Move Over, Tom Clancy

Needless to say, it takes a lot to shock Chatterbox these days. But he is gape-jawed over a little-noticed data bit in the recent New York Times-CBS News Poll. According to the survey, conducted between Saturday and Monday, 5 percent of adult Americans claim to have read all of the Starr report before it was even published in book form.

Since you risk jail time for perjuring yourself to a pollster (just a Chatterbox chuckle), that 5-percent number is, of course, rigorously accurate. (To be technical, given the survey’s margin of error, the figure could theoretically be as high as 10 percent or as low as zero). Let’s put 5 percent in context: Given roughly 190 million adult Americans, that would mean that 9.5 million dedicated students of public policy have poured over every salacious footnote in the book-length manuscript. Imagine the entire state of Michigan (1990 population: 9.3 million) from Benton Harbor to Escanaba all sharing Monica’s confusion over whether the stain on her dress was semen or spinach dip.

A Chatterbox champagne toast goes out to Starr’s two amanuenses, Brett Kavanaugh and Stephen Bates. In just three breathless days, these sex-obsessed stenographers have zoomed past Tom Clancy and John Grisham, the only authors who can command 2-million copy first printings. Even when it comes to paperbacks, Clancy’s top sales figure is still 9 million copies for The Hunt for the Red October. When you subtract all the would-be readers who dozed off in the middle of Clancy’s catalogue of military hardware, you begin to understand why Kavanaugh and Bates are the McGwire and Sosa of 20th century letters.

Walter Shapiro