Monday, August 25, 2008


I wondered if anyone would join me in my alarm over what I regard as Simon & Schuster's scandalously irresponsible publication of Jerome Corsi's book of lies, Obama Nation. On the Huffington Post, Peter Dreier has found a few people in the industry willing to challenge this major publisher for its dangerous precedent.

On the Huffington Post, Dreier stated the basics: " Despite Obama Nation' s many lies and distortions, the book wasn't put out by an ideologically-driven right-wing publisher such as Regnery, but by the profit-driven Simon & Schuster, one of the country's largest and most respected publishers, now owned by CBS Corporation....The book has risen to the top of the Times best-seller list, despite indications that its sales were artificially inflated by bulk sales, most likely by right-wing anti-Obama groups."

After reiterating assertions I made earlier--that Corsi is not a credible character, that the book is full of easily debunked lies, and that Corsi is on the record as saying he wrote the book in order to defeat Obama--Dreier asks these pertinent questions concerning the threat this poses to the credibility of book publishing:

The book is filled with such factual errors. It is hard to attribute them to carelessness because all the errors distort Obama's life, views, writings, and political career in ways obviously intended to hurt the candidate's reputation. Simon & Schuster selected Obama Nation for major celebrity treatment, knowing that the book was written by an author with a well-deserved reputation for falsehoods. What, if any, responsibility do publishers have when dealing with a book and an author like this?

Given the controversy over Corsi's previous book, should Simon & Schuster have hired a fact-checker to make sure that Obama Nation, which they are promoting as "non-fiction," was reasonably accurate?

What responsibility, if any, do publishers and booksellers have in calling the book a "best-seller" when that label may be as fictitious as the information contained in the book itself?"

Drierer asked some people in the book industry for their answers.

"Its too bad that a publisher of Simon & Schuster's stature would call this a scholarly book," said Peter Osnos, the founder and editor of PublicAffairs Books, which publishes serious books on political topics.
I think it's more than too bad. It's utterly irresponsible, and calls into question the credibility of every book on Simon & Schuster's non-fiction list. I agree most heartily with Sara Nelson:

"It isn't likely that publishers will start their own fact-checking departments," said Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly. "But whatever a book's political view, publishers have a responsibility, to the best of their ability, to make sure that what are claimed to be facts are true."

Drierer also notes that while the New York Times gave the book a #1 ranking on its best seller list but with a dagger, indicating group sales, it is still possible to game the system--and it shouldn't be.

Shouldn't publications find out whether the author or interest groups are responsible for inflating a book's sales by this method, before they call a book a "best seller"?

Deborah Hofmann, who tracks book sales and assembles the best-seller list for the New York Times, did not return repeated calls seeking answers to these questions. But a staff-person at a major book review told me that while some publishers, authors and interest groups have learned how to "game the system" by orchestrating bulk orders in multiple locations, publications with best-seller lists, including the prestigious New York Times, don't make much effort to find out who is involved and how big an influence they have in inflating sales.

Nelson, of Publishers Weekly, explained that publications with best seller lists could ask bookstores to identify how much of a book's total sales are due to this practice. "This information is knowable," she said, acknowledging that her own publication does not seek this information.

So those who could fairly easily track this information don't do it, presumably because it would cost them something, and besides, they sell newspapers and magazines when a book is controversial--and advertising, when a big publisher like S & S is pushing a book.

Similarly, S & S probably has modest political intent (though they have Mary Matalin publishing this and other right wing books, but no imprint for any other political persuasion), but they want to make money. So they are willing to spend a lot to make a lot, and apparently they don't care how they make it.

And people will be mildly scandalized, but this will set a precedent, and the next time, nobody will even blink. Greed makes everything okay, eventually. That's how decadence works.

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