Or read the transcript below:
Transcript by J. C. Hendershot
Interview with Edward Klein by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, June 7, 2012.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good morning, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and of The AIM Report. You can subscribe to receive our daily E-mails, or get our newsletter, by visiting our website at aim.org. We hope you’ll do that. We have quite a show today. Our guest is journalist Ed Klein, the author of the new book The Amateur, which unveils many of the stories behind the Obama White House, as well as the President’s relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Hillary Clinton, members of the Kennedy family, Valerie Jarrett, and others who have an influence over our nation’s 44th President. Good morning, Ed! We’re so glad to have you with us today on Take AIM!
ED KLEIN: Good morning, Roger! It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to be with you this morning!
ARONOFF: Thank you! I want to take a little time to tell our listeners a little more about you and your work as a journalist. Edward Klein is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair magazine. He’s a former foreign editor of Newsweek, and a former editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine. He’s also the author of ten other books, one being The Obama Identity, a novel that he co-wrote with former New York Congressman John LeBoutillier. Other previous works include Ted Kennedy: The Dream that Never Died; The Truth About Hillary: What She Knew, When She Knew It, and How Far She’ll Go to Become President; plus several other books about the Kennedys. You can learn more about each of these books, and about Mr. Klein, by visiting his website at edwardklein.com. So, tell our listeners a little about your political journey. Someone who has been the editor of The New York Times Magazine normally wouldn’t be thought of as someone who would write a book like this, about President Obama, so I think our listeners would be very interested in your political journey.
KLEIN: There are two things to say about that, Roger. One is, in general, we should recall that The New York Times, when I was there—which was almost 25 years ago now—was under the editorship of the late A.M. Rosenthal, and my editorship of the magazine, a—what I would call a “straight newspaper.” In other words, it was neither liberal nor conservative. It tried to be balanced and fair, and I think Abe Rosenthal did a fantastic job keeping it that way. Unfortunately, when he left, and others took over, the entire paper, including the magazine—which I had left in 1987, 1988—started drifting to the Left, and now, of course, it’s all the way over to the Left. So my association with the magazine doesn’t, ipso facto, mean that I was some sort of a wild-eyed liberal while I was there.
KLEIN: Quite the contrary. Personally, I have been right-of-center for the majority of my professional career. I was the foreign editor of Newsweek, and at that time, during the ’60s and ’70s, I was quite hawkish on the Vietnam War, and certainly not a great fan of the student uprising and the general degeneration of our culture. So I consider myself a right-of-center person, and have for a very long period of time.
ARONOFF: So the new book, The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House—what was your inspiration to write this book?
KLEIN: Believe it or not, it wasn’t ideological. It wasn’t “I’m going to go get this guy!” It was more journalistic. I looked at him, I said to myself, “Here is this African-American senator who comes out of nowhere, has accomplished nothing during his time in public life, who hypnotizes millions of Americans into voting for him, gets into the White House, and turns into something that we have never seen in the modern day, which is an amateur in the White House—someone who does not know how to do the actual day-to-day job of the Presidency. I thought that was not only a very good story, but also a very important story, because we need to avoid electing people like Barack Obama in the future. In order to do so, we need to see what the consequences of having elected not only an inexperienced guy—he was certainly inexperienced—but a guy who did not have the temperament to do the job—and, as we’ve seen, he hasn’t been able to do the job.
ARONOFF: What were the one or two indicators to you he was this amateur, and not up to the job?
KLEIN: I think the most important indicator that I got was from both the Democratic and Republican sides in the Congress when I did a lot of reporting in Washington for this book, The Amateur, and discovered that it wasn’t only the Republicans who found it difficult to the point of impossible to work with him because there was no give on Obama’s side, but the Democrats themselves had no respect for this President. They didn’t think he had the executive leadership ability and skills that are required in a President. For instance, again and again people pointed out that Lyndon Johnson, who couldn’t give really a decent speech, or read well from the teleprompter, knew how to operate the levers of power in Washington, whereas Obama, who’s good on the podium in front of a teleprompter, who looks good with his neckties and so forth, hasn’t the first clue that politics requires the President to have personal relations with his colleagues in the equal branch of government, which is the Congress. In order to do that, he has to reach out and create these relationships. Barack Obama has been totally incapable of doing so.
