Thursday, May 18, 2006

King Dork

This past evening Ramesh Ponnuru volunteered himself as the sacrificial lamb for Jon Stewart's pointed sarcasm; he appeared on The Daily Show to promote his book The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.

Ponnuru's ability to walk blindly into Stewart's rhetorical traps was almost painful to watch, but the talk-show host "was respectful, attentive, and smarter than Ponnuru," as Jan Edmiston correctly observes. Similarly, the blogger at Coat Hangers at Dawn felt that the author "was left stammering and flustered trying to answer some basic and honest questions." Overall, I think, this is not a TV appearance that Ponnuru will be including in the annual holiday DVD he sends to his friends and family.

Following the lead of other reviewers and commentators, Stewart repeatedly slammed Ponnuru for the title of his book. After viewing the show, even a self-described "pro-life" commentator questions the wisdom of "such an inflammatory stance" and asks, "How is this book supposed to help establish dialogue?" Predictably, Ponnuru's colleague Kathryn Jean Lopez came to his defense and didn't understand how "Stewart couldn't get beyond" the book's title. (Her continuing series of comments on this book and its title really calls into question her understanding of rhetoric; I ridiculed the disingenuous argument that readers should ignore the title and just read the book itself in a previous post: Party Killer.)

In spite of my quarter century in the publishing business, I don't understand the dynamic of book publicity that motivates a rigidly conservative author to appear in front of an openly hostile audience on a show with an obviously liberal bent (or vice versa)--especially a program whose host is known for humiliating the more extreme guests. I suppose some authors think that even bad publicity is better than no publicity at all and that the random conservatives watching The Daily Show might be motivated to buy whatever book they're trying to shill.

There will also be some more free publicity generated by the cheerleading from Ponnuru's colleagues at the National Review. ("Anyway, good for Ramesh going into the pit like that," is the damningly faint praise from Jonah Goldberg.) But hasn't that keg been pretty much tapped dry already?

And perhaps enough right-wing bloggers will express their anger at the "lopsided" nature of the discussion--but what does that really say about Ponnuru himself if he can't even defend his book against a comedian? Are the few additional sales really worth the ignominy?

Then again, it might be simple desperation. I note that the book has been stuck near the 1600 sales rank on Amazon; maybe his appearance will push the book into the top 1000. But here's a more unflattering statistic: according to Amazon's "What do customers ultimately buy after viewing items like this?" links, most shoppers (47%) buy a novel intriguingly called King Dork. After seeing Ponnuru's debut on the Comedy Channel, I can understand why.

Update: it turns out I wasn't the first person to notice Ponnuru's Dork Problem.