Corsi: Hey, I'm just doing my job

The conservative hatchetman says his Obama book is an important piece of scholarship, just like some of his other weird theories.

Published August 15, 2008 6:10PM (EDT)

Yes, bestselling conservative author Jerome Corsi may be considered a crackpot -- or worse -- for some of his work. Like, oh, his theory that the earth spontaneously generates oil that just seeps up into the crust, making it a renewable resource. Or his insistence that there's a hidden plot under way to merge the United States with Canada and Mexico in a "North American Union," replacing the dollar with a new currency called (cue scary music) the amero. Or for his hatchet jobs on -- gee, what a coincidence -- the last two Democratic nominees for president, John Kerry and Barack Obama.

But the way Corsi sees it, he's just doing his job.

"My job as an investigative reporter is to pursue issues that I think are true or merit investigation, and report the findings as I find them," Corsi told Salon in an interview Friday morning. "Rather than worry about a politically correct investigation that might win favor with politically correct groups [that are] considered respectable, my aim is pursuing the truth of the investigations, wherever they lead me."

In the case of "The Obama Nation," his new hit job on Obama, those investigations led Corsi to report that Obama is secretly a Muslim, that he may still use drugs, that he's a radical black nationalist and that he's somehow trying to interfere with Kenyan politics (presumably in his spare time while campaigning for president here). The book has already been aggressively debunked by media organizations, liberal think tanks and the Obama campaign. Corsi, though, says he's performing a valuable service.

"What motivated the book started with the fact that Obama was generally unknown to the public," Corsi said, even though Obama has been running for president for nearly two years now. "He is probably the least vetted presidential candidate we've had in modern times." Corsi said he did some original research for the book, interviewing Obama's relatives in Kenya and rereading books by Saul Alinsky, Malcolm X and others who he says Obama learned dangerous ideas from. But he also cribs from news stories about Obama -- which you'd think would make it hard to defend his claim that the mainstream media has "become so enamored with Barack Obama that it has neglected to do the traditional investigative journalist duty, which is to investigate critically."

But don't worry, he's got an explanation for that. When Hillary Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Corsi said, the press went after Obama for political reasons. Once Obama won, though, things changed. "All critical evaluation of Obama was not only dropped, but those who opposed Obama were daring to go do that knowing they'd be abused -- like I have," he said.

To Corsi, the push-back from the Obama campaign is basically unfair. "Since the time of Aristotle, ad hominem attacks have been considered fallacious arguments in debate," he said. When I suggested that the Obama campaign might consider his entire book a fallacious ad hominem attack, he shrugged it off. "The campaign is doing to me what they charge me as doing to them." He admits freely that he's trying to defeat Obama. "World Net Daily -- where I am a staff reporter -- our editorial discipline is that we state our convictions, we openly write editorials and commentary, as well as do news analysis," he said. (As the Associated Press pointed out Thursday, World Net Daily recently led with a banner headline about, um, Bigfoot.) "I make it clear that I am opposed to Obama's candidacy and lay out the reasons why. What I expect is that the public will read that and make up their own minds."

OK, so Corsi -- who spent much of the conversation defending his oil theories in great detail, after I asked him if they might not affect his general credibility -- thinks his book is a fine work of scholarship. Not surprising. What about Mary Matalin, the Republican consultant who runs the branch of Simon & Schuster that published the book?

Well, perhaps not surprisingly either, Matalin says she's just in it to sell books. "Threshold is a small line, publishing books and authors on the conservative continuum from libertarian to religious to intellectual to historical," she told me by e-mail. "What we decidedly do not do is work with or for any campaign or party. (Despite the impression the press is leaving, I personally, while a committed conservative, have not worked for a campaign or the party since 1992. Including this cycle)."

That's not true, actually; federal campaign records show the Republican National Committee paid Matalin more than $70,000 in 2003, and the Bush-Cheney campaign reimbursed her for $364 in travel expenses in 2004. So you might also want to take a few grains of salt with Matalin's claim that she doesn't know of any bulk sales of the book, even though the Times reported that this was a significant factor in its rise on the bestselling list.

No matter what the motivation, one thing is clear -- Matalin and Corsi are making buckets of money from this gig. Ben Smith reported Friday that the book is selling at least 40,000 copies a week. When I spoke to Corsi Friday, he was staying in a ritzy hotel in New York; the last time I interviewed him, he was hopping on a plane to go to a speaking appearance. He has become a well-paid celebrity through his "investigations." Maybe if Obama succeeds in fighting off Corsi's latest effort, this one will be his last.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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