Accuracy in Media

Given all the blogosphere speculation about Bill Ayers ghostwriting for Obama, one major development at the end of September threatened to break the story wide open. Veteran journalist and bestselling author of 33 books Christopher Andersen has just published a fascinating new book: Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage. It is largely a sympathetic look at the dynamics within America’s first family.

But sorting through the more than 200 interviews Andersen says it took to create this book, he came to a startling conclusion: After Obama had to give up on a $150,000 Simon & Schuster contract because he couldn’t complete the manuscript, his sources were telling him Obama finally had to bring in a ghostwriter to put together his highly praised Dreams From My Father for Times Books. He had a million pieces of tape, pictures, memos, notes, and no manuscript.

And he was running out of time to deliver the book.

Nothing wrong so far. Few politicians can string a paragraph together without a ghostwriter.

Unfortunately for Obama, he was caught at a July 10, 2008, meeting in Fairfax, Virginia proudly saying the following:

I’ve written two books. I actually wrote them myself.

Also unfortunately for Obama, Andersen’s sources – all of whom were sympathetic and appear to be at least neighbors to Obama – came to other conclusions. Andersen wrote:

These oral histories, along with a partial manuscript and a truckload of notes, were given to Ayers. “Everyone knew they were friends and that they worked on various projects together,” another Hyde Park neighbor pointed out. “It was no secret. Why would it be? People liked them both.” In the end, Ayers’ contribution to Barack’s Dreams From My Father would be significant – so much so that the book’s language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’ own writing. Even the caveat at the beginning of Dreams, in which Barack points out that he uses invented dialogue, embellished facts, composite characters, inaccurate chronology, and pseudonyms to create an “approximation” of reality, resembles Ayers’ defense of the inaccuracies in his memoir Fugitive Days. In the foreword to his book, Ayers states that the book is merely a collection of his personal memories and “impressions.” … Thanks to help from the veteran writer Ayers, Barack would be able to submit a manuscript to his editors at Times Books.

On Sean Hannity’s show, Andersen explained why:

During that campaign I think he was doing some backpedaling, I’ll be honest. And I think that Michelle probably recommended that he not emphasize their relationship with Ayers.

Andersen is a celebrity journalist who has worked at Time and People. He knows what kind of lawsuits are occasioned by careless reporting and so far, after many years, he has never had a source or one of his notoriously touchy celebrity subjects complain about the accuracy of his reporting. And the last thing Andersen wanted was to follow this line of questioning as one can see watching him slide out of it on the Hannity clip.

Repeatedly grilled on numerous occasions about how close he was with the notorious 1960s Weatherman radical Bill Ayers, Obama stated Ayers was just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” and “not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis.”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, The Washington Post “Fact Checker” backed up that Obama statement in attacking a McCain campaign ad that claimed Obama lied about his relationship with Ayers. The Post’s Pinocchio Test concluded: “The McCain campaign is distorting the Obama-Ayers relationship, and exaggerating their closeness. There is no evidence that Obama has “lied” about his dealings with Ayers.” McCain was so cowed by the award of “two Pinocchios” that he wouldn’t let his ticketmate Sarah Palin raise the issue again.

Thanks to Christopher Andersen’s hard work there is now credible sourced evidence that Obama did lie about his dealing with Ayers. And thanks to the literary sleuthing of Jack Cashill, whom Andersen credits for finding the textual comparisons between Obama’s Dreams and Ayers’ writing, there is an abundance of internal evidence.

Cashill has published a number of articles like “Who Wrote Dreams From My Father and Why It Matters” using classic literary forensic techniques, many of the articles were published in the center right e-magazine American Thinker.

Cashill has written for Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, and holds a Ph.D. in American Studies. He has also produced documentaries for PBS and other stations, one of which won an Emmy. But once he began to dig into stories that examined the similarities between Obama’s Dreams and the writing of Bill Ayers, he found himself restricted to blogs like World Net Daily.

Fortunately in an age in which many formerly authoritative news outlets have deserted the interests of their readers and viewers in favor of giving each other journalism prizes for stories few in their evaporating market care about, Americans are being taught to get their news where they can find it.

As a former adman, publisher, and a teacher of writing who has published a work on literary fraud, Cashill brought rare qualifications to the task. “In September 2008 I picked up a copy of Ayers’ Fugitive Days and it hit me,” he told me. “From comparing Obama’s Dreams From My Father to his earlier works it was already clear to me some one had helped him with it. And they did a damned good job.”

“But I’ll admit Bill Ayers as Obama’s ghost writer had never occurred to me before then.”

Those who praised Obama’s work may have some rethinking to do now.

