Unfit for Publication: Corsi's The Obama Nation filled with falsehoods

In its preface, Jerome Corsi compares his new book, The Obama Nation, to his 2004 book Unfit for Command. The comparison seems apt: Just as Unfit for Command contains false attacks on Sen. John Kerry's military service, a Media Matters review finds that The Obama Nation similarly contains numerous falsehoods about Sen. Barack Obama.

In the preface of his recently released book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, author Jerome Corsi writes: “My intent in writing this book, as was the case in coauthoring Unfit for Command, is to fully document all arguments and contentions I make, extensively footnoting all references, so readers can determine for themselves the truth and validity of the factual claims." Indeed, Corsi's comparison of the two books seems quite apt: Just as Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry contains false and baseless attacks on Sen. John Kerry's military service, a Media Matters for America review finds that Obama Nation similarly contains numerous falsehoods about Sen. Barack Obama.

Media Matters previously documented false and baseless charges Corsi made in Obama Nation about Obama's positions on the Global Poverty Act of 2007 and nuclear weapons. Media Matters also pointed out false statements Corsi made while discussing the book with Fox News host Sean Hannity, concerning Obama's position on abortion and Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father (Crown, 1995).

Below are additional falsehoods from Obama Nation, listed in the order in which they appear in the book:

The divorce

Corsi baselessly suggests that Obama's father, Barack Obama Sr., may have divorced his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, “following the prescripts of Islamic sharia law.” Corsi's sole source for this statement is a blogger who made the claim in a March 20 post, which featured the false headline, “BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA WAS MUSLIM FOR 31 YEARS” and misstated Obama's mother's name as “Shirley Ann.” The blogger Corsi cited, “Majalah Bulanan Kumunitas Indonesia Di Edmonton,” provided no substantiation for the claim that “the senior Obama divorced Dunham according to Sharia law.”

On page 44, Corsi writes:

The circumstances of exactly how or why Stanley Ann ended her marriage with Obama's father, like much else in the narrative, remain unclear. One version is that Stanley Ann divorced Obama Senior in 1964, when Obama Junior was three years old and Stanley Ann realized Obama Senior had returned to Africa to rejoin the previously undisclosed wife he had abandoned in Kenya. The other version is that Obama Senior, following the prescripts of Islamic sharia law, divorced Stanley Ann when he returned to Africa in 1963 to begin his work as a bureaucrat in the Kenyatta government.4

The endnote for Corsi's claim reads as follows:

The first version, that Stanley Ann Dunham Obama divorced Obama Senior, is the version commonly found. The version that Obama Senior divorced Stanley Ann under sharia law is told in sources such as the following: Majalah Bulanan Kumunitas Indonesia Di Edmonton, “Barack Hussein Obama was Muslim for 31 Years,” March 20, 2008, at http://www.indonesiaedmonton.org/berita/

In the blog post that Corsi cites, the author asserted:

The senior Obama married a fellow student, eighteen-year old Shirley Ann (Anna) Dunham of Witchita, Kansas. Dunham was an anthropology student. Obama Jr. was born on August 4, 1961, in Honolulu.

Two years later, the senior Obama divorced Dunham according to Sharia law and returned to Kenya the same year that Kenyatta took control as the first prime minister of a self-governing Kenya (June 1963).

In Dreams from My Father, Obama quotes his mother stating of Barack Obama Sr., “I divorced him”:

The teapot whistled, and I stamped my envelope. Then, without any prompting, my mother began to retell an old story, in a distant voice, as if she were telling it to herself.

“It wasn't your father's fault that he left, you know. I divorced him. When the two of us got married, your grandparents weren't happy with the idea. But they said okay -- they probably couldn't have stopped us anyway, and they eventually came around to the idea that it was the right thing to do. Then Barack's father -- your grandfather Hussein wrote Gramps this long, nasty letter saying that he didn't approve of the marriage. He didn't want the Obama blood sullied by a white woman, he said. Well, you can imagine how Gramps reacted to that. And then there was a problem with your father's first wife ... he had told me they were separated, but it was a village wedding, so there was no legal document that could show a divorce ...” [Pages 125-126]

The dedication

On Pages 49-50, Corsi falsely claims that Obama did not dedicate Dreams from My Father to his mother or his grandparents. Corsi writes:

Interestingly, Obama did not dedicate Dreams from My Father to his mother, or to his father, Barack Senior, or to his Indonesian stepfather. Missing from the dedication are the grandparents who raised him in Hawaii, especially during the years his mother abandoned him to return to Indonesia to be with Lolo [Soetoro, Obama's stepfather].

