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Slate columnist Timothy Noah takes on a new book by right-wing journalist Jerome R. Corsi, calling it an unambiguous smear-job against presidential hopeful Barack Obama. The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, which will top The New York Times bestsellers list this weekend, is marred by multiple errors, Noah claims “ for instance, Corsi’s suggestion that the Illinois senator may have continued to experiment with drugs past college. The book is no doubt a fitting companion to Corsi’s previous work of, er, political reporting, titled Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.

Why did Corsi write The Obama Nation? Was it in disinterested pursuit of scholarly truth? Er, not exactly. The goal is to defeat Obama, he told the Times. I don’t want Obama to be in office.

Of course, overheated polemics are nothing new to U.S. readers, especially during election season. Noah’s real scorn is reserved for Corsi’s publisher, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, whose eponymous imprint is backed by Simon & Schuster.

All this raises the question of whether the world of conservative publishing, which includes not only Matalin’s imprint at Simon & Schuster but also Random House’s Crown Forum and Penguin Group USA’s Sentinel, aspires even to the standards of the nonideological (or what conservatives call the liberal) publishing establishment, which are nothing to write home about. What I’ve learned about The Obama Nation suggests it does not. What the hell is Mary Matalin doing running a publishing imprint in the first place?

The answer is depressingly obvious “ runaway sales, regardless of the cost to truth (or American political culture, for that matter). Noah ends his piece with another rhetorical question:

The conservative movement has won the publishing houses’ attention but not their respect. Does it even care?