ARONOFF: When you approached the nearly 200 people that you interviewed for this book—which is quite remarkable—over, I believe, a year and a half, did most of the people know the perspective of the book that you were writing? Did you even know the perspective that you were coming at it from?
KLEIN: As you know, I had written a book called The Truth About Hillary a few years ago.
KLEIN: It was a very critical book about Hillary Clinton, and it made me a lot of enemies on the Left. A lot of the friends that I had in the mainstream media, from my years in the mainstream media, shunned me and my wife, disinvited us to parties, things like that—didn’t want to talk to us, pretended they didn’t see us if we were walking down the street—really silly, high school kinds of reactions.
KLEIN: So I didn’t come to this book on Obama without some sort of a track record of having done a serious, searching critique of a Left-wing politician like Hillary. But I must say that, despite that, I got a lot of cooperation from people who like Obama, but who have been—well, I should say “liked,” past tense, Obama, but have become deeply disillusioned and disappointed about his Presidency.
ARONOFF: I think the biggest headline that’s come out of this, and been talked about, is about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. You did about three hours of interviews with him. Sean Hannity played some of that, so we’ve heard part of the tapes. Do you think he understood what this book was going to be about, as far as the take on Obama, before he sat down to talk to you?
KLEIN: As you know, I did tape-record this conversation with the Reverend Wright’s approval.
KLEIN: The tape recorder sat on the table between us.
KLEIN: He approved that. I think he understood, very clearly, that this was his opportunity to tell his side of the story, and get back at Barack Obama. I think he understood exactly what he was doing. On the one hand, he was trying to clear his name by claiming that he had been taken out of context, and he really didn’t mean the things that people had heard him say—which I found unconvincing, I must say. But, on the other hand, he also wanted to use the opportunity—and did so—to indicate that Barack Obama was no better than any other politician, and, in some ways, worse, because Obama didn’t even stop at using his best friends to offer Jeremiah Wright money to remain silent during the 2008 campaign—and then followed that up with a personal meeting with Wright in which Obama and Wright spent an hour together in Wright’s living room at the parsonage of Trinity United Church of Christ, during which Obama begged him, “Please, Rev, don’t—” Rev, he called him “Rev”—please don’t talk anymore! You’re hurting me. You’re becoming the issue in the campaign.” Reverend Wright said, “My principles don’t allow me to remain silent.” Obama said, “The trouble with you, Rev, is that you need to tell the truth.” Reverend Wright said, “Well, that’s not such a bad thing for a pastor to do!”
ARONOFF: And the headline coming out of there is that this person you just referred to, Eric Whitaker—you don’t name him in the book but his name comes up in the tapes—is the President of the Chicago Medical Center—
KLEIN: University of Chicago Medical Center, yes.
ARONOFF: Okay. He offered $150,000 to Reverend Wright to, basically, be quiet during the campaign, and this is the same Eric—
KLEIN: Hush money—hush money, yeah.
ARONOFF: Hush money, right. This is the same Eric Whitaker who was very close to the Obamas, you suggested, and who had hired Michelle Obama to work for over $350,000 a year while Obama was a senator.
KLEIN: That’s all true. It’s all crony Chicago capitalism, and that’s really the other side of this book: Not only is Barack Obama an amateur, unable to function in the job of the Presidency, but he is, at the same time, a creature of Chicago politics, and a very radical Left-wing member of the Democratic Party who wants to use his time in office to engineer a transformation of our society, and make us a much more socialistic country. This is the toxic mix of incompetence and radicalism, and we’ve seen the results in many ways, most dramatically, perhaps, in the terrible economic fix that we find ourselves in today, thanks, in large part, to Obama’s boneheaded policies.
