Using a PhD as a weapon of mass disinformation

Tue, Aug 26, 2008, 01:00

A book that makes sweeping allegations about Barack Obama tries hard to pretend it is serious research, writes Quentin Fottrell

IT'S NUMBER one on the New York Timesbestseller hardback non-fiction list. But there is something about the cover of Jerome R Corsi's trash-talking summer read on Barack Obama, The Obama Nation, that jars. It's not the title, a play on the word abomination that some pundits get a kick out of saying really fast like a secret frat code that never stops being funny. No, it's not . . .

Nor is it the strapline: "Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality." If free universal healthcare for children is leftist, than yes, he's a leftist. It's true: Obama has more personality than the stilted John McCain. McCain approves infomercials which talk of his "humility" and present him in a saintly light due to his time as a PoW. There's little humility in approving a message like that.

The offending item is not the boastful, "The No 1 New York Times best-selling author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry". Its false claims helped torpedo John Kerry's campaign in 2004.

Nor is it the book itself. This is by the same publisher that printed Kitty Kelley's hatchet job on Nancy Reagan. It was to be expected.

What really jars is the big black letters after Corsi's name, "PhD", presented in large type, like a BSc on Viagra. On his multimedia odyssey, Corsi carried his PhD around like a diamante clutch purse.

It gives an elevated social status and is designed to bathe him in a more flattering light than, considering his allegations, he deserves. Or to put it another way: PhD + Innuendo = QED.

Of course, this is nothing new at home either. Once, during a heated interview with a priest-cum-academic (who has both an MA and PhD), his words of last resort were: "I've read Aristotle and Plato!" A PhD is no small achievement, but it's the intellectual grandstanding and, in Corsi's case, the use of those letters as weapons of mass communication to support his allegations that bothers me.

Corsi, who got his PhD in political science from Harvard in 1972, alleges Obama has "extensive connections" to Islam and supports infanticide in the case of induced abortions. The chief editor at Simon Schuster, Mary Matalin, a former chief aide to Dick Cheney, said this wasn't a political book but "a piece of scholarship". Corsi himself has said: "The goal is to defeat Obama."

His PhD is cited in the first sentence of his polished Wikipedia profile and he is consistently credited as "Dr Jerome Corsi" on Fox Television, the Rupert Murdoch-owned US satellite news channel where he said Obama's father was a polygamist. Not that he holds it against him, but Corsi says he insists on talking about it because Obama won't. That's boomerang logic. On any other network, it would hit come back and hit him between the eyes.

In the preface, Corsi says his 700 footnotes allow readers to judge his "factual claims", a mind-boggling oxymoron, which makes about as much sense as a "fictional truth". If the Republican's Steve Schmidt, responsible for the below-the-belt media assault on Obama, is the Bullet, then Corsi is the Cluster Stink-Bomb. (He says he will vote for Chuck Baldwin of the US Constitution Party.)

When Corsi was challenged by Democrat Bob Beckel via satellite link from Washington DC on Sean Hannity's New York-based Fox TV show, Beckel's line went down. Hannity said: "Believe it or not, the DC bureau has lost all power." I do believe it - I just wonder who pulled the plug. Corsi levelled his charge that Obama supports infanticide. Beckel resumed by mobile phone.

Here are some of Corsi's other opinions. He shrugs at their mention and says he has already apologised for them. On Muslims: "Ragheads are boy-bumpers and clearly are woman-haters." On John Kerry: "John F-ing Commie Kerry." On Hillary - or "Hellary", as he wrote - Clinton: "Hillary Clinton, Fat Hog Clinton."

One hopes that his bestseller is only preaching to the Republican converted.

Corsi told Beckel: "You're going back through ancient history. I don't think that's fair," and later told Larry King: "They don't express my true views. They were intentionally written to be antagonistic or aggressive or provocative."

Clearly, some things never change, yet he could influence who becomes the next leader of the free world. Scary. Corsi PhD is a plank, but should be dismissed as a crank.

Corsi writes that Obama never stopped using recreational drugs. In Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote that he stopped when he went to college. When challenged on this, the good doctor responded: "We have Barack Obama's testimony on that." This is the when-have-you-stopped-using-drugs school of politics. The absence of such evidence is so not worthy of a PhD thesis.

Number two on The New York Timesbestseller list for non-fiction is Stori Tellingby Tori Spelling of Beverly Hills 90210, a far more highbrow and entertaining holiday read. It's about a poor little rich girl whose late father, Aaron Spelling, was a powerful Hollywood TV producer.

Hide it inside your copy of Ulysses. Spelling does not have a PhD, it's true, but I highly recommend it.