Maraniss Gets Testy as New Obama Bio Tanks
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barack Obama: The Story, is getting testy. And it is not hard to understand why. The Washington Post diva spent the last four years on his career book, released it in the heart of a heated re-election season, got the kind of exposure a Kardashian would envy, and now finds the book heading for the remainder racks weeks after its release. Oy vey!
As of this writing, the book ranks 1,696 on Amazon's bestseller list. By contrast, Edward Klein's unfriendly Obama tome, The Amateur, has outsold just every book this summer not centered on female bondage, spent weeks on top of New York Times top-ten list, and now ranks 55 on Amazon despite being out a month longer than The Story.
Rather than assess why his book tanked -- it is too honest for the left and too dishonest for the right -- Maraniss has turned his wrath on the people he seems to hold responsible for the book's failure -- namely, "obsessed conspiratorialists" like me. His pique has found its outlet in a mean-spirited Washington Post op-ed, a minor classic of journalistic myopia. Allow me to address its concerns.
The notion that the president was not born in the United States remains at the epicenter of the anti-Obama mythology.
The fact that Obama sold America a fictional story of his first few years makes his birth a valid subject of interest. That much said, no one at Joseph Farah's WND, the online publication that has driven the "birther" controversy, has ever claimed that Obama was born in Kenya or any other foreign country. Farah and others, myself included, have simply wanted to see the birth certificate and clear up the mystery that shrouds Obama's birth. The most prominent birther, of course, remains Barack Obama, who claimed a Kenyan birth in a 1991 brochure from the Acton & Dystel literary agency. Personally, I think he was lying. He has that habit.
Finally, the name of Obama's mother, Stanley Ann, was unusual enough that doctors and nurses in Honolulu remembered it and her giving birth.
Maraniss did not talk to anyone who had anything even remotely to do with Obama's birth. The reader has no idea where Stanley Ann spent the six months prior to the birth, how she got to the hospital, who took her home, or where she went when she left the hospital.
The only confirming detail comes from a former teacher of Obama's. She told Maraniss that some time after the birth, a doctor told her that he had heard on the grapevine that "Stanley had a baby," it being unusual that a "Stanley" would have had a baby. She is alleged to have remembered this anecdote for nearly 50 years before tying it to Obama and presumably settling the birther issue. I do not know how an anecdote this sketchy could have made it by the editor.
In tandem with the birther notion comes the idea that Obama is a secret Muslim. ... [H]is espoused Christianity must be a cover.
I have described Obama as "a fellow traveler in the world of Islam," one who "inherited the faith of his mother," she being a secular humanist. Obama's Christianity is a sham. As Maraniss must know, he embraced the faith to strengthen his desperately shaky identity as an African-American and to solidify his political base in black Chicago. Inexplicably, Maraniss fully ignores the phonied-up scene in Obama's Dreams from My Father in which Obama finds his way to Christianity, or something like it, at Jeremiah Wright's church.
Another group of right-wing doubters hold on to the notion that Obama is a closet socialist ... an idea that his every move as a pragmatic liberal politician over the past 16 years has utterly disproved.
Unlike France, America would not elect a "socialist" president. That is why the ambitious ones, like Barack Obama, remain closeted. But is there any real difference between Obama's philosophy and French President François Hollande's?
Maraniss repeatedly conceals the evidence of the same. He passes off Obama's card-carrying communist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis, as a benign "civil rights activist." He refused to interview John Drew, Obama's Occidental College pal who has described the young Obama as a "Marxist planning for a Communist style revolution." He makes no mention of the Cooper Union Socialist Scholars Conference and other such events Obama attended in New York. And he may well have ignored the Christian conversion scene because that is the occasion when Wright delivered his famous "Audacity" sermon, the one rich with phrases like "white folks' greed runs a world in need."
Some others maintain that [Obama] was not smart enough to get into Occidental, Columbia and Harvard Law.
Obama-friendly biographer David Remnick concedes that Obama was an "unspectacular" student at Columbia and at every stop before that. A professor who wrote a letter of reference for Obama reinforces the point, telling Remnick, "I don't think [Obama] did too well in college." From the existing records, we know that Obama did not graduate from Columbia with honors.
How such an indifferent student got into a law school whose applicants' LSAT scores typically track between the 98th and 99th percentile and whose GPAs range between 3.80 and 4.00 is a subject Maraniss chooses not to explore. Instead of checking his college records, or even asking why they have been sealed, he takes Obama's word on his grade point average. That, my friend, is not journalism.
While at Harvard, Obama went where Maraniss refuses to go. In a published op-ed, he acknowledged that he "may have benefited from the Law Review's affirmative action policy" as he "undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action programs during my academic career."
One particularly obsessed conspiratorialist claims [Dreams] was penned by the former radical Bill Ayers. 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.
Obama began that same Harvard op-ed with this sentence: "Since the merits of the Law Review's selection policy has been the subject of commentary for the last three issues, I'd like to take the time to clarify exactly how our selection process works." (Italics mine.) Although the op-ed is fewer than a thousand words long, Obama repeats the subject-predicate error at least two more times.
Prior to Dreams, and for the nine years following, everything Obama published was an uninspired assemblage of words with a nearly random application of commas and tenses.
The most spectacularly awful of Obama's efforts was an 1,800-word essay, "Breaking the War Mentality," published the same year as the love letters.
Maraniss excerpts one passage from the essay in The Story, the key sentence reading as follows: "But the states of war -- the sounds and chill, the dead bodies -- are remote and far removed." (Italics mine.)
In the actual essay, however, the sentence reads, "But the taste of war -- the sounds and chill, the dead bodies -- are remote and far removed." (Italics mine.) The sentence, of course, should read, "the taste ... is." Maraniss apparently edited this sentence to make the excerpt sound more literate. This is one of an appalling five sentences in this one essay in which the noun and verb do not agree.
When I first read the love letters, I presumed that Obama had either plagiarized parts of them or had gotten help from a friend. Lovelorn young men have been doing both since the invention of papyrus. After seeing what Maraniss had done to "improve" the Columbia essay, I cannot be certain that the explanation is all that innocent.
I do hold some [obsessed conspiratorialists] in contempt ... for the way they disregard facts and common sense and undermine the role of serious history[.]
The feeling is mutual, bub. On August 24, 2008, the first installment in Maraniss's 10,000-word article on Obama's early years appeared in the Washington Post. He had the resources to unravel the fictitious story Obama had been spinning about his parents' "improbable love" and their "abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation," the story on which Obama based his candidacy.
Maraniss blew it. On the birther front, he got every critical detail wrong about Obama's first two years, especially his Seattle hegira. True, Maraniss would correct many of the errors in The Story, but they had long since been corrected by bloggers on the right. On the socialist front, he did not so much as mention Frank Marshall Davis, Obama's mentor and the subject of two of his three published poems.
Looking back, one has to question whether Maraniss and the Post botched the article through unforgivably sloppy reporting and editing or whether they were part -- dare I say it? -- of an unwitting conspiracy to patch up Obama's biography and elect him president.
And some of [the obsessed conspiratorialism], I believe, arises out of fears of demographic changes in this country, and out of racism.
Yes, finally, the accusation of racism -- truly the last refuge of a scoundrel whose massive advance will never be recouped by the publisher.