ARONOFF: Another thing: Whitaker, since this has come out, has chosen his words carefully when he denied having bribed Reverend Wright. He never denied the E-mail that you said was sent, or the offer of the payment. Is that correct?
KLEIN: Yes. He, like Bill Clinton—who said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”—
ARONOFF: Right . . .
KLEIN: —Whitaker said, “I never sent any sort of bribe.” Those were his exact words. As you just said, he did not deny offering money, he did not deny sending an E-mail. He could easily have said, “The whole thing’s a tissue of lies!” and “I didn’t do it!” But he didn’t say that. Clearly he didn’t because, if he did, Reverend Wright could reach into his cardboard box—where he keeps all these documents, he told me—and produce the E-mail.
ARONOFF: A little more about Wright. He told you that Barack Obama was, “steeped” in Islam, he knew a lot about it from his childhood, but knew very little about Christianity. Wright said, “I made it easy for him to feel not guilty about learning about Christianity without turning his back on his Islamic friends.” Tell us about that. Did Wright convert him from Islam to Christianity?
KLEIN: I asked the Reverend Wright. Of course, after he said that—which, quite frankly, I don’t get shocked too easily, but that really surprised me to hear the Reverend Wright say that, because this has been a deep suspicion of many people, that Barack Obama has been, in the past, a Muslim. I said, to the Reverend Wright—it’s on the tape, and by the way, I released the entire three hours, not just the edited snippets, but the whole thing, so it’s out in public for anyone to listen to—“Did you convert Barack Obama from Islam to Christianity?” I asked that question to the pastor who ministered to Obama for over 23 years, and his answer was, quote, “That’s hard to say.” Now, that’s quite a statement.
ARONOFF: Does that mean he baptized him? Didn’t baptize him? Do you know anything about that?
KLEIN: It’s my understanding that baptism is not a requirement at Trinity United Church of Christ—so I don’t know if he baptized him or not. But he does take credit for bringing Obama to Jesus. The Reverend Wright then said, “However, neither Barack Obama nor his wife Michelle are church people. Church is not important to them.” So to what degree Barack Obama can legitimately claim being a Christian when church is not important to him, and he doesn’t go to church very often—didn’t send his children to Sunday School there, by the way—is something for people to decide on their own.
ARONOFF: Another thing Wright told you was that Obama had been a person of integrity and heart—“But no longer” was his quote, I believe. Part of that might have come when Obama disinvited him from giving the invocation at the inauguration?
KLEIN: I think that was certainly part of it, the invocation of the ceremony at which Obama announced that he was running for President in 2007—
ARONOFF: Oh, okay. I see.
KLEIN: Yes. What he said to me was that once Obama became a national politician, he became like everybody else. Up until that point, Wright thought that Obama was a special politician. But he also said that his friends in the church groups that he’s associated with had warned him for years that Obama was using him, using Wright, for his political connections, because the church that Wright ministered to, Trinity United Church of Christ, Wright built from a membership of 80 to 8,000 over a number of years. Most of the members of that church were middle class and upper-middle class African-Americans who were politically connected in Chicago. They had money and some power in politics. It was the church to belong to if you were an ambitious politician. Wright said that for years and years he told his friends, “Well, I don’t agree with you. I don’t think he’s using me. I think he’s sincere.” But he said he changed his mind about Obama after Obama became a national politician and started to behave just like every other politician.
ARONOFF: You write about how Brian Ross of ABC News broke what you called the “media’s gentlemen’s agreement” not to air the Jeremiah Wright videos during the 2008 campaign. Ross talked about how it aired on Good Morning America, but they wouldn’t put it on the evening news, and people at the network were quite annoyed with him. How does a “gentlemen’s agreement” like that occur? Is it spoken? Unspoken? How high up? What are we talking about here?
