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New Cosby Bio Looks Like a Best-Seller

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September 5, 2014

Mark Whitaker, a former network news executive who spent the bulk of his career at Newsweek magazine, has produced a reader-friendly biography of entertainer Bill Cosby. Also: Charles M. Blow, Charles E. Cobb Jr., Joe Grimm, Joyce King, Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere, Clarence Page, Jason L. Riley (9/5/14)

Charles M. Blow

Charles E. Cobb Jr.

Joe Grimm

Joyce King

Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere

Clarence Page

Jason L. Riley

Mark Whitaker

Jason L. Riley

Jason L. Riley, the only black member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, has "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed" (Encounter Books, $23.99).

Riley is the latest black conservative to recycle attacks on "black liberals" and progressives of all races to the applause of the like-minded. The book jacket features praise from those who might be considered the usual suspects: Charles Krauthammer, Juan Williams, John McWhorter and Robert L. Woodson SrThomas Sowell wrote, "There is nothing to match Mr. Riley's book as a primer that will quickly bring you up to speed on the complicated subject of race in a week, or perhaps over a weekend." Riley has been so eager to spread his message that he has used the police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as a platform to charge that black leaders are ignoring black-on-black crime, an inaccuracy and change of subject for which he was called out.

One critic, Ian Blair, wrote in Salon, "Many of Riley's criticisms echo the oft-cited talking points of the right wing. Which makes his polemic, one that excoriates liberals for 'more of the same' particularly laughable. It is not new ideas he yearns for, but old ones that conform with his limited pre-established political leanings. But on a deeper level, Riley’s invective sheds light on the twisted logic that continues to pervade Republican circles. He thinks that once the liberal spell is lifted, black liberation will be realized. That when blacks no longer drink the liberal Kool-Aid, believing in their status as victims, they will be made whole. Republicans, desperately trying to convince blacks to abandon the Democratic Party, have imparted the same messaging (evidence be damned): Liberals have made your lives worse; but we can save you. Rid yourselves of liberalism, and follow us down the road to salvation.

"But the truth is no political ideology can save black people from the tireless forces of racism. White supremacy knows no party or clique. . . ."

Mark Whitaker

Mark Whitaker started working on "the first major biography of an American icon, comedian Bill Cosby," after leaving CNN in January 2013.

Scheduled for release Sept. 16, "Cosby: His Life and Times" (Simon & Schuster, $29.99 hardcover; $14.99 ebook) seems poised to become a best-seller.

Whitaker was executive vice president and managing editor of CNN Worldwide, but the more salient part of Whitaker's biography is his service at Newsweek magazine, where he was editor from 1998 to 2006.

The book reads with the flow of a newsmagazine article. "Each chapter is constructed in such an organic way that it sometimes feels like you’re reading a work of fiction," one reviewer wrote.

Critics of Cosby's personal responsibility message, such as social critic Michael Eric Dyson, won't find much sympathy here. "Respect for hard work is also a key to Cosby's much-debated views on racial issues," Whitaker writes in the prologue. "It's not that he is oblivious to racism — far from it. It's just that he believes that playing its victim has never gotten blacks very far, and that ultimately his people always have and always will have to work for any meaningful advances they achieve."

Whitaker also has a few words about Cosby and the news media:

"Experiences with the media have only compounded his wariness. As far as Cosby is concerned, it's been annoying enough that for fifty years reporters and critics have persisted in dwelling on the presence — or lack — of racial themes in his work, when he's always viewed himself as searching for universal humor that can touch anyone. But in recent decades, he's endured invasive coverage of a devastating family tragedy and an embarrassing personal scandal.

"He's had to respond to what he sees as deliberately mean-spirited questioning of his lavish philanthropy and his advanced academic degrees. He makes no secret that he doesn't trust reporters, and in return some of them have spiked coverage of him with words like angry and difficult to insinuate that there's another side to his personality besides the soft and playful one so openly on display with fans and friends. . . . "

The Hollywood Reporter ran an excerpt of the book as the cover story for its Aug. 20 Emmy award issue. Cosby is pictured holding his statuette.

Trade publications have produced glowing reviews. The marketing push includes a video in which Whitaker discusses his subject.

"We expect major review coverage for the book and Mark Whitaker will be doing several national media appearances this fall,"Maureen Cole, the book's publicist, told Journal-isms by email.

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