“I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine.” Now Christopher Buckley may learn he has an even more vivid imagination than he thought. After all, his admiration for Dreams was an integral part of his explanation as to why he resigned from the National Review his father had founded and voted for Obama.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison had called the book” … unique. It’s his. There are no other ones like that.” Well, she is partially right. At least there are no “ones” that may have been ghostwritten for an American president by a terrorist that anyone can remember.

Joe Klein at Time knows more about ghostwriting than most authors, having ghostwritten his own book under the pseudonym of pseudonyms: “Anonymous.” His authorship of Primary Colors was outed by another textual effort not dissimilar from Cashill’s. Klein has the only quote that stands up in the light of the new information. He said: Dreams “may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”

“Produced” may definitely be the operative word.

In January this year, the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani called it “The most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president.” Oh well, who knew?

As a former publishing executive and the founder of Times Books – which originally published Dreams – I can accept that these kinds of frauds occasionally happen. And without a direct admission of guilt, the evidence will always be unsatisfying with conflicting opinions battling back and forth.

A publisher can get gulled by a skillful con. And once outed it can be a major catastrophe. One has only to recall the James Frey controversy over his Random House best-seller, which, like Obama’s “truckload of notes,” was another A Million Little Pieces. Once Frey was revealed by a careful scan of his police records by as a liar whose “memoir” was largely fiction, Random House did the only honorable thing it could. It explained that all future printings of the book would be delayed until it had notes from both the publisher and the author on the lies in the text as well as notations on the cover and posted to the website. Random House also sent out inserts for the books already in the stores. Later Random House set aside several million dollars to compensate readers who felt they may have been defrauded in buying the book.

But at least no one accused James Frey of not writing it.

And the evidence keeps piling up around Ayers.

Around 9:00 a.m. on October 5th, 2009, Anne Leary was sitting at the Starbucks by the United Airlines gate at Reagan Airport for flights to and from Chicago. She was drinking a cup of coffee before getting on her flight home. She looked up and recognized Bill Ayers with his backpack waiting in line for a cup of coffee. She walked past him, turned and took his picture. She asked what he was doing in Washington. He told her he was giving a speech to a Renaissance Group in Arlington on education.

“That’s what I do, education – you shouldn’t believe everything you hear about me, you know nothing about me,” Ayers said to her.

“I know plenty – I’m from Chicago, a conservative blogger, and I’ll post this.”

According to her blog:

Then, unprompted he said – “I wrote Dreams From My Father.” I said, “Oh, so you admit it.” He said “Michelle asked me to.” I looked at him. He seemed eager. He’s about my height, short. He went on to say: “And if you can prove it, we can split the royalties.” So I said, “Stop pulling my leg.” (Horrible thought.) But he came again: “I really wrote it, the wording was similar.” I said, “I believe you probably heavily edited it.” He said “I wrote it.” I said, “Why would I believe you, you’re a liar.”

He had no answer to that. Just looked at me. Then he turned and walked off, and said again his bit about my proving it and splitting the proceeds.

What will Random House do as this kind of clear evidence accumulates that the sitting president of the United States lied to them and the American people about having written his memoir by himself? Obama may have lied about having it ghostwritten by a man infamous to many Americans for his unrepentant attitude towards his deep involvement in the terrorist Weathermen in the 1960s. “I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said in an interview with the New York Times that appeared the morning the World Trade Center was attacked and destroyed by al-Qaeda. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

A good publisher first looks for a commercial opportunity. This doesn’t have to be bad news. Ayers may be lousy at being a terrorist, but he is a damned fine writer. Random House can always relaunch the book as a co-authored product, sending out corrective inserts to the books in the stores and sending Ayers on the road on a publicity tour. With this kind of publicity, they can’t miss.

I have called Markus Dohle, the CEO of Random House, and Stuart Applebaum, the wily director of Communications at Random House who helped weather the Frey fray so well. Do they have a lower standard for an American president who may be defrauding them and their American and international readers than for a James Frey? Are they looking into this?

We will soon see. I am waiting to hear.

In the meantime, remembering the publicity firestorm that raged for months over the Frey book, complete with hot and cold running Oprah shows, where is the press? A president of the United States caught in the glare of accusations like this? A real newsman like Ben Hecht would have been in heaven and gotten 10 extra editions out of it already. But the white rabbits and white mice that make up the increasingly reader and viewer deprived press today are just doing what they always do in the face of a good story these days – hiding until the news value goes away.

After the Anne Leary blog appeared on October 5, there were three interesting developments. The New York Times Kate Phillips wrote a snarky dismissive piece establishing that for the “newspaper of record” Ayers was enjoying yanking chains of gullible reporters by claiming he had ghosted Obama and would share the royalties with anyone who could prove it.

