Why Kenyan Birth Claim Was No 'Fact Checking Error'
No sooner did the literary agency brochure in which Barack Obama was said to be Kenyan-born surface than the media went to work to deep-six it.
"This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me - an agency assistant at the time," Miriam Goderich, now a named partner in the literary agency, Dystel & Goderich, wrote in an emailed statement to Yahoo News, which was then picked up ABC News. "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more."
This confession rings false to the point of preposterous for any number of reasons. Let us start with the obvious. At the time, 1991, the Acton & Dystel agency listed 90 clients, Obama among its least significant. How likely is it that Goderich would have remembered enough about a 1991 "error" to know it was hers, especially since it went uncorrected through several revisions until changed in 2007? To make this claim credible, there would have to be an existing paper trail leading to an Obama submission in which he lists an Hawaiian birth. I am confident that there is no such submission.
Former publisher Tom Lipscomb does not buy Goderich's explanation for a New York minute. "As someone who has run a number of top bestseller publishers, I think this is an amazing MIRACLE," writes Lipscomb emphatically on Power Line. "It is the ONLY case I have ever heard of in which an editorial assistant INVENTED a biographical detail. I have heard of typos, wrong dates, misspellings of names. But to pick a really weird country of origin like Kenya for an author?"
The Breitbart people followed up with a piece by Steve Boman, a Jane Dystel client in the mid-1990s, who noted, "All material she used in our proposals came directly from me and my writing partner." This is standard. In the eight books I have written under my own name, I have reviewed all biographical information sent out about me either by agent or publisher. Like most authors, I have let a little fluff pass, but not much.
The most interesting "tell" in the 1991 Acton & Dystel brochure relates to what was said about Obama's career in the business world. Obama, the reader learns, "worked as a financial journalist and editor for Business International Corporation."
In Dreams from My Father, Obama inflated his stint at Business International even more and transformed it into a faux moment of racial awareness, one of at least a half-dozen concocted racial melodramas in the book. As Obama tells the story, a "consulting house to multinational corporations" hired him and promptly promoted him to the position of "financial writer."
Here, he felt like "a spy behind enemy lines," and a guilty one at that. "As far as I could tell," he adds, "I was the only black man in the company." He does not boast of his racial uniqueness. Rather, in full grievance mode, he considers it "a source of shame." Indeed, the whole experience troubled him:
I had my own office, my own secretary, money in the bank. Sometimes, coming out of an interview with Japanese financiers or German bond traders, I would catch my reflection in the elevator doors-see myself in a suit and tie, a briefcase in my hand-and for a split second I would imagine myself as a captain of industry, barking out orders, closing the deal, before I remembered who it was that I had told myself I wanted to be and felt pangs of guilt for my lack of resolve.
As early as July 2005, however, former co-worker and Obama fan Dan Armstrong revealed Obama's whole account to be a "serious exaggeration." Obama worked at not a multinational corporation, but a "small company that published newsletters." He was not the only black person who worked there. He did not, as claimed, have his own office, wear a jacket and tie, interview international businessmen, or write articles. He mostly just copy-edited business items and slipped them into a three-ring binder for the company's customers.
Are we supposed to believe that Goderich not only changed Obama's birthplace from Hawaii to Kenya, but also transformed him from a grunt filling three-ring binders into a "financial journalist and editor"?
When this discrepancy surfaced years later, pundits in either camp were confused as to why Obama would lie about such seemingly irrelevant details. There are two good, non-exclusive possibilities. For one, the exaggeration enables the reader to see Obama as he would like to see himself -- "a spy behind enemy lines." For another, Obama's co-author, Bill Ayers, once again took the framework of Obama's life and roughed in the details.
In Fugitive Days, Ayers' 2001 memoir, he uses the phrase "behind enemy lines" almost literally to describe his and his comrades' quiet infiltration of the opponent's position. Wife Bernardine Dohrn has said the same in public. When the Weather Underground declared its state of war with the United States in May 1970, Dohrn warned that people fighting "Amerikan imperialism" all over the world "look to Amerika's youth to use our strategic position behind enemy lines to join forces in the destruction of the empire."
The bottom line is this: Obama has been creating and shifting identities his entire adult life. If the agency brochure was a snapshot of the 1991 Obama, Dreams captured him in his 1995 pose: hip, black, progressive, wounded by racial slights but able to overcome them, just the man to lead Chicago into the 21st century, then the extent of his and Ayers's ambition for him.
"I met [Obama] sometime in the mid-1990s[,]" Bill Ayers would tell Salon, likely pushing the actual date back several years. "And everyone who knew him thought that he was politically ambitious. For the first two years, I thought, his ambition is so huge that he wants to be mayor of Chicago."
Friend Cassandra Butts traced that ambition back at least to Harvard. "He wanted to be mayor of Chicago and that was all he ever talked about as far as holding office," she would tell early Obama biographer David Mendell.
No one would have challenged Obama's biography had he not gone beyond Chicago, but he did. And so where he was born matters, and whether he even wrote his own biography matters, too. As much as I know about Obama, I don't know or pretend to know the answer -- at least to the first of those two questions.