KLEIN: Roger, that’s a wonderful question. I wish I knew the answer. I’ve been asked that question in various forms ever since The Amateur was published, because everyone figures I would know the answer, since I was there at Newsweek, there at The New York Times, there at Vanity Fair, and all those publications, of course, are part of the mainstream media. These things are often done in informal wink-and-nod kinds of ways. It’s rare that somebody would come out and say, “Let’s not run Brian Ross’s videos of the Reverend Wright ranting and raving against America, against whites, against Jews, and against Israel, because we don’t want to embarrass Barack Obama. I can’t imagine any producer saying that. But I can imagine a producer saying, “These tapes are incendiary and one-sided, they’re unfair”—coming up with some lame excuse for not putting them on the evening show which everyone in the room would understand: Instead of his saying out and out, “We’re in the tank for Obama”—which they all are—he’s using code words. I think that happens most of the time. People in the mainstream media see a lot of each other at lunches, cocktail parties, dinners. They go on vacations in the same places, the Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard. They have an opportunity to talk to each other, E-mail each other, and, you know, they make comments, snide comments about Republicans. I can’t tell you how often in recent days I’ve heard Democrats say to me that Mitt Romney is an idiot. Now, here’s a guy who went to Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, top of his class, brilliant business man, a successful governor—they said the same thing about Ronald Reagan, by the way, back in the 1970s and ’80s—all of which is typical of the kind of conversation that goes on among these people. It has its effect because if you want to remain part of the club, and don’t want to be shunned and excommunicated, then you go along with it.
KLEIN: Yet everyone in this group thinks they’re doing the right thing because they’re on the side of the poor and the oppressed, and they’re doing charitable work on behalf of people who need help. They think of themselves as very enlightened, whereas, in fact, they’re not doing their job—and their job is a very simple job, which is to tell the truth on all sides, and not pull any punches.
ARONOFF: This media gentlemen’s agreement seems to extend to you because your book now, as of today or yesterday, is number one on The New York Times Bestsellers for the third week in a row—
ARONOFF: —yet you’ve largely been ignored by the so-called mainstream media. There was a review in The New York Times by Janet Maslin. I don’t know if you know her or not, but, obviously—
KLEIN: I do.
ARONOFF: —you read the review.
ARONOFF: She called it “Edward Klein’s Invective-Laden Obama Book.” So tell us about the media gentlemen’s agreement blocking you from greater coverage, and how you’ve worked your way around that.
KLEIN: Other than the very snarky Janet Maslin review in The New York Times of my book, The Amateur, which was really not a review of the book at all, but an attack on me personally—there are all kinds of adjectives to describe me, such as “arrogant,” and things like that, “ideologue,” “invective,” what have you—the mainstream media has not largely, but entirely, ignored and avoided writing about this book, which has become quite a phenomenon. It has shot up to the number one spot on the Times’ list three weeks in a row, and it has done so without getting any attention at the morning shows on ABC, NBC, or CBS; the evening shows; any of the talk shows, such as The View or Live! with Kelly; or any of these places—but it has received a warm reception at Fox News Network, thanks to Roger Ailes, I must say. I’ve been on Hannity twice, on Fox and Friends, on Lou Dobbs. My friend Larry Kudlow over on CNBC has had me one but that’s an unusual break with the phalanx that’s been against me. But, you know, radio—thank God for radio in this country, because radio shows—I’ve done probably a hundred or more radio shows. It’s the radio shows that have been largely giving me an opportunity to talk about this book, make the public aware that it’s out there, and the public has responded. So people sometimes snigger when one talks about the mainstream media, as though, “Oh, come on, there is no, there’s no conspiracy among the mainstream media.” Well, there is! It’s as simple as that. I’ve experienced it. Other people have experienced it. Accuracy in Media, of course, has been on that case for a long, long time—doing God’s work.
ARONOFF: [Since] 1969!
