If Mortensen is Fair Game, Why Not Obama?

After months of investigation into mountain climber turned philanthropist turned best-selling author, Greg Mortenson, the 60 Minutes producers have come to a shocking conclusion: "Upon close examination, some of the most touching and harrowing tales in Mortenson's books appear to have been either greatly exaggerated or made up out of whole cloth."

Curiously, Obama-friendly biographer David Remnick says much the same about Barack Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, a book he describes as a "mixture of verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention, and artful shaping."

Obama is at his most inventive on the subject of his various racial traumas, real or imagined.  He tells the reader that as a nine year-old, visiting the American embassy in Indonesia, he chanced upon "a collection of Life magazines neatly displayed in clear plastic binders."  In one magazine, he reads a story about a black man with an "uneven, ghostly hue," who has been rendered grotesque by a chemical treatment.

"There were thousands of people like him," Obama learns, "black men and women back in America who'd undergone the same treatment in response to advertisements that promised happiness as a white person."  Obama's attention to detail is a ruse. Life never ran such an article. When challenged, Obama claimed it was EbonyEbony ran no such article either. Besides in 1970, black was beautiful. 

Most of the racial slights Obama recounts seem equally false and even more trivial.  On one occasion a tennis coach touches Obama's skin to see if the color rubs off -- and this in Hawaii, mind you.  On another mystifying occasion, Obama barely refrains from punching out a white school chum because the kid makes a sympathetic allusion to Obama's outsider status.  On a few occasions, he scolds his mother for romanticizing the black experience, and then, of course, he chastises his grandmother, first in the book, and later before the world, for daring to let a black panhandler intimidate her.

Once in New York, Obama goes to work for "a consulting house to multinational corporations." He observes, "As far as I could tell I was the only black man in the company." He does not boast of his racial uniqueness.  Rather, he considers it "a source of shame."

As early as July 2005, however, a former co-worker revealed Obama's whole account to be a "serious exaggeration."  Obama did not work at 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.

Remnick concedes that many of these grievances are  "novelistic contrivances," but if Obama "darkens the canvas" or "heightens whatever opportunity arises" to score a racial point, he does so, according to Remnick, "obviously" because he is going "after an emotional truth."  I suspect Mortenson was going after emotional truths himself.

There is a lot at stake here.  Mortenson's first book, Three Cups of Tea, sold more than four million copies.  These are Obama numbers.  In 2009 alone, Obama's earned him $3.3 million, while his 2006 policy book, The Audacity of Hope, brought in another $2.3 million. Book sales in 2008 netted Obama about $2.6 million, and 2010 numbers will likely reflect those of 2008.

With Donald Trump publicly repeating the charge I raised in "Deconstructing Obama" that Obama did not even write his own books -- a charge not yet leveled against Mortensen -- it may be time for a public accounting.