The publisher also hired a public relations firm one week after the 2014 launch of The Whole Pantry to draft a crisis plan in case Gibson was ever accused of lying about “part of or all her story”.
The previously unseen documents provide the most comprehensive insight yet into Penguin’s disregard of concerns about the disgraced author, who the multinational publisher paid a A$130,000 advance and worked with intimately for more than a year.
They outline how Penguin sought to capitalise on her brain cancer “survival” story through a publicity strategy circulated among senior staff.
In the memo, the head of Penguin’s cookbook division, Julie Gibbs, said the company’s publicity team would work with Gibson to “make sure” the book campaign was about how a “healthy lifestyle has prolonged Belle’s life – way beyond what was ever predicted by her doctors.”
After Gibson’s lies were revealed, and days before her book was pulled from the shelves, Penguin’s PR firm expressed relief that attention had turned from the publisher to the conwoman’s “friends” and that “we would like to avoid inserting ourselves into the ongoing conversation”, the documents reveal.
The documents also capture the fury of readers’ backlash against Penguin – one of the world’s biggest publishers – over its failure to do it due diligence before printing the book.
Incensed customers demanded refunds, accusing the company of having “just as much blood on your hands as she does” and of making “a quick buck on the back of her deception”.
Heads should have rolled at Penguin. They failed to fact check a story that was highly implausible – that diet alone cured a brain tumour. Not once did they say to the fraudster that we need to speak to your doctor.
And this book caused actual damage. People with cancer may have believed that they could cure their cancer by buying this nice book from Penguin and cooking the recipies in it.