KLEIN: Yes? And if you hadn’t been, I mean, God knows where we would be today. So, it is possible to get out a message without the mainstream media, but it’s a sad, sad comment on our society that the most powerful organs of communication are in the control of people who censor any point of view other than their Left-wing point of view.
ARONOFF: Well, let’s touch on a few other things. One of the topics we’ve covered, particularly Cliff Kincaid here, is about Frank Marshall Davis, who Obama referred to as “Frank” in his book Dreams From My Father. Did you look into that at all, how big an influence he was on Obama? What could you tell us about him?
KLEIN: Well, I did, and I didn’t. I mean, obviously, I’m aware of it. I think there’s a story there. I didn’t get into it because there was nobody to interview. The relationship there was essentially a relationship that had been developed between Barry Obama’s grandfather, who was a Left-winger, and Frank Marshall, who was a—
KLEIN: —Frank Marshall Davis, sorry, who was, you know, an out and out Communist.
KLEIN: And also, as I understand it, a child molester. I think he was actually caught molesting children. Grandpa Dunham would take young Barry, in Hawaii, to visit this guy, Davis, on frequent occasions. There was a lot of heavy drinking going on, and a lot of indoctrination going on, at the same time, in Communist ideology. I base my book largely on, as you know, interviews, and these are two dead people, so I didn’t get into this. But I certainly think it was important—that relationship was an important relationship in the formation of young Barry Obama’s life.
ARONOFF: Right. Now, the title of the book comes from Bill Clinton’s comments to Hillary when he was trying to encourage her to run against Obama in 2012. This past week has highlighted the dynamics between these two—Clinton referring to Romney’s record as a businessman as sterling, bragging that he’s the only President to give us four surplus budgets when he was helping to raise money for Obama, and then he called, a couple days ago, to extend the Bush tax cuts past the end of this year, though he later clarified that. So what is going on here? Is Clinton openly trying to get Obama defeated? Because if he does that, that seems like it might hurt Hillary’s chances in 2016, but that’s what he seems to be doing—and based on your reporting of their relationship, it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s what he’s up to.
KLEIN: The Clintons and the Obamas are the Hatfields and McCoys of the Democratic Party. They’ve been feuding now for several years—bitter feud, nothing but hatred on both sides. They come from two different wings of the Democratic party—Clinton from the center-Left, Obama from the far Left. They don’t agree on practically anything—well, they not only don’t agree but they hold grudges about what happened during the 2008 primary campaign, when Hillary and Obama went at each other. But as you just pointed out, Bill’s chief goal in life is to get Hillary elected President of the United States, and one of the main reasons he’s campaigning for Obama is to show that he’s a loyal Democrat, in order to be able to say in 2016, “I expect to be paid back for my loyalty by the Democratic machinery.” But Bill being Bill, he seems not to have been able to contain himself. His real feelings have kept popping up. And as we’ve read, even his own people, in his own camp, are appalled by these comments of his, which have been very detrimental to Obama—and you can imagine how the Obama people must feel, using this guy and then being abused by him. But my feeling is that this is really the way Bill feels, and it’s as though once he gets that motor mouth going, he kind of doesn’t have a governor on it, and these comments slip out, and they’re very detrimental to Obama. So I think these are a reflection of his real feelings, but on the other hand, as you say, it’s not going to do him any good when 2016 rolls around.
ARONOFF: Now what do you make of this brochure from Obama’s literary agency that was brought to light recently by Breitbart’s website, that for 17 years, and through three or four changes, up through when Obama was a U.S. Senator, it said he was born in Kenya—and the person from that firm, from that agency, said it was a “fact-checking error.” Have you looked at that?
KLEIN: Yes, of course. As you know, and as we all know, these biographies that are put out by literary agencies are not made out of thin air. They’re created by the subjects themselves. The authors provide the material for these biographies. The agencies have no way of writing the biographies without the author sending in his biography. So clearly, you can’t believe that this business about him being born in Kenya was a typographical error, or some kind of error. It clearly came from Obama himself. What are we to make of that? I, personally, make of it that he felt being perceived as a foreign-born person would make him more exotic and appealing as a writer in that atmosphere, and the kind of books that he was talking and thinking about writing, and that he was leading people to the assumption that he was an exchange student from Kenya the way his father had been.