In fact, while the 2004 edition of Dreams -- the version Corsi cites in Obama Nation (Part One, endnote 2, Page 306) -- does not contain a separate dedication page, on Page xvii, the last page of the book's introduction, Obama writes:

It is to my family, though -- my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents -- that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book. Without their constant love and support, without their willingness to let me sing their song and their toleration of the occasional wrong note, I could never have hoped to finish. If nothing else, I hope that the love and respect I feel for them shines through on every page [emphasis added].

Obama's sister

Corsi falsely claims that Obama does not mention the birth of his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, during the chapter in Dreams in which he discusses his time living in Indonesia. Corsi writes:

In the midst of the personal drama being played against the background of this Indonesian turmoil, on August 15, 1970, Obama's half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, was born to his mother and stepfather. Obama devotes the entire second chapter of his autobiography to his time in Indonesia, but remarkably, he makes no reference to Maya's birth [Page 48].

In fact, on Page 47 of Dreams, in the chapter discussing his time in Indonesia, Obama writes that “my mother and Lolo would remain cordial through the birth of my sister, Maya.”

Zulfin Adi

Corsi writes that in a March 16, 2007, Los Angeles Times article, “The newspaper quoted Zulfan Adi, who described himself as one of Obama's closest childhood friends” during his time in Indonesia. Corsi further writes:

Adi said neighborhood Muslims worshipped in a nearby house. When the muezzin sounded the call to prayer, Adi remembered seeing Lolo and Barry walk together to the makeshift mosque. “His mother often went to the church,” Adi told the Times, “but Barry was a Muslim. I remember him wearing a sarong” [Page 56].

In fact, as Media Matters has noted, key aspects of the March 16 Los Angeles Times article were later challenged by the Chicago Tribune, which reported that Adi said he “was not certain” about his statements regarding Obama's childhood and that he “only knew Obama for a few months.” Additionally, the Tribune reported that "[i]nterviews with dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia."

Drug use

Corsi falsely claims that Obama “has yet to answer questions” concerning whether “he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug use extended into his law school days or beyond.” Corsi writes:

Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the U.S. Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why questions George W. Bush successfully avoided [Page 77].

In fact, Obama wrote in Dreams that he “stopped getting high” shortly after moving to New York City to attend Columbia University as an undergraduate. From Dreams:

When Sadik lost his own lease, we moved in together. And after a few months of closer scrutiny, he began to realize that the city had indeed had an effect on me, although not the one he'd expected. I stopped getting high. I ran three miles a day and fasted on Sundays. For the first time in years, I applied myself to my studies and started keeping a journal of daily reflections and very bad poetry. Whenever Sadik tried to talk me into hitting a bar, I'd beg off with some tepid excuse, too much work or not enough cash [Page 120].

As Media Matters documented, a July 30 WorldNetDaily.com article about Obama Nation also claimed that the book “points out” that “Barack Obama admitted using drugs in his autobiography but never revealed if or when he stopped.”

Obama and City College of New York

On Page 129, Corsi falsely claims that Obama “does not mention in his autobiography” that after graduating from Columbia, he “was working as a community organizer out of the Harlem campus of the City College of New York.” Corsi writes:

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama mentions in passing that in 1984 he had just graduated from college and was working as a community organizer out of the Harlem campus of the City College of New York. This is a job Obama does not mention in his autobiography, Dreams from My Father.

In fact, on Page 139 of Dreams from My Father, Obama writes:

On the spot he offered me the job, which involved organizing conferences on drugs, unemployment, housing. Facilitating dialogue, he called it. I declined his generous offer, deciding I needed a job closer to the streets. I spent three months working for a Ralph Nader offshoot up in Harlem, trying to convince the minority students at City College about the importance of recycling. Then a week passing out flyers for an assemblyman's race in Brooklyn -- the candidate lost and I never did get paid.