And NRO carried a piece by conservative Jonah Goldberg establishing that that made sense to him, because the National Journal had carried a similar story by their reporter, Will England, on October 3.

And’s Ben Sarlin called up Ayers who gave him the non-denial denial quote: “You’ve all lost your minds,” he wrote. “Best of luck in the twilight zone.” Sarlin was careful not to call a non-denial a denial, but the sense of his piece was like Kate Phillips-lite – this is wingnut material, you have to be crazy to look into things like this.

I disagree. Here’s why.

The timing of these two “teasing” incidents right after the Andersen statement may be more than a coincidence. Andersen told a tale out of school on Hannity – on September 24, take a look at the tape above – and Ayers/Obama had to walk it back. So far they are doing fine.

The various speculations by “wingnuts” in the blogosphere were no danger to Ayers/Obama. MSM reporter Andersen blowing it in a surprise question by an interviewer who actually had read his book (a rarity in itself) was a nightmare. Andersen is a superb celebrity journalist from Time and People. He has never been sued through more than 30 books and hundreds of articles. He says he has two sources. And his book was a kissy face look at the Obamas meant to sell as a love fest – he had interviewed the first family. He was anything but hostile. And he claims he has two sources in Hyde Park.

There are only two chain-yanking incidents I can find. The first was alluded to by Will England on Oct 3rd in the National Journal. It refers to an “over the weekend” questioning of Bill Ayers at a book festival. “This is my quote. Be sure to write it down: ‘Yes, I wrote Dreams From My Father. I ghostwrote the whole thing. I met with the president three or four times, and then I wrote the entire book.'” He released National Journal’s arm, and beamed in Marxist triumph: “And now I would like the royalties.”

That weekend might most likely have been the same weekend the National Journal piece appeared, October 3 and 4, or the week earlier. England is unlikely to have run a news item that was older than that.

The Hannity mistake by Andersen was more than a week earlier on September 24. Anne Leary’s piece recounted an incident on October 5. When I read it and interviewed Anne Leary, I was struck by how hard Ayers worked to make sure this self-proclaimed conservative blogger (“Thank you, God!” Ayers must have thought) stopped flaming him long enough to get his story across … and turned back and did it again to make sure. It never occurred to Anne it was a setup. She was enjoying telling him what a creep he was. He had to interrupt her twice to make his “confession.”

No one has yet posted any Ayers’ chain-yanking about his ghostmanship prior to the Hannity show. And both these incidents were volunteered by Ayers. Neither England nor Leary had asked Ayers about his possible ghosting. Ayers clearly pushed this story at them.

I have been watching this story evolve for over a year. I did nothing until Christopher Andersen blathered on Hannity. And I saw the stricken look on his face and I have had three very revealing calls with his consultant, who is a pro. Andersen is terrified of talking about this. He won’t speak to me. Ayers hasn’t called back either.

For now the clever “I was joking” story is working fine … except for the timing. Unless someone can show me another “I was joking” incident prior to the Hannity incident, I think the evidence leads to Andersen outing Ayers by mistake, and the chain-yanking being a ploy. Andersen never should have gone on Hannity. His book sales come from nice middle-aged ladies who don’t watch Hannity.

Now they are worried this disclosure will make the book look (horrors!) anti-Obama, which it isn’t. And if so, that will slow his sales. And they are right.

“Authoritative” denials are always worth a little shoe leather, particularly when the denied story, if true, could cause major problems to the denier.

During his campaign for the presidency, John Kerry told everyone he wasn’t present at the 1971 Kansas City meeting of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War which discussed assassinating U.S. senators who favored the Vietnam War. That would have been a problem for Kerry because at the time he had been the national spokesperson for the VVAW. He also denied it to Douglas Brinkley who included it in his campaign biography Tour of Duty. I found witnesses to his presence, and details started coming out of my sources. like an FBI report that made it clear that he was. He had to admit he was there. That kicked off the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth campaign which led to the end of his presidential hopes forever.

As of now, Ayers has not denied being the ghost. Andersen has said he was, and he has sources and a fine reputation in the MSM. It is just lazy reporting to ignore the implications and claim anyone who continues to look into it is some kind of wingnut. The ultimate Ayers joke would be telling the truth and having the media think he was just yanking chains. You can tell the truth and yank chains at least as effectively as you can tell a lie.

Thomas Lipscomb is the Founder of Times Books and a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future.

The case is still open on Ayers and any responsible news organization should press on.Article printed from Pajamas Media:

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