Hillary had a ghostwriter, but Obama didn’t?

By Jack Cashill

With the debut of Hillary Clinton’s new book, “Hard Choices,” there has been much open speculation about who really wrote it. “Hillary Clinton’s Book Ghost Writer Revealed,” read one typically breathless headline.

At least a few articles surrounding the release of “Hard Choices” recount the history of political ghostwriting. Prominent among them was the Washington Post’s seeming tell-all, “Who wrote that political memoir? No, who actually wrote it?”

Yet the Post, true to recent form, dared not even mention the presumed author of what Time magazine called “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”

In September 2008, when I first ventured on these pages the identity of Barack Obama’s likely writing partner on that memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” I got spanked left and right.

New Yorker editor David Remnick reminded me that “libel about Obama’s memoir – the denial of literacy, the denial of authorship – had a particularly ugly pedigree.”

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto scolded me for having “engaged in irresponsible rumor-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing” in my argument that “[Bill] Ayers might have ghostwritten Obama’s acclaimed autobiography.” Taranto, alas, was in good company on the right.

Obama could have cleared this up. Indeed, when he took office, he promised to create the “most transparent and accountable administration in history.”

That transparency did not extend, however, to the question of his literary skills. Celebrity journalist Christopher Andersen found this out the hard way.

In September 2009, Andersen was scheduled to appear on CNN’s “American Morning,” hosted by a young woman named Kiran Chetry.

[See CNN interview:]

[jwplayer 7wGtTL3e]

Andersen was there to plug his 28th book and his fourth biography of a presidential couple, “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage.” Despite Andersen’s credentials and his apolitical background, the interview almost did not take place.

“It’s important to note,” Chetry told Andersen on air, “we reached out to the White House for a response to the book. They declined to comment but made it known they weren’t happy. In fact, they pulled a previously scheduled interview we had with a senior adviser once they learned you were on the show.”

This Andersen already knew. “About as senior as you can get,” he confirmed. Andersen expressed surprise that the White House would do such a thing.

Said Andersen, “I was dismayed because the USA Today story on the book said it was a glowing portrait of a rock-solid marriage, and that is exactly what it is. It’s a very positive look at what I think is a remarkable first family.”

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This move must have seemed all the more puzzling to Chetry because Obama’s transparency myth remained largely intact. Just eight months earlier, on his first full day in office, Obama promised, “Information will not be withheld just because I say so.”

The only reason information would be withheld, Obama claimed, was if a “separate authority” believed that the withholding was “well-grounded in the Constitution.”

In the case of Andersen, however, the folks at CNN, at least those who had not read the book, had to wonder why Obama would object to his presence, let alone which separate authority raised constitutional objections.

Andersen’s surprised reaction, however, was just a shade disingenuous. By this time, he knew what a poison pill he had slipped into this otherwise innocuous brew of a book.

The night before his CNN guest shot he appeared on two national cable shows, “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and the “Hannity” show.

Matthews, who likely had not read the book, interviewed Andersen in the non-confrontational style Andersen expected. “You’re amazing, successful guy,” said Matthews at interview’s end. “You have a winning streak here.”

Although equally agreeable, Sean Hannity called attention to the toxin in the brew. On air, Hannity cited Andersen’s claim that Bill Ayers had assisted Obama in the writing of “Dreams from My Father.”

He quoted Andersen to the effect that “literary devices and themes [in ‘Dreams’] bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’ own writings.” Asked Hannity, “Bill Ayers helped him with his book?” Andersen confirmed the same and quickly changed topic.

As an establishment journalist, Andersen may not have realized initially how the Ayers bombshell would alienate his potential audience and unnerve the White House, but he was quickly finding out.

Nor was the Ayers revelation an incidental part of the book. Relying on two sources in Chicago’s Hyde Park, Andersen related in six pages of detail the how, when and why of Obama’s collaboration with Ayers on “Dreams.”

Andersen’s claim made a total sham out of the literary world’s anointment of Obama as “the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln,” the understanding on which the Obama genius myth was based.

To its humble credit, CNN did not yield to White House pressure, not on the surface at least. The network allowed Andersen to appear despite the intimidation.

What “The Worldwide Leader in News” failed to do, however, was explore the Ayers connection, the one newsworthy item in the book.

After discussing the White House threat, Chetry moved immediately to “some of the interesting parts” of the book, starting with the ever-pressing question of how the Obamas balanced work and domestic responsibilities. Someone at CNN apparently knew what the president wanted and obliged him.

Four days later, Howard Kurtz, then host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” rattled the congenial Andersen with an unexpected assault on his credibility as a journalist.

“No one has ever disputed a single important fact of any book I’ve ever written,” said a surprised Andersen. Kurtz raised the “Dreams” issue but only to undermine Andersen’s reliability.

Reluctant to go deep, Kurtz quickly contented himself with Andersen’s tactical marketing evasion, “I definitely do not say that [Ayers] wrote Barack Obama’s book.”

No, as I and Andersen both argued, Ayers helped him write it, just as Hillary’s ghostwriter helped Hillary.

Although his interview followed Chetry’s by four days, Kurtz did not so much as mention White House pressure on CNN or the reasons for it. This combination of White House strong-arming and media sycophancy worked well for Obama. Apparently, it still does.

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