Sam Graham-Felsen and socialism

Corsi writes of Obama campaign blogger Sam Graham-Felsen, “After leaving Harvard, Graham-Felsen published an article in an avowedly socialist magazine” [Page 148]. Corsi goes on to assert that “Writing in Socialist Viewpoint in the May/June 2006 issue, Graham-Felsen discussed a trip to Paris in which he participated in leftist street riots that involved a controversial employment law designed to facilitate the ability of French companies to fire workers under twenty-six years old.” In fact, the article Corsi presents as having been “published ... in an avowedly socialist magazine” was actually published in April 2006 in The Nation, and reprinted by the Socialist Viewpoint. This is clearly indicated on the Socialist Viewpoint website for which Corsi provides the link. The same Graham-Felsen article was also reprinted at CBSNews.com. The May/June 2006 issue of Socialist Viewpoint also reprinted articles from the February 27, 2006, edition of Detroit Free Press, and from the March 29, 2006, edition of London's The Guardian.

Rezko and the Obamas' house

Discussing the house Barack and Michelle Obama bought in 2005, Corsi falsely cites a February 1 Salon.com article for the claim that convicted Chicago businessman Antoin Rezko “found the house for Obama. Salon.com reported that Donna Schwan of Metro Pro Realty, the real estate agent who listed the property, recalled the deal starting when Rezko expressed interest in the listing” [Page 165]. In fact, in the Salon.com article Corsi cites, Edward McClelland reported: “Asked who approached her about the house, Schwan told Salon, 'I honestly don't remember. Tony Rezko lived across the street, so he'd been interested in the lot.' ” In an interview with the staff of the Chicago Sun-Times, Barack Obama asserted that it was his wife who found the house. From the transcript of Obama's interview, which included a prepared statement by Obama before he took questions:

OBAMA: We'd outgrown our condominium. We contacted our real estate broker, Miriam Zeltzerman. She was the person who sold us our condo in East View Park. Told her we were interested in putting our condo on the market, interested in having her show us houses in the area. She and Michelle went off and probably looked at 10 houses. One of the last ones they looked at was the house on Greenwood, which Michelle fell in love with and was actually slightly above, well it was above, what we'd originally intended to pay.

Michelle called me. She says, “I saw this house, I really like it, it's more than we originally budgeted for. I'd like you to take a look at it.”

On Page 168 of Obama Nation, Corsi writes, “In his prepared statement, Obama told the Sun-Times that Michelle fell in love with the house,” but he does not note that in the same prepared statement, Obama said that she had found it.

Discussing the purchase of the house, Corsi also writes:

The problem was that the doctor who owned the property wanted to sell the vacant lot and the house at the same time, even though the two properties were separately listed. Also, while the sellers wanted to find a buyer as quickly as possible, they did not want to close the deal until June 2005. The list price just for the home was $1.95 million, outside the reach of the Obama family, even with Obama's reissued autobiography, Dreams from My Father, hitting bestseller lists, his U.S. Senate salary of $157,082, and Michelle's 2005 income of $317,000 at the University of Chicago Hospitals.34

Rezko came up with a solution. His wife, Rita, bought the vacant lot at full price, permitting Obama and Michelle to negotiate buying the house for $1.65 million, a discount of $300,000 from the asking price. [Page 165-166]

Corsi later writes: “The [Boston] Globe also reported real estate agent Schwan's recollection that the Obamas may not have made the highest bid, but that the willingness of the Obamas and Rita Rezko to close in June was decisive.” In fact, as Media Matters has repeatedly noted, the Obamas reportedly did not receive a “discount” on their purchase of the house, and the sellers have reportedly said that the Obamas gave the best offer. Documents available on the Obama campaign's website indicate that the original asking price of the house was $1.95 million and that the Obamas paid $1.65 million. According to a February 18 Bloomberg News article, “The couple who sold Barack Obama his Chicago home said the Illinois senator's $1.65 million bid 'was the best offer' and they didn't cut their asking price because a campaign donor bought their adjacent land, according to e-mails between Obama's presidential campaign and the seller.”

Additionally, Corsi writes of Obama's March 14 meeting with reporters from the Chicago Tribune to discuss his relationship with Rezko: “The transcript of the question-and-answer session clearly shows the Tribune staff had a hard time believing Obama. Yet Obama persisted, denying he coordinated the purchase with Rezko [Page 168].” But Corsi did not reconcile his assessment that “the Tribune staff had a hard time believing Obama” with the subsequent publication of an editorial in which the paper asserted that Obama had “offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.” From the March 16 editorial:

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama waited 16 months to attempt the exorcism. But when he finally sat down with the Tribune editorial board Friday, Obama offered a lengthy and, to us, plausible explanation for the presence of now-indicted businessman Tony Rezko in his personal and political lives.

