One story is currently consuming the American media, and not just the sports media. That story, of course, is whether Notre Dame All-American linebacker Manti Te’o conspired to fabricate his seemingly tragic relationship with imaginary girlfriend Lennay Kekua or whether he is a victim of a cruel hoax.
Much is at stake – or so we are told. If Te’o proves to be a participant, NFL scouts will question his character and downgrade his stock in the upcoming NFL draft. For those who care, Deadspin has some excellent reporting on this story, better reporting in fact than anyone in the major media has done on that other Hawaiian fabricator of girl friends, President Barack Obama.
Although I and others in the blogosphere had made the case early on that the girlfriends Obama wrote about in his memoir “Dreams from My Father” were not real, the major media ran from the story.
That changed somewhat in May 2012 when Vanity Fair ran an excerpt of David Maraniss’ forthcoming biography, “Barack Obama: The Story.” Dylan Byers of Politico extracted the heart of that excerpt in an article titled, “Obama: ‘New York girlfriend’ was composite.”
True, the character of a president is not as critical as the character of a Notre Dame linebacker. Still, in another era, one would have expected the media to dive into this story. They surely would have had the president been George Bush.
Instead, they did just the opposite. Just hours after the Politico article was posted, David Graham of the Atlantic all but smothered the brewing firestorm with his article, “Obama’s Composite Girlfriend: How Politico and Drudge Created Fake News.”
Graham argued that since Obama owned up to using composite characters in the forward of “Dreams,” there was nothing shady about the practice. Not surprisingly, Graham overlooked the real problem – the inexcusable dishonesty throughout “Dreams.” The media had no interest in that larger story either, and it died, like the girlfriend story, a quick and painless death.
If Maraniss did reveal the one girlfriend to be a composite, he introduced a good deal of evidence that shored up Obama’s standing in the literary community, enough for Media Matters to headline one article, “The Obama Ex-Girlfriend Conspiracy Inevitably Falls Apart.”
The two real girlfriends Maraniss unearthed, Genevieve Cook and Alex McNear, fill holes in the Obama narrative much too neatly. In his memoir, for instance, Obama relates a preposterously detailed dream about his father that sets him on his quest to find his roots.
“Genevieve recalled the morning he awoke from that dream,” writes Maraniss of a day 30 years prior. “He woke up from that dream and started talking about it,” Cook tells Maraniss. “I think he was haunted.” This memory is much too useful. It validates the legitimacy of Obama’s quest and gives him full ownership of the book’s thesis.
Alex McNear, the second and lesser mystery girl, helps shore up the “Obama as writer” myth that got him get elected in 2008. McNear apparently knew Obama at Occidental College and reconnected with him when she spent the summer of 1982 in New York.
Like Cook, McNear conveniently kept a “lasting record” of her relationship with Obama, McNear’s in the form of 30-year-old letters. One of these letters from Obama, Maraniss reproduces at length.
Here is a sample excerpt: “Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he [T. S. Eliot] accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality.”
The quality of the young Obama’s writing in these newly discovered letters resonated with the literary elite. New York Times’ Adam Hirsch, for instance, gushed over his “literary sensibility” and his “ironic, literary mind.”
For me, the letters were pure red flag. They were entirely free of the problems with punctuation, noun-verb agreement and participle use that dog Obama to this day. Obama allegedly wrote this letter the same year he wrote his one published essay from that period, the God-awful “Breaking the War Mentality.”
The Deadspin reporters rightly chastise a “compliant press” for buying into “Notre Dame’s mythmaking,” but in the press’ defense, who would think it necessary to vet a linebacker? There is no excuse for how our media have failed to vet the president.
In June 2012, Maraniss found himself in something of a marketing bind. His book was too honest for the left and too dishonest for the right, and almost no one was buying it.
When I suggested that he owed his reader some sense of what format he found the McNear letters in, some proof of their legitimacy, he lashed out at the “strange armies of ideological pseudo-historians [that] roam the biographical fields in search of stray information.”
After I caught him rewriting an excerpt from “Breaking the War Mentality” to make the noun and verb agree – the essay has an appalling five such mismatches – he got more personal still.
“One particularly obsessed conspiratorialist claims ['Dreams'] was penned by the former radical Bill Ayers,” Maraniss wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “What about the well-written letters from Obama that are published in my book? Those, too, must be frauds slipped to me by the Obama administration.”
Exactly, what about them? If Te’o’s pal, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, could bamboozle the nation’s media for a year or more with the fictional life and tragic death of an imaginary girlfriend, how much easier it would be for the White House to bamboozle one sympathetic reporter.
In the last 24 hours, the media have scrutinized Te’o’s life more thoroughly than they did Obama’s in the last eight years. And that is shameful – on both counts.