Peter Bergen is one of the few Western journalists who has ever interviewed Osama bin Laden. In March 1997, after endless negotiations, he and Pulitzer Prize-winner Peter Arnett were taken by six machine gun-toting men to a secret location, to meet with bin Laden for CNN. "He's a very serious and committed individual, says Bergen, the author of "Holy War: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Ladin (Free Press). "The first impression you have of him is he's tall. He's around 6'4''. He walks with a slight stoop, and walks with a cane, due to some war injury he sustained. People say he has charisma; I didn't really see him as a charismatic individual. He's almost a low-key presence."
Bergen, who is currently CNN's terrorism expert, has spent years studying bin Ladin and his terror network. On September 11, says Bergen, "As soon as that second plane hit the building, I knew it was bin Laden, for the following reason. Which organization in the world has a group of people willing to die or martyr themselves in such an operation, and the technical capability to fly commercial jets? There's just an absence of other candidates." Bergen counts himself among the many who initially underestimated bin Laden. "The misapprehension that we all had, and I'm including myself in this category, is that when bin Laden declared war on the United States in 1996 and again repeated that claim in 1997 to CNN, a lot of people took that as a rhetorical flourish. But it turned out not to be a rhetorical flourish, but a really deadly serious declaration."
Bergen, whose book was originally scheduled to come out next year, believes that the U.S. will find bin Laden. "It's just inevitable now," he says. "The question is not are we going to find him. The question is how's he going to go out? Is he going to go out on some cloud of radioactive glory?" Let's hope not. Bergen has penned the book that many of us have been waiting for, a well-written volume which puts the present crisis in context. Vanity Fair has first serial rights.
THE COST-CUTTING BLUES:
These are tough times in publishing. Attendance at the prestigious $1,000-a- plate National Book Awards on Wednesday was down 20 percent from last year, as publishers in a weak economy looked to cut costs. This week, we had lunch with a publishing honcho who has a good overview of the industry. He reports that expense-account lunches and travel have been "cut drastically" at houses like HarperCollins. Likewise, sales conferences have either been canceled or scaled back. "You might end up in New Jersey or New York," he says. "Forget the glamour locations." Some publishing-house Christmas parties are being canceled, with charitable contributions being made instead. Not surprisingly, author tours are also being scaled back. In some cases, says our friend, "It's the domino effect. A lot of it is psychological. People tend to overreact."
If things weren't bad enough, publishers can't get their authors on TV because of the current crisis. News-driven cable shows are almost unapproachable. Only talk-show hosts can beat the book drought, it seems. Bill O'Reilly's "The No Spin Zone" (Broadway) is No. 1 on the new NYT nonfiction list. Hardball's Chris Matthews has a new book, "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think," (Free Press) which is now No. 8.
SIGNS OF LIFE:
There's new life at the newsstand for LIFE. This week, "In the Land of the Free: September 11 And After," a 128-page LIFE softcover "bookazine," went on sale. The book, a collection of photography and essays, was edited by TIME senior editor Robert Sullivan. It contains exclusive writings by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gordon Parks and Maya Angelou. Ten percent of profits will be donated to charity. "America's Parade," a history of the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, was also published. On December 5, "One Nation," a 192-page hardcover version of the first book, will also be published Little. Brown. What this represents, says editor Sullivan, is the rebirth of LIFE in a new form. "We look at ourself as a chronicler and a documentarian of great American events. What we tried to build here was a pictorial, a narrative document of the day and its aftermath."
PW reports that donation claims for September 11 books are "a slippery concept." Many publishers promised to donate the proceeds of books that pertain to the tragedy. But the percentage being donated varies greatly. "Some houses are donating all profits, and estimate that figure to be in the low-to-mid six figures," reports PW. "But many others boasting about their efforts are relying mostly on the author's contribution, or are donating only a small portion of profits, or are setting a break-even point so high that profits and hence donations become rather elusive."
ALLAH THAT JAZZ:
PW reports that books about Islam and the Middle East are red-hot right now: "Given their general missions of providing authoritative information on scholarly or specialized topics, it's not surprising that university presses have a head start with select, relevant and fresh backlist titles."
ALL THAT JAZEERA:
A new book titled "Al-Jazeera," being rushed out by Westview, will be available in January. According to the publisher, "Al-Jazeera, the first 24-hour, all-news channel in the Arab world, has revolutionized the media scene in the Middle East. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th the network has become a household name thanks to its unparalleled access to Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. It is a television network, however, that few in the West know anything about. This book will help to change all that. The objective of this book is to shed light on the background of the Al-Jazeera network, how it started, how it operates, the kinds of programming it broadcasts, its effects on Arab viewers, the reactions of the West and Arab regimes, and how the network managed to have exclusive statements from bin Laden and his senior spokesmen before and after the September 11th attacks."
According to PW Rights Alert, Basic paid a six-figure advance for a history of the New York Fire Department, the first in 60 years, by journalist Terry Golway, whose father, father-in-law, godfather and several uncles were all city firemen. The book, called "That Others Might Live: A History of the New York Fire Department," is scheduled to be published next fall. Golway, a columnist and city editor at the New York Observer, is also a co-author of "The Irish in America" and "For the Cause of Liberty: A Thousand Years of Ireland's Heroes." PW Rights Alert says that although "the book will culminate in the events of September 11, it will go back to the 18th century to trace the development of the department as a New York institution, and trace notable events in its long history, including the tradition of courage that has lasted to this day."