The most remarkable facet of Obama's 92-minute discussion was that, at the outset, he pledged to answer every question the three dozen Tribune journalists crammed into the room would put to him. And he did. [...]

Less protection, less control, would have meant less hassle for his campaign. That said, Barack Obama now has spoken about his ties to Tony Rezko in uncommon detail. That's a standard for candor by which other presidential candidates facing serious inquiries now can be judged.

NewsMax, Obama, and Trinity Church

Corsi falsely claims that “NewsMax's Ronald Kessler reported that Obama had been in Trinity United Church of Christ on July 22 [2007], when Kessler was present,” during which Obama's then-pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, gave a sermon in which he “blamed the 'white arrogance' of America's Caucasian majority for the world's suffering, especially the oppression of blacks.” In fact, Kessler did not report that he had been at Trinity United on that date. Kessler's March 16 Newsmax report cited an August 9, 2007, Newsmax.com article by “freelance reporter” Jim Davis and stated: “On July 22nd [2007] he [Davis] sat next to Barack Obama as Barack Obama heard some of these same statements from that very preacher [Wright] and was nodding along.”

Corsi wrote:

Obama's denial spurred investigators to prove the contrary. On March 16, two days after Obama's denial appeared on the Huffington Post, new evidence emerged. NewsMax's Ronald Kessler reported that Obama had been in Trinity United Church of Christ on July 22, when Kessler was present.74 Kessler claimed he and Obama both heard Wright preach a sermon that day in which the preacher blamed the “white arrogance” of America's Caucasian majority for the world's suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. The Obama campaign promptly posted a new denial, claiming Obama did not attend church services in Chicago on July 22.75

While Corsi acknowledged that "[t]he Obama campaign promptly posted a new denial, claiming Obama did not attend church services in Chicago on July 22," he did not note that, as reported by several media outlets, Obama was in Miami on July 22, 2007, speaking at the National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) annual convention. According to the NCLR's schedule for the day, Obama spoke as part of a “special forum” between 1:30 and 3 p.m. ET.

Bill Kristol's March 17 New York Times column also cited Kessler's March 16 Newmax.com column. Later in the day on March 17, Kristol issued a correction that read:

In this column, I cite a report that Sen. Obama had attended services at Trinity Church on July 22, 2007. The Obama campaign has provided information showing that Sen. Obama did not attend Trinity that day. I regret the error.

Abortion rights

Discussing a bill amending the Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 -- opponents of which said posed a threat to abortion rights -- Corsi writes:

Not wanting to be the only Illinois state senator to vote against the bill, a move that Obama realized would be politically unpopular with his constituency, he took the easy way out and voted “Present.”5 In the Illinois Senate, voting “Present” is the equivalent of voting “No,” because a bill must have a majority counting only “Yes” votes to pass [Page 238].

In fact, contrary to Corsi's suggestion that no senators voted against the bill -- and therefore Obama voted “present” because he did not want to be the only one to vote against it -- the roll call for that vote was “34 voting aye, 6 voting Nay, 12 voting present,” according to the transcript of the Senate's proceeding, which Corsi himself cites. According to ABC News, Pam Sutherland, the president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, stated that Obama voted “present” on the bill as part of a legislative strategy. From a July 17, 2007, post on the ABC News blog Political Radar:

When Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., voted “present,” rather than “yes” or “no” on a handful of controversial abortion votes in the Illinois state senate, he did so with the explicit support of the president and CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood Council.

“We at Planned Parenthood view those as leadership votes,” Pam Sutherland, the president and CEO of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, told ABC News. “We worked with him specifically on his strategy. The Republicans were in control of the Illinois Senate at the time. They loved to hold votes on 'partial birth' and 'born alive'. They put these bills out all the time ... because they wanted to pigeonhole Democrats.”

