Going negative against Democrat Barack Obama isn't just a campaign strategy for Republican John McCain. It's also a good formula for selling books.
Three anti-Obama releases were in the top 20 of Amazon.com's best-seller list on Tuesday, despite little critical attention or mainstream media coverage.
“There's a pent-up demand from people on the right side of the aisle who feel that the mainstream media is effusively covering Barack Obama and not critically covering him,” says Marji Ross, president and publisher of the conservative Regnery Publishing, Inc., which just released David Fredosso's “The Case Against Barack Obama.”
Until recently, the most widely read narrative of Obama's life was written by Obama, in the million-selling “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.” The new releases, like McCain's campaign ads, attempt a counter-narrative.
The subtitles are the giveaway: Jerome Corsi's “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” Fredosso's “The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate” and Dick Morris' “Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments Are Scamming Us … and What to Do About It.”
The authors allege that Obama is not a benign spokesman for hope and unity, but an ideologue with close ties to 1960s radicals and the Chicago political machine. Corsi is already known as a co-author of “Unfit for Command,” the influential attack against the war record of Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' presidential candidate in 2004. Fredosso is a reporter for National Review Online, while Morris is a former aide to President Clinton who has since made a career of bashing Democrats.
“With book like these, the minute some people know they're out there, they must have them,” says Cal Morgan, a vice president and executive editor at HarperCollins who worked on Morris' book and, at the other end of the spectrum, Michael Moore's “Stupid White Men.”
Steve Ross, president and publisher of the Collins division of HarperCollins, released Obama's books when Ross was head of the Crown Publishing Group at Random House Inc. He thinks that the audience for anti-Obama books will grow through the fall, but doubts that sales will reach the levels of the senator's own books.
“The anti-Obama readership is largely one that has already made up its mind and is looking for validation, while the Obama readership comprises both those who have already made up their minds and those who are curious about him,” Ross says.
Fredosso's book, which officially came out Tuesday, has nearly 300,000 copies in print. The Corsi book, released late last week, is already in its third printing, with a total of 375,000 copies in print so far. “Fleeced,” released in June and now in its eighth printing, has 210,000 copies. Books taking on the Bush administration, including Jane Mayer's “The Dark Side,” are selling well, but no anti-McCain works are currently attracting attention.
“Obama is a fresh subject — it's all new ground,” says Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs, which released Scott McLellan's “What Happened,” a best-selling criticism of Bush by the president's former press secretary. “McCain doesn't have the same kind of resonance, it's nothing in comparison, because you can still shape people's view of Obama, but it's way too late to shape their view of McCain.”
The anti-Obama books share not just a point of view, but a path to success that has worked for both liberals and conservatives— online word of mouth and appearances with sympathetic interviewers, such as Fox News' Sean Hannity, who has had Corsi, Fredosso and Morris on his show. Ross says that Hannity is not just an interviewer, but an “enthusiast for books” who “gets people excited about the idea of reading a book.”
“Books from both the left and the right often work this way,” Morgan says, noting that Moore's book was also a best seller, even though it was ignored by reviewers.
“They begin at the grass roots. They begin with a direct channel between the author and the consumer. They're not mitigated by rumors or secondary comments. They're a kind of vote the consumers cast for the author's point of view.”