought any copies of her book. Welch also said that the DNC had in fact made bulk buys of what O'Reilly terms "smear books" and confirmed that such practice is typical. He claims the bulk buys for each book were less than 1,500.

 O'Reilly's book publicist at Broadway Books could not be reached for comment.

 Bulk buys of liberal books are certainly common. The American Prowler reported in June 2003 that Hillary Clinton told Democratic Senate colleagues and other groups that if they wanted her to appear at fund-raisers, they would have to buy copies of her book "in bulk for free distribution at the event" or make her book "available for purchase while she is in attendance." O'Reilly claims that five Web sites, including the DNC, are buying "smear books" in bulk.

 Either O'Reilly's information is unfounded and his claims regarding Hillary Clinton and Al Franken are incorrect, or the DNC is lying. Either way, someone isn't telling the truth. Who is it?