Continuing to Correct Politico and Drudge

Some readers of this blog will have noticed yesterday that an incorrectly reported Politico story–about Barack Obama as author of Dreams From My Father–which was then inflated on the Drudge Report in to a bogus “Obama lied” meme, led to me being quoted in TPM’s story on the dust-up, because I published the first paperback edition of the book, in 1996. The TPM story ran under the headline, “‘Dreams From My Father’ Publisher: Drudge, Politico Obama Hits Bunk.”

And now today, Craig Silverman–who in 2007 published a book with me, Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Our Free Speech –writes about this situation on his blog, where he covers media mistakes and corrections, in a column, How Politico can fix its mistake about Obama book. In his piece, Craig does an excellent job taking away useful lessons from the episode that all media people and news orgs should consider following, especially on how to handle the aftermath of a mistake. For media people who care about preventing errors, and the misinformation and harm that flow from them, I urge you to heed Craig’s constructive advice.

For the record, I’ve also written about correcting the Politico error and the Drudge amplification of it here, and earlier wrote about publishing Dreams From My Father here.

Correcting Politico and Drudge on “Dreams From My Father”

Happy to be quoted at length in this TPM story by Brian Beutler about the erroneous reporting by Politico, which mistakenly reported today that Barack Obama had failed in the earliest editions of Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance to acknowledge that he created composite characters in the book. I know otherwise because I published the first paperback edition of the book, in 1996, as I have written on this blog. I contacted TPM this afternoon to correct the record on the needlessly murky situation created by the false report that originated with today’s Politico story by Dylan Byers, then amplified on the Drudge Report. You may click on the TPM story or read it below.

A former executive of the original paperback publisher of President Obama’s 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father weighed in on Wednesday’s manufactured controversy over whether Obama represented fiction as fact by using composite characters in his autobiography.
“It is unfathomable to me how Dylan Byers of Politico could have overlooked the very plain disclaimer that the book carried from the very start,” Philip Turner said to TPM via email. Turner was an editorial executive with Kodansha America, which published the paperback version of Dreams from My Father in 1996.
“The reference to ‘compression’ appears on page ix of the Introduction of the book I published then, which I have on my desk as I write this message,” Turner says. “What’s more, the 1996 paperback was an exact reprint with no changes of the hardcover edition that had been published a year earlier….” (emphasis added).
The fact that Obama used composite characters in his memoir — and that he disclosed this in the book’s introduction — was widely known before it was mentioned again in an excerpt from David Maraniss’ upcoming Obama biography, published Wednesday in Vanity Fair. It even featured prominently in a 2007 story by Politico’s top political reporter Mike Allen.
But on Wednesday, Politico published a story that made no reference to the disclaimer, suggesting Obama had misled his own readers. That piece has since been appended with a correction, but still reads as an indictment of the President.

For the record, this is the entire comment I sent to TPM which they quote from above:

As the first paperback publisher of “Dreams From My Father,” in 1996, I feel obliged to confirm everything in the above TPM story by Benjy Sarlin. The reference to “compression” appears on page ix of the Introduction of the book I published then, which I have on my desk as I write this message. What’s more, the 1996 paperback was an exact reprint with no changes of the hardcover edition that had been published a year earlier. For the record, I was editor-in-chief of Kodansha America then, and we acquired the rights to publish the book from Random House, whose imprint Times Books had done the hardcover. In the early 2000s Kodansha’s license to publish the paperback expired and rights reverted to Random House. Their Three Rivers Press imprint republished it in paperback in 2004 with a new preface by the author, and yet his original Introduction, with the disclaimer about “compression” remained in the book then.

It is unfathomable to me how Dylan Byers of Politico could have overlooked the very plain disclaimer that the book carried from the very start. I wonder if commenter @wpilderback isn’t right in his explanation below: “This was an opportunity for them to remind people that Obama slept with a white woman, and nothing more.” Even if Byers just made a stupid and avoidable mistake, I’m sure Drudge was only too happy to perpetuate the error.       

For readers interested in further information on the paperback edition I published, I refer you to a personal essay I published last month on my blog The Great Gray Bridge, via this link:


“Dreams From My Father” & Kodansha Globe, 1995-96

As some of my book biz friends know, in the 90s I had a good long tenure as an editorial executive with Kodansha America, the NY office of the largest Japanese publisher. Although we published some Asian-oriented titles, it was a mostly U.S. list with such books as the national bestseller al bestseller Having Our Say, by the centenarian Delaney sisters, and A Diary of the Century:Tales From American’s Great Diarist by Edward Robb Ellis, which sold well and got lots of coverage, including a rare hat trick when the author appeared on all three network morning shows the week of publication. I just blogged about Eddie a few weeks ago, on the anniversary of what would have been his 101st birthday.

During my five years with Kodansha, I also started a trade paperback series that in some ways anticipated the fine list published nowadays by the New York Review of Books Classics imprint. Kodansha Globe combined titles in cross-cultural studies, anthropology, natural history, adventure, narrative travel and belle lettres. I developed the program with my astute and affable Japanese boss Minato Asakawa, with valuable contributions from talented editorial colleagues Paul DeAngelis–who introduced me to the work of Owen Lattimore, whose 1950 anti-McCarthyite broadside Ordeal by Slander I would republish in 2003–and Deborah Baker, about whom I’ll say more below. By the time I left Kodansha in 1997 we had published more than ninety Globe titles, including the first paperback edition of Barack Obama’s debut book Dreams From My Father

The Globe list included revivals of notable books that had fallen out of print: Man Meets Dog, on the origins of the human-canine bond, by Konrad Lorenz, Alone, a harrowing account of survival near the South Pole, by Admiral Richard Byrd, Blackberry Winter, the youthful memoir of Margaret Mead, and All Aboard with E.M. Frimbo, a classic of train culture by New Yorker stalwarts Rogers E.M. Whitaker and Tony Hiss; originals like Sarajevo, Exodus of a City, a biography of the besieged city by Bosnian playwright Dzevad Karahasan, which the Voice Literary Supplement made a year-end best book during the Balkan Wars; and reprints of current hardcovers from major houses like Peter Canby’s The Heart of the Sky, on the resilience of Mayan culture in the Americas and Alex Shoumatoff’s The Mountain of Names, chronicling the history of human kinship and genealogy, which before dying last year Christopher Hitchens made the springboard for one his last columns. We also developed a strong list in books on Central Asia, including four books by the master chronicler of the region, Peter Hopkirk, whose The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia was the top-selling Globe title. // more w/illustrations . . .

Kodansha Returning to U.S. Publishing Scene

Excited to see a brief item explaining that Kodansha, the Japanese publishing house I worked for from 1992-97, is planning their return to the U.S. scene. In 1996, as part of the Kodansha Globe series we published the first paperback edition of then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama’s debut book, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

A Global Readership

Happy to see the U.S. State Dept. sees value in placing Pres. Obama’s books in embassy libraries in Egypt, S. Korea, Indonesia, etc. The Moonie-run right-wing Washington Times is trying to stir up a controversy with a story on this, “But State Department spokesman Noel Clay said the book purchases followed regular government procurement rules. […]