Speaking to ABC News as Obama was preparing to join Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and the wife of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in addressing Planned Parenthood's national conference in Washington, D.C., Sutherland said Obama approached her in the late 1990s and worked with her and others in crafting the strategy of voting “present.” She remembers meeting with Obama outside of the Illinois Senate chambers on the Democratic side of the aisle. She and Obama finished their conversation in his office.

“He came to me and said: 'My members are being attacked. We need to figure out a way to protect members and to protect women,'” said Sutherland in recounting her conversation with Obama. “A 'present' vote was hard to pigeonhole which is exactly what Obama wanted.”

“What it did,” she continued, “was give cover to moderate Democrats who wanted to vote with us but were afraid to do so” because of how their votes would be used against them electorally. “A 'present' vote would protect them. Your senator voted 'present.' Most of the electorate is not going to know what that means.”

While Sutherland was happy to give Obama latitude in voting “present,” rather than “no,” she was quick to note that “it's also not a 'yes' vote.”

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, some of the specific abortion votes in question include two occasions in 1997 (HB 382 and SB 230) when he voted “present” on bills which would have prohibited a procedure referred to by its critics as “partial-birth abortion.” In 2001, he voted “present” on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted “present” on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if he or she survived a failed abortion.

Capital Gains

Corsi writes that in a September 19, 2007, blog post, U.S. News & World Report money and politics blogger James Pethokoukis “pointed to the result of most Democratic plans to increase corporate taxes: the government ends up collecting less capital gains tax revenue, not more.” Corsi continues:

Why? The answer is fairly simple: under higher capital gains tax rates, investors realize their gains before the higher capital gains rates kick in. Moreover, as long as the higher rates remain in effect, investors and corporate boards make decisions to reduce the amount of capital gains that have to be realized. One clear way to accomplish this goal is for investors and corporations to cut back on investments. Discourage investments and fewer capital gains taxes will be paid. As a result, higher capital gains tax rates tend to produce less capital gains tax revenue, not more. The economics of this principle have been proved repeatedly in the two decades since Reagan was president [Page 245].

However, as Media Matters has documented, numerous economists have challenged the assertion that cuts in the capital gains tax raise revenue in the long term. Additionally, Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation estimated in June 2006 that the 2006 extension of the 2003 cuts on capital gains taxes would result in decreased revenues of $20 billion over 10 years.

Size of the military

Corsi falsely claims that Obama “has pledged to reduce the size of the military [Page 257].” Similarly, Corsi writes that “Obama will undoubtedly campaign in the general election saying he wants to maintain a strong military, just as he will say he is fully committed to the survival of Israel. Obama's problem is that neither position may be credible in the face of video clips that show him saying he wants to reduce the military, cut nuclear weapons, and pull out of Iraq” [Page 279]. In fact, during the Democratic primary, Obama repeatedly asserted that he would “increase our ground forces by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 Marines.” Obama's "Plan for a 21st Century Military," posted on his website, states: “Expand to Meet Military Needs on the Ground: A major stress on our troops comes from insufficient ground forces. Barack Obama supports plans to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and the Marines by 27,000 troops. Increasing our end strength will help units retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.”

Obama and Afghanistan

Discussing Obama's “antiwar ... foreign policy,” Corsi conflates Iraq and Afghanistan to falsely suggest that Obama supports “de-escalat[ing]” troops from Afghanistan. Corsi writes:

Obama can be expected to invoke more explanations, attempting to sound patriotic in his unwillingness to abandon U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan now that they are there, but he will still be explaining himself. A presidential candidate in a close general election campaign who is forced to spend time explaining contradictions between his words and actions is, by definition, losing ground.

Since becoming a U.S. senator in 2004, Obama has not introduced a single resolution or bill calling on President Bush to end the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, only a January 2007 bill to de-escalate. [...]

Will Obama still run against the war if the reports coming from Iraq and Afghanistan continue to validate the Bush administration's military policy in the region? If McCain wanted to stay the course until he could declare victory and stage an orderly withdrawal, why would Obama object? Would Obama do anything different? [Pages 259-260]

But Obama's January 2007 bill -- the Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007 -- establishes a timetable for the withdrawal of most troops from Iraq, and calls for “appropriate units of the Armed Forces” to be redeployed to Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region, as well as “elsewhere, to meet urgent United States security needs.” As Media Matters has noted, Obama has been calling for an increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan since at least 2006 and has specifically proposed the addition of at least two combat brigades since 2007.