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SUMMARY: We catalog the errors and distortions in the book The Obama Nation and conclude it is an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.
As the public begins paying more attention to the election, book publishers are rolling out their political books for the fall campaign.
One new book has vaulted to the top of the bestseller lists as we write this. The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, by Jerome R. Corsi, makes a case against Barack Obama, calling Obama a political extremist who associates with radicals and has disturbing connections to Islam.
The book was published by a division of Simon & Schuster for conservative books. The imprint is overseen by Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Obama Nation debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list about three weeks after it was published.
Corsi writes for WorldNetDaily.com, a conservative-leaning news Web site. The site's headlines range from political stories to more tabloid fare such as "Astonishing photo claims: Dead Bigfoot stored on ice." Corsi also attacked John Kerry during the 2004 election with a book he co-authored, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.
We read Obama Nation with an eye toward checking its facts. Some of the book is a recitation of biographical information about Obama that is established and not particularly in dispute. For example, Corsi quotes extensively from Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father, and then comments disparagingly on it, which we consider legitimate political commentary.
But we also found several inaccuracies in the book. Among them:
• Though Corsi accurately quotes many times from Dreams From My Father, he makes several readily identified errors. He writes on page 48 that Obama didn't mention his sister Maya's birth in Indonesia — he did, though, on page 47 of the book. Corsi writes on pages 49 and 50 that Obama declined to dedicate the book to his relatives, but in the preface on page xvii Obama dedicates the book to "my mother, my grandparents, my siblings." Corsi writes on page 25 that Obama doesn't mention that he took his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, but Obama does mention it on page 439. Corsi also gets wrong the year that Barack and Michelle Obama married. Corsi says on page 145 it was 1995; it was actually 1992, according to Obama's marriage license. Corsi also says Obama rejected his mother and grandparents, though Obama had good relations with his mother and grandfather until their deaths and visits his grandmother regularly. Even in Obama's memoir, the senator makes it clear that he rejected the notion of separating himself from his white relatives. We rated this claim and found it Pants on Fire! Wrong.
• Corsi's description of Obama's role in Kenyan politics is filled with overt errors and errors of implication. Corsi writes incorrectly that Obama "openly supported" opposition leader Raila Odinga for office and implies that his purpose was to promote the religion of Islam. "We have to ask," Corsi writes, "whether Obama, by supporting Odinga openly in Kenya, lent his name also to endorse Odinga's leftist politics and Odinga's alliance with radical Muslims pushing Islam in Kenya." But Obama has remained neutral in Kenyan politics, stating publicly at the time of his trip that it was up to the people of Kenya to choose their own leadership. We examined the statement that Obama "openly supported" Raila Odinga for political office in Kenya and found the statement False.
• Corsi says that Obama has a "no nukes" policy and pledges to reduce the size of the military. The "no nukes" argument is a mischaracterization of Obama's approach to nuclear weapons, a claim we rated False previously. Obama also has proposed increasing the size of the military, so we found this claim False.
• To make his case, Corsi mixes references to objective news reports and the work of conservative opinion writers without differentiating between the two, referring to both items as the work of "reporters." This is confusing at best.
We also found that a number of Corsi's allegations have circulated for many months on the Internet, promoted by people who forward anonymous chain e-mails. In some cases, Corsi corrects the factual errors of the chain e-mails while reaching the same conclusions about Obama's fitness for the presidency. Among allegations we've covered previously:
• Corsi stops short of saying that Obama is a Muslim, but he dwells in depth on the time Obama spent as a youth in Indonesia, a country that is predominantly Muslim. Corsi finds it suspicious that Obama lived at different addresses in Jakarta, and wonders whether Obama received instruction in Islam. "Looking closely at Obama's narrative, what dominates the story are the holes," Corsi writes. We previously looked into claims that Obama is a Muslim and that he attended a madrassa in Indonesia and found both claims to be Pants on Fire!
• Corsi mentions Obama's work for the Woods Fund, a nonprofit that distributes grants to Chicago community groups. Corsi charges that Obama was on the board when it approved a grant to the Arab American Action Network, which he describes as a "radical political group." We looked into this claim when it was made by the Tennessee Republican Party and found that though Obama was on the board at the time of the grant, the group was not controversial and focused on community work.
Several main elements of the book are contradictory. Corsi suggests that Obama is deeply attracted to anticolonial, black nationalist beliefs, but later says Obama holds such beliefs only as a convenient pose to advance his career in liberal Chicago. Corsi says that Obama hides the fact that his father is an alcoholic who practiced polygamy, but then offers evidence for that fact from Obama's own memoir. (Corsi says Obama should have mentioned his father's character failings earlier in the book.) Corsi suggests Obama is interfering in Kenyan politics and supports a political alliance between Marxists and Islamic radicals with the intention of expunging Christianity from Kenya. Why Obama, a Christian, would want to see his own religion expunged from Kenya is not explicitly explained.
Because of the perceived success of Corsi's attack on John Kerry in 2004 — the verb "swiftboat" has become a catch phrase for launching an unsubstantiated political attack — the Obama campaign was quick to respond to Corsi's book with a 40-page rebuttal, outlining the book's factual errors and attacking Corsi as a bigot and a conspiracy theorist. We have not addressed all the factual matters here that the Obama campaign disputes; you can read their report here. An excerpt of Corsi's book is available online; you can read the first chapter here.
Though Corsi's book retells some of the established facts about Obama's life and includes many footnotes, there is so much innuendo combined with factual errors that we found it on the whole to be a highly suspicious work. We're also bothered by the fact that it seems to draw heavily from themes we've debunked from anonymous chain e-mails on the Internet. A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credibile. On the contrary — we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.
The Obama Nation, by Jerome R. Corsi, 2008
Simon & Schuster, Threshold Editions
Mary Matalin official Web site, Biography
Reuters, "Swift boat" author turns to Obama with bestseller , Aug. 15, 2008
The New York Times, Book Attacking Obama Hopes to Repeat '04 Anti-Kerry Feat , Aug. 12, 2008
WorldNetDaily.com, Jerome R. Corsi archive
Dreams from my Father, by Barack Obama, 1995
Chicago Sun-Times, Obama family photos
Chicago Sun-Times, Madelyn Payne Dunham biography (Obama's maternal grandmother)
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Obama visits grandmother and enjoys night out with his family , Aug. 9, 2008
Associated Press, Obama Urges Kenyans to Oppose Corruption , Aug. 28, 2006
BBC News, Country Profile: Kenya
Barack Obama U.S. Senate Web site, Speech in Kenya: "An Honest Government, A Hopeful Future," Aug. 28, 2006
Barack Obama campaign Web site, defense proposals , accessed Aug. 20, 2008
The Washington Post, Former '60s Radical Is Now Considered Mainstream in Chicago , April 18, 2008