Category: Archive

Publish and perish?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

A question mark is hanging over the future of the Colorado-based publishing company Roberts Rinehart, which is currently fighting a $100 million libel suit arising from its publishing of Sean McPhilemy’s controversial book, "The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland."

The book alleges that senior members of the RUC, Unionist businessmen, members of the Protestant clergy, the security forces and the British secret service operated a secret terrorist committee that colluded with loyalist assassins to murder members of the Catholic nationalist community.

Following the book’s publication, Roberts Rinehart, which was founded in 1983, and McPhilemy, were slapped with the $100 million libel by Portadown, Co. Armagh, businessmen David and Albert Prentice. The case is, at present, winding its way through the court system in Washington, D.C. Although McPhilemy and Roberts Rinehart have been winning preliminary motions in the legal battle, the cost of defending themselves is believed to be threatening the future of the company as it currently exists.

Russell Smith, counsel to both Roberts Rinehart and Sean McPhilemy, declined to comment on the future of the publishing company.

"I can’t say, things are still up in the air or in flux," he said. "I would expect that within this month or early next month we would know more. I do not know enough definitively about what’s going on."

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Jack Van Zandt, former editor in chief at Roberts Rinehart and now a private consultant, said that the lawsuit made it impossible for the company to continue financially. He referred further queries to Roberts Rinehart corporate attorney, John Sullivan.

At the time of going to press, the Echo was unable to make contact with Sullivan or with Rick Rinehart, the company’s publisher and owner.

While the financial problems reportedly are a drain on the publishing company, the news from the legal front has been more positive.

"We have been winning the legal battle," Smith said of the lawsuit. But he added that the legal battle always takes time, it’s arduous and attracts a lot of publicity other than for the book. "It’s a dagger over the heads of the book publishers and Sean McPhilemy."

Russell said that he believed the figure of $100 million was "set deliberately to put a dark financial cloud" over the heads of the publisher and author.

"This lawsuit, even if it’s thrown out, has already succeeded in requiring the publisher and the author being distracted and spending time defending litigation instead of doing other things," Russell said. He added that it had also made it more difficult for both to obtain needed credit.

Smith said that he believed that within two months, the lawsuit would be thrown out and this would send a message to others who were contemplating suing, among them Ulster Unionist Party Leader David Trimble.

"Both Roberts Rinehart and Sean McPhilemy have fought this lawsuit to the hilt, and if Roberts Rinehart was to go down, it would go down fighting," Russell said.

Publishing industry magazine Publishers Weekly reported last week that "rumors" were circulating that the publishing company may now be "on the block."

Rick Rinehart declined to confirm the company’s status to Publishers Weekly. Although he said there was "nothing to report at the moment," he also said there may be an announcement in the next few weeks "about various options, including not selling the company." He told PW that current negotiations about the future of the firm "were not particularly associated with the ongoing lawsuit."

Roberts Rinehart has published an array of books on Irish history and culture. Through its Irish American Book Company division, it distributes books from three of Ireland’s top publishers, Mercier Press, O’Brien Press and Wolfhound Press. The company also has an Irish and Scottish direct-mail catalogue called Irish Village.

Authors published by the company include Tim Pat Coogan, Gerry Adams, Conor O’Clery, Gary McMichael and others. Its specialties have included nature, ecology, fiction, travel, art and photography, and children’s books.

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