By JIM RUTENBERG and JULIE BOSMAN
© 2008 New York Times News Service
In the summer of 2004 the conservative gadfly Jerome R. Corsi shot to the top of the best-seller lists as co-author of “Unfit for Command,” the book attacking Sen. John Kerry’s record on a Vietnam War Swift boat that began the larger, damaging campaign against Kerry’s war credentials as he sought the presidency.
Almost exactly four years after that campaign began, Corsi has released a new attack book painting Sen. Barack Obama as a stealth radical liberal who has tried to cover up “extensive connections to Islam” – Obama is a Christian – and questioning whether Obama’s admitted experimentation with drugs during high school and college ever ceased.
The book is titled “The Obama Nation” and subtitled “Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality.” Significant portions of the book, released by Threshold Editions, a division of Simon & Schuster that has as its chief editor, Mary Matalin, the former Republican operative turned publisher-pundit, have already been challenged as misleading or false in the days since it made its debut on Aug. 1.
But it is to make its first appearance on The New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction hardcovers this Sunday – at No. 1. The book is pushed along by a large volume of bulk sales, intense voter interest in Obama and an aggressive marketing campaign that already has included 100 author interviews with talk radio hosts across the country, like Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy, Corsi said on Tuesday.
It is a significant, early success for Matalin’s three-year-old imprint, Threshold Editions, which is also planning to publish the memoirs of Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime political guru. The publishing house says it has undertaken an aggressive printing effort for anticipated demand, with 475,000 copies of “The Obama Nation” produced so far.
“The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” He said he was also planning to assist several conservative groups that intend to run advertisements against Obama this fall, though he would not name them.
Corsi, who has over the years written critically about Sen. John McCain as well, said he supported the Constitution Party presidential nominee, Chuck Baldwin, and had not been in touch with McCain aides. He called his reporting on Obama, which he stands by, “investigative,” not prosecutorial.
Matalin said in an interview that the book “was not designed to be, and does not set out to be, a political book,” calling it, rather, “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” She said she was unaware of efforts to link the book to any anti-Obama advertising.
In its timing, authorship and style of reportage, the book is reminiscent of the book that Corsi wrote with his co-author, John O’Neill, about Kerry, “Unfit for Command,” which included various charges that were ultimately undermined by news reports pointing out the contradictions. (Some critics against Kerry quoted in the book had earlier praised his bravery in incidents they were charging he had fabricated; one of them had earned a medal for bravery in a gun battle he accused Kerry of concocting.)
But books like “Unfit for Command,” which remained for some 12 weeks on the Times best-seller list, and, now, “The Obama Nation,” have become an effective and favored delivery system for political attacks. There have been anti-Clinton (both Bill and Hillary) and anti-Bush tomes too numerous to name. The sensational findings in these books, whether dubious or true, can quickly come to dominate the larger political discussion in the media, especially on cable television and the less readily detectible confines of talk radio and partisan Web sites.
Fact-checking the books can require extensive labor and time from independent journalists, whose work often trails behind the media echo chamber.
Web sites on the left have begun poring over Corsi’s latest book. Media Matters, which is run by David Brock, a former right-wing journalist who wrote a classic of the attack genre, “The Real Anita Hill,” has been aggressive in fact-checking the book, and its press releases on inaccuracies in the book have gotten some attention on television programs on cable.
Several of the book’s charges, in fact, are unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate.
For instance, Corsi writes that Obama had “yet to answer” whether he “stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended to his law school days or beyond,” asking, “How about in the U.S. Senate?”
But Obama, who admitted to occasional marijuana and cocaine use during his high school and early college years, wrote in his memoir that he had “stopped getting high” when he moved to New York in the early 1980s. And in an interview in 2003 with The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill., he said in response to questions of his drug use, “By the time I was 20, I don’t think I indulged again.”
In an interview, Corsi said Obama’s word was not to be trusted because “self-reporting, by people who have used drugs, as to when they stopped is inherently unreliable.”
In exploring Obama’s denials that he had been present for incendiary sermons of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Corsi cites a report in the conservative Web site NewsMax.com that Obama had attended a sermon on July 22, 2007, in which Wright blamed “the ‘white arrogance’ of America’s Caucasian majority for the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks.”
Obama was giving a speech in Florida that afternoon, and his campaign reported he had not attend Wright’s church that day. William Kristol, a columnist for The New York Times, had cited the same report in a column, but issued a correction.
“There is a dispute about the date, and Kristol chose to side with Obama,” Corsi said. “We can nitpick the date to death,” Corsi said, saying his “fundamental point” was Obama’s close association with someone embracing “black liberation theology” like Wright.
Corsi described most of the critiques of his book as “nitpicking,” like a contradiction of his claim in the book that Obama had failed to dedicate his book “Dreams of My Father” to his family; Obama dedicated the book to several family members, in the introduction. He called the Media Matters critique inconsequential because it was forwarding a liberal, political agenda.
Media Matters was created in part to answer a conservative “echo chamber” – one that liberal activists say they have still yet to match – that gives books like Corsi’s extra bounce. “There’s just no doubt that in terms of longer-term infrastructure, there’s more out there on the right than there is on the left,” said Cliff Schecter, author of a liberal attack book on McCain, “The Real McCain,” which, with 35,000 copies in print, did not hit The New York Times bestseller list.
Obama’s campaign itself has yet to weigh in heavily on the charges in Corsi’s book, appearing to face the classic decision between the risk of publicizing the book’s claims by addressing them and the risk of letting them sink into the public debate with no response.
“This book is nothing but a series of lies that were long ago discredited, written by an individual who was discredited after he wrote a similar book to help George Bush and Dick Cheney get re-elected four years ago,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama. “The reality is that there are many lie-filled books like this in the works cobbled together from the Internet to make money off of a presidential campaign.”
Several Democrats associated with Kerry’s campaign in 2004 said in interviews Tuesday that they were comfortable so far with Obama’s more muted response to the book, which has not showed up yet in television advertisements.
Even Corsi said this book did not have what “Unfit for Command” had: a built-in interest group, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to run advertisements against its target.
While he said he thought it was a certainty that he would be “assisting in the creation of ads in the fall,” he did not say what he believed their content would be.© The New York Times. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.