As the author of three non-fiction books, two of which have made the New York Times bestsellers list, I have some experience in how to launch a book.
The rules are simple: Create buzz the week ahead of the book’s publication date by timing major TV and podcast appearances with military-like precision. Drop one major excerpt or interview two days ahead of the launch day and then, as the book comes out, offer “gets” to the most important outlets in descending order of importance. But—and here’s the huge caveat—do not give out so many excerpts so far ahead of the pub date that potential readers think they’ve read the best bits of the book ahead of time and therefore believe they don’t need to buy the actual book. You want to titillate readers, not drown them. In the past, I’ve been stopped from giving out snippets ahead of time to friends in the media by publicists screeching I’ll ruin everything if I do that.
Whether or not a book becomes a New York Times bestseller depends not just on the volume of sales, but on the velocity of those sales. It matters critically how many people buy the book that first week (and how many have pre-o rdered it up until that point), so the timing of all this is very important.
Now, there are many things that are very curious about the roll-out of Kushner’s book, ironically titled Breaking History. I wrote in June about how Kushner is indeed “breaking history”—just not in the way he intended—given that his book is coming out at the same time Congress is investigating his dealings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the Saudi Public Investment Fund invested $2 billion with Kushner six months after he left office, overriding concerns from advisors about Kushner’s inexperience.
Kushner has not been charged with wrongdoing, but still—not the best circumstances to launch a book.
Excerpts released so far include an effort to win sympathy for ill health (the New York Times reported that Kushner says he was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer in 2019 but kept it secret) and plaudits for his efforts in the Middle East. Kushner explains that because MBS was essential for the Abraham Accords (Kushner’s signature policy in the Middle East), he viewed the Saudi prince as a reformer more than a murderer. I am paraphrasing, but here’s what he wrote, per the Wall Street Journal:
While this situation [Khashoggi’s murder] was terrible, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the reforms that MBS was implementing were having a positive impact on millions of people in the kingdom—especially women. All of these reforms were major priorities for the United States, as they led to further progress in combating extremism and advancing economic opportunity and stability throughout the war-torn region. The kingdom was poised to build on this historic progress, and I believed it would.
Even if the congressional investigation hadn’t been launched into the Saudi billions dropped into to Kushner’s fund, the critics’ pens would already be out after reading those words.
Additionally, Kushner’s publication date is August 23, the height of summer vacation time. Conventional wisdom holds that this is not a good time to put out nonfiction books of this kind because people are relaxing and not watching the cable shows or news where a political, newsy book would ordinarily find its audience.
That is presumably why there’s been a dizzying deluge of snippets from the Kushner book already dispersed among different media outlets. They are so ubiquitous that they smack of desperation—not a good look. Presumably the publisher hopes these will whet our appetite for the whole, but, based on what I’ve read, there are two major obstacles to that.
Already, some of the chief allegations in Kushner’s book are being dismissed by several of his former colleagues, including the well-regarded war hero and former Trump chief of staff General John Kelly, as “fiction” in precisely the same way that Kushner, more than anyone in the White House (except perhaps his father-in-law), rained scorn on reportage of him from multiple sources, including my book, Kushner, Inc. When my book came out, a spokesperson for Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s then-lawyer Abbe Lowell (who is currently in a controversial spot all of his own) released a statement that said “every point that Ms. Ward mentioned in what she called her ‘fact checking’ stage was entirely false. It seems she has written a book of fiction rather than any serious attempt to get the facts. Correcting everything wrong would take too long and be pointless.”
Well, that’s exactly what a growing number of Kushner’s former colleagues say they feel about the accounts they’ve read so far by him.
One person who worked closely with Kushner and General Kelly told me on the condition of speaking anonymously (they still see Kushner) not to believe the allegation that Kelly shoved Ivanka in a corridor. “I don’t believe Kelly would ever shove a woman like that,” the source said. “Kelly was pretty cool. To me, it all seems kind of made up. Kelly was pretty calm. I mean, this is a guy whose family business was defending the United States. He’d lost one son; another son lost a leg fighting. This is a guy that’s been through a lot of stress and turmoil. He knows how to handle stress.”
“It is inconceivable that I would EVER shove a woman. Inconceivable. Never happen,” Kelly wrote in his email. “Would never intentionally do something like that. Also, don’t remember ever apologizing to her for something I didn’t do. I’d remember that.”
In addition to Kelly, both former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie (a long-time Kushner family nemesis) and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (a long-time Kushner family friend) have each questioned Kushner’s recounting of his respective dealings with them.
You’ve got to admit Christie’s comment, via a spokesperson, to the Daily Beast is pretty delicious in its withering understatement: “I’m looking forward to seeing Jared’s book where it belongs—in the fiction section at Barnes and Noble.”
And we are waiting to hear if Steve Bannon and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who have both been smeared in different ways, will respond. Kushner says Bannon was “toxic” (no shocks there). And, according to Kushner, McGahn was so “star-struck” by Kim Kardashian, who lobbied to release former drug dealer Alice Johnson, that he waived his legal objections to the pardoning of Johnson—but then leaked to the press that Trump had only pushed through the pardon because he was starstruck by Kardashian himself. I wonder if McGahn, a straight-shooter, will just take that. We shall see.
