Understandably, the publishers of David Maraniss’ much discussed new biography, “Barack Obama: The Story,” released advanced copies to mainstream reviewers. (Full disclosure here, Simon & Schuster also published my book “Deconstructing Obama.”)
Spinning Maraniss’ revelations as favorably as they could, at least a few reviewers claimed that his book would at least put the birther issue to rest given his interviews with the health professionals attending the birth.
In fact, the Maraniss book does quite the opposite. Although I remain agnostic about the where and when of Obama’s birth, Maraniss’ account makes me all the more suspicious of the official Obama narrative.
As I wrote yesterday, Maraniss, like all other mainstream biographers, tells us not a single word about the life of Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, in the six months leading up to Obama’s birth.
In discussing the birth itself, Maraniss reports that Obama was born at 7:24 in the evening of Aug. 4, 1961 at Kapi’olani Hospital. As reference, he cites “State of Hawaii Certificate of Live Birth,” presumably the one posted online in April 2011.
Although his book is otherwise exquisitely detailed, Maraniss adds not a single shred of information regarding the circumstances of Obama’s birth. The reader has no idea how Ann got to the hospital, who accompanied her, how difficult was the labor, how big was the baby, who took her home, or where she went when she left the hospital.
Maraniss strongly suggests, however, that Ann did not return to the house her parents were sharing with the Pratt family at 6085 Kalanianole, the address listed on the certificate and in the newspaper announcements. The Pratt daughter, he reports, “has no memory of the Dunhams’ daughter bringing an infant home.”
Maraniss repeatedly stresses that Barack Obama Sr. did not at any time live with Ann and definitively states that “[Dunham] and Obama and the infant never lived [at 6085 Kalanianole].”
Knowing that there is more than a little controversy surrounding Obama’s birth, Maraniss obviously feels the need to add some confirming detail of the Kapi’olani birth. This he does, but given the seriousness of the subject, the anecdote he shares undermines his credibility.
As Maraniss relates, shortly after the birth, Honolulu ob-gyn Rod West was having lunch with visiting friend Barbara Czurles-Nelson, then a journalist. Czurles-Nelson asks if anything interesting happened this week, and West replies, “Stanley had a baby. Now that’s something to write home about.”
This account is not Maraniss’ strongest moment. Czurles-Nelson has been telling this story for several years. In January 2009, on the occasion of Obama’s inauguration, she was interviewed by the Buffalo News.
“I may be the only person left who specifically remembers his birth,” Czurles-Nelson told the reporter. “His parents are gone, his grandmother is gone, the obstetrician who delivered him is gone.” According to the Buffalo News, that obstetrician was “Dr. Rodney T. West,” who had recently died.
WND interviewed Czurles-Nelson in January 2009. Here, she clarified that she had never cited West as the actual doctor, but rather as the person who passed the story along to her. That did not stop Snopes and other defenders of the Obama mythology from claiming that West was the doctor who delivered Obama.
Czurles-Nelson shows up later in the Maraniss book, now as a teacher at Punahou where Obama is a student. We are told that when the visiting Obama Sr. comes to Punahou to speak, it is such an occasion that Czurles-Nelson comes to see him and improbably brings Dr. West with her.
Later still, Obama becomes a student in Czurles-Nelson’s English class. Interviewed by Maraniss 35 years later, she can still quote Obama’s pithy comments word for word.
If that were not wondrous enough, basketball fan Czurles-Nelson remembers Obama’s “court sense.” On those few occasions he got into a game, she remembers, “He could see the pattern and zero in on the opening.”
One serious flaw in Maraniss’ reporting is that he gives too much credence to obviously inflated memories. A glaring example, one that has been cited often as fact, is of the paper Obama allegedly wrote as a schoolboy in Indonesia in which he said, “Someday I want to be president.”
Maraniss quotes the entire, seemingly impressive paper, both in English and in the Indonesian language, Bahasa. He then adds, “The paper no longer exists, though [the teacher's] memory is precise and there is no reason not to trust it.” No, David, there is every reason not to trust it.
Czurles-Nelson remembers much too much as well. In the gratuitously lengthy account of the “Stanley” story, the reader learns, for instance, that 50 years earlier she and Dr. West were sitting “near the lunch buffet.” Please!
Maraniss clarifies that West did not deliver the baby, but he “could have heard the story from any number of sources.” Czurles-Nelson then has West going on to say that the mother was white and African “with an interesting name too.”
This unsubstantiated fluff should never have made it past Maraniss’ editors, but, as far the reader knows, it is all he has got.