ARONOFF: It would also suggest he probably didn’t have Presidential aspirations at that point.
ARONOFF: So a couple other quick things in our remaining minutes. Touch on foreign policy, national security. You have a chapter about General James Jones, who was Obama’s first National Security Advisor, and you talked about how he was treated by Obama, and what he saw about how [General Anthony] Zinni from the Marines was treated. What does this tell us about Obama’s overall handling of the foreign policy and his relations with the top military people? Are they comfortable with him in charge of our national security and defense apparatus?
KLEIN: There has been tension from day one between the Obama political team, in particular, and the military brass. There’s also been tension between some of the policy people, but a number of these policy people are, at the same time, political people. I mean, [Thomas] Donilon, for instance, who is now the National Security Advisor, was part of the Obama 2008 campaign. He, in fact, prompted Obama, and prepared him for the debates. So number one, to answer your question, the relationship between the Obama administration and the military is not a good one. There are a lot of nasty comments being made on both sides. Number two, General Jones was treated with contempt by the people around Obama. Even General Jones’s wife refers to the people around Obama as “A bunch of Chicago thugs”—that’s a direct quote—and General Jones referred to them as “bugs.” Number three, I think that it is clear that the Obama foreign policy is run directly from Obama, not in the State Department, and not even from his experts, but from him himself—and it is very centralized. He even writes a lot of position papers. He spends the evenings writing those papers. He does such things as decide where aircraft task forces should be positioned in the world—things that should be left to the generals. So there’s a lot of interference, on the part of the civilians, in the military, and this has not made the military happy at all.
ARONOFF: One of the big issues, of course, is Israel, the Middle East, and you write quite a bit about that as well. You call it his “Jewish Problem.” We can look at Samantha Powers as kind of the link in that story. Tell us a brief summary of that relationship.
KLEIN: Samantha Powers is a former Harvard professor who believes, and has written, that the United States is responsible for a lot of bad things in the world, and that we should go and apologize to the rest of the world. She has said so. She thinks that Willy Brandt getting down on his knees in front of the Holocaust Museum, or whatever, in Germany was the way the President should behave—and we’ve seen the President doing just that. She is in the National Security Council, she is one of his chief political advisors—very, very far Left, and very anti-Israeli. Until his Israel policy blew up in his face, and he had to back off, Obama was following in Samantha Powers’ footsteps.
ARONOFF: She even advocated, at one time, basically invading Israel, to force them to come along with the peace plan or whatever—the so-called peace process. Why don’t you just wrap it up with David Scheiner, Obama’s doctor in Chicago, and then we’ll give the information where people can get your book, and we’ll have to leave it there.
KLEIN: Okay. It’s one of my favorite stories. Dr. David Scheiner, who is an unreconstructed old Lefty and doesn’t make any bones about it, sat down with me and told me that, number one, he thinks that Obamacare is an abomination and isn’t going to work—it’s too big, it’s too expensive, it’s too complicated—and, number two, that Obama himself, whom he treated for over twenty years, was one of his most cold, distant patients, whom he could never get to know because he was a person who had very little human contact with other people. So when the inauguration came around, Obama invited his barber to the inauguration, but didn’t invite David Scheiner, his physician. The doctor said he was very hurt by that.
ARONOFF: Okay. Our guest has been Edward Klein, the book is called The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House, you can get it at Amazon and all the usual sites. You can visit his website, edwardklein.com. It’s been a great pleasure having you on—continued success with your book! Thank you for joining us today on Take AIM!
KLEIN: Well, thank you, Roger, for having me. It’s been a great pleasure and honor to be with you.
ARONOFF: Thank you so much!