And I’d never question anyone’s health or suggest someone was lying about cancer, but former White House trade advisor Peter Navarro has. Given that he hung around to support Trump’s claims of a stolen election, has refused to testify to Congress’s Jan. 6th committee, and the fact that the Justice Department is now suing him to release emails, Navarro’s credibility isn’t currently riding high. But he doesn’t even buy Kushner’s thyroid cancer story! Last night, he told NewsMax, “That thyroid thing, that came out of nowhere. I saw the guy every day. There’s no sign that he was in any pain or danger or whatever. I think it’s just sympathy to try to sell his book now.”
It doesn’t seem like there could be a lower blow, even from a low source.
What all this back-stabbing and squabbling means is that even though Kushner may have held the title of “White House senior advisor” and even though he’s Trump’s son-in-law, it turns out that, as a memoirist of the Trump years, Kushner doesn’t have any more authority of the narrative of the dysfunctional, feuding, leaking Trump White House than anyone else.
One wonders if his publisher—Broadside Books, a branch of Harper Collins—realized this ahead of time…or if Harper’s owner—Kushner’s close buddy, Rupert Murdoch, who also publishes Britain’s Sun and News of the World and is all too familiar with the idiom “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”—simply said, “Let’s do it. We can put him on Fox News.”
Interestingly, though, from what we’ve seen, Kushner can’t help but tell the truth in a lot of it, without even realizing that perhaps he’s hanging himself as he writes.
He corroborates, intentionally or not, that, yes, what we all wrote about him was true. As I reported in Kushner, Inc., it appeared to his colleagues, especially those in the State Department, that Kushner was little more than an ambitious grifter who conducted U.S. foreign policy for his own self-interest, sometimes at the expense of U.S. national security. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was livid about Kushner’s interfering in the Middle East and his private dealings with MBS because he thought it was dangerous. And astonishingly, here’s Kushner on that himself, per the Wall Street Journal:
“You are lighting a match in a dry forest, and the whole Middle East is on fire,” Mr. Tillerson said, according to the book. “You might as well go before the Senate for confirmation because you are going to cause a war, and I am not going to be the one to be blamed for it.”
Mr. Kushner wrote that he immediately got Prince Mohammed on a call and, with Mr. Tillerson listening, asked the Saudi leader to disabuse the secretary of state of the notion that they were shaping policy without his input.
“I can’t operate like this!” Mr. Tillerson shouted before storming out of the room. Mr. Tillerson couldn’t be reached for comment, but he told U.S. lawmakers after he left the Trump administration that he thought Mr. Kushner undercut his authority.
During my reporting, I heard repeatedly from people around Tillerson that a very real concern was the fact that Kushner kept getting on the phone to MBS in the first place. It’s a serious, dangerous breach of protocol. And yet, years later, Kushner is blithely telling us that that’s what he did again and again—as if it were somehow a plus. The ends justify the means and so on.
He’s not just arrogant, it seems—he’s willfully blind.
Still, I may yet buy the book when it comes out, because, after all my research, I still want to be proven wrong about Kushner. Yes, you read that right. When I very first met him in the early 2000s, I liked him. (Kushner allegedly told the person who introduced us that he’ll never forgive him for that.) But, many years ago, he was vulnerable and open about his father then being in jail. He seemed genuinely interested in the media and journalists, and he was charming. I met Ivanka around then, and she was pretty likeable and impressive, too.
But ten or so years later, when I was asked to profile him for Esquire in 2016 while he was working on Trump’s campaign, my reporting showed that something had happened to both of them. And it wasn’t just their marriage, which is by far and away the most authentic and positive thing about them. Somehow, they’d become the worst versions of themselves: obsessed with PR, control, pettiness, money, revenge…and their entitlement was something else. (As I wrote in Kushner, Inc., the closing of the White House logs and the failure to fill out security forms correctly was pretty much unprecedented, as well as being dangerous.)
So, is there going to be any humanity in Kushner’s own story? Any lightbulb moment where he realizes not that he’s right—but, far more interestingly and revealingly, that he’s wrong?
A really honest account of the Trump presidency ought to explain how it came to be that Brookfield, the Canadian real estate income trust whose majority shareholder is the Qatari Investment Authority, bailed out Jared’s father’s troubled trophy building at 666 Fifth Avenue in what appeared to be an uneconomic deal, around the same time the U.S. withdrew its support of a Saudi- and Emirati-led blockade of Qatar. Coincidence?
Kushner ought to explain whether, in hindsight, it was a mistake to ignore what his father-in-law was saying and doing around Jan. 6th and instead bury himself in pardons (including his own father’s), as he testified to the Jan 6th committee he did.
He ought perhaps to explain, given what happened, whether he’d do things differently if he had the chance.
But will he say that?
Or will he just say, as I read this morning (I am paraphrasing) that basically, Ivanka and I couldn’t wait to leave the White House and now, you may have noticed, we don’t see so much of the old man?
In other words, We are still avoiding bad PR. That’s what we do.
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Author: Vicky Ward Investigates
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