< Fool Me Twice

Transcript

Friday, August 22, 2008

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
The failure of the "The Obama Nation" to make the same splash as its predecessors says something about the current media and political landscapes, specifically that nobody is fact-checking. Charles Kaiser pointed this out. He blogs about the press for Radar Online. His blog is called Full Court Press. Charlie, welcome to OTM.
CHARLES KAISER:
Thank you, nice to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So your recent post was called "The End of Non-Fiction," which is a bit of eye-catching hyperbole.
CHARLES KAISER:
[LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
But you're not saying that in the good old days publishing houses were paragons of fact-checking, were you? What's really changed?
CHARLES KAISER:
Well, I think the serious publishers like Simon & Schuster were at least concerned that they were publishing authors who were trying to get their facts right. And I think it's perfectly obvious that in this case this imprint of Simon & Schuster, Threshold Books under the tutelage of Mary Matalin, the Republican operative turned publisher, couldn't care less about whether the facts are accurate or not because several things that the author says are directly contradicted by things that Obama has written or said, very easily checkable. And they weren't interested in a fact-checker because the author says the purpose of this book is to defeat Obama. And, as a result, he's willing to take any fact or non-fact, as the case may be, and put it in the book.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So you say that Simon & Schuster, in particular, ought to hang its head in shame because it has a legacy of good fact-checking, of extraordinary non-fiction in such books as say "All the President's Men"?
CHARLES KAISER:
Yeah, all the kinds of books which are published by Alice Mayhew who is Miss Non-Fiction at Simon & Schuster and who, obviously, would never have anything to do with a book like this, and who tells her friends that there is a firewall between Threshold, the imprint which published this book, [LAUGHS] and the rest of Simon & Schuster.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Now, you're saying that this is clearly a political book. Mary Matalin, the former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, says that it is not a political book. She says, rather, it's a piece of scholarship. Obvious -
[OVERTALK]
CHARLES KAISER:
Yes, for which I bestowed upon her the 2008 Chutzpah Award of Full Court Press. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
[LAUGHS] Now, polemical tomes like these have proven to be really good business for imprints all across the political spectrum —
CHARLES KAISER:
And the business —

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
— especially the right wing spectrum. Regnery Press, for instance, has had a string of bestsellers by putting out polemics.
CHARLES KAISER:
Well, obviously, Simon & Schuster had Regnery envy. [BROOKE LAUGHS] They saw all these books selling in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of books, and they wanted a piece of the action.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
What's really hard is to try and guess what the impact is, or will be, of this book and of the debunking of this book. As some people have noted, you know, Ron Paul's book was at the top of the bestseller list, but it didn't move the population to vote for him. Maybe the bestseller list doesn't really serve as a particularly good dipstick of public mood.
CHARLES KAISER:
Well, and so far there's no reason to believe that this an authentic bestseller because even though it appeared at number one and it appeared at number one with a dagger, which The New York Times explains means that the bookstores reporting to them are reporting bulk sales of this book, and that means that they're using a very old strategy of just trying to figure out which books are reporting to The New York Times list and then sending people in to buy the book in droves. So it could be completely phony.

We also don't really know how many books are out there. As usual, as all publishers do, they've given a variety of estimates from between 300,000 and 425,000 of how many they've published. My guess is it's a lot closer to 100,000. The only hard number we have is from the Nielsen BookScan which says it sold about 40,000 books in the first week.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Thanks very much.

CHARLES KAISER:
Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Charles Kaiser writes a blog about the press and politics for Radar Online called Full Court Press.