Part 7 Michael A. Bellesiles: Mega Anti-Gun-Nut

Larry Pratt

    “Pilate saith unto him, What is truth?…” — John 18:38.

Have you ever wondered how a book publisher knows if what one of their authors writes is true, is accurate? Are any alleged facts checked? Or, for that matter, do book publishers even care if what they publish is true?

Well, we wondered this about Prof. Michael A. Bellesiles’ book Arming America: The Origins Of A National Gun Culture (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). This is, after all, a 603-page book with hundreds of footnotes and sources cited. So, we spoke with some of the folks at Knopf to try and get an answer to some of these questions. And what we learned was shocking.

The first person we talked to was Gabrielle Brooks, Promotion Director at Knopf. She is listed as a contact on a press release promoting the Bellesiles book. We asked her what fact-checking was done by anyone at Knopf on the book? Who did the checking? What, exactly, was checked? And what was learned when you checked his facts? For days, our call was not returned. Then we were told to email our questions. We did. And Brooks told us, by email: “Fact checking was done by the author.”

Somewhat taken aback by this reply — astonished, really — we then tried to speak with Sonny Mehta, Editor-In-Chief of Knopf. But, we got no further than a woman who identified herself only as “Janet,” an assistant to Mehta. She explained, regarding the Bellesiles book: “We just trust the author that his facts are accurate. That’s generally what publishers do. We’re not going to hire people to pour over his documents.” So, nobody at Knopf checked any of Bellesiles’ facts? No. “Janet” refers us to Knopf’s Production Editor, Kathy Hourigan.

Hourigan reiterates what “Janet” said. She tells us: “Unlike magazine publishers, we don’t hire fact-checkers to check every fact. We rely on the authors. We sign up and take on authors who are reputable and whose work we trust….” So, nobody at Knopf checked any of Bellesiles’ facts? “No,” says Hourigan, “that’s what I’m saying.” When we ask if this is not rather scary, she says: “No.”

Do the people at Knopf care if they’ve published a book that is not accurate? Hourigan says: “Absolutely. But, we don’t believe that is the case with this (Bellesiles) book.” But, how do you know unless you check his facts? She says that his editor, Jane Garrett, is “a very, very renowned editor.”

But, we say, being “renowned” doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you know if what Bellesiles has written is true. To which Hourigan replies: “That’s the whole point with an editor taking on books that the editor trusts. We don’t take on books from people we don’t trust or have a question about the scholarship and the research. We take on writers that we do trust….”

But, how is it known that an author is trustworthy unless his facts are checked?

Hourigan: “No, no, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we — because the people who are — Jane (Garrett) as an editor has read a lot of books in this field — and she has worked for many, many, many years with writers. And she knows a reputable writer.” She adds: “We as book publishers could never afford to publish books if we were fact-checking every fact of a writer that took 10 years to write a book. How could we possibly fact-check the book? We can’t afford to do that. No book publisher does that.” When asked what makes an author “reputable?”, she refers us to Bellesiles’ editor, Jane Garrett.

Garrett does not speak with us. But her Editorial Assistant Alexis Gargaglino does. She says what the others say: “The author is responsible for the fact-checking. He (Bellesiles) had outside readers who are academics and scholars.” And yes, she says, Garrett is aware of all the criticism of the Bellesiles book. OK, so is Garrett concerned about this criticism? “No, not at all,” says Gargaglino.

So, there you have it. Alfred A. Knopf has published a viciously anti-gun book, on the one of the most controversial subjects imaginable, yet nobody at Knopf bothered to check even one of Bellesiles’ facts. And Alexis Gargaglino adds insult to injury by saying — arrogantly and ignorantly — that they care “not at all” about any of the scholarly, documented-in-detail criticisms of Arming America.

Production Editor Kathy Hourigan says that Knopf cares — “absolutely” — if they’ve published a book that is inaccurate. But, alas, their policy of not checking any facts themselves, and relying only the author, shows that they do not care if this book is accurate. As for her question: “How could we possibly fact-check the (Bellesiles) book?”, the answer is obvious: By checking his facts!