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Ron Suskind's critical book on Obama sparks controversy

Some sources now say that scathing remarks about Obama and his administration are "fiction [and] distortion."

By / September 19, 2011

President Obama's administration is the target of a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Ron Suskind.

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From the point of view of the White House, there's really no ideal time for a negative book about an incumbent administration to be released.

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But there are could hardly by a worse moment for the presidency of Barack Obama, who’s currently battling shrinking approval ratings, a wheezing economy, and daunting reelection prospects. So the release of "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President" by Ron Suskind – the same journalist who wrote three image-tarnishing books about former president Bush – isn’t exactly being viewed as a welcome event by the West Wing. Quite the contrary: Politico writer Mike Allen, who spoke with White House officials about the book, says the administration has launched an “aggressive” response to the book, with some sources claiming to have been misquoted.

Suskind says he conducted 746 hours of interviews with over 200 people, including a 50-minute interview with the president himself. In the book, Obama is derided by former members of his economic team, including Lawrence H. Summers, a former chairman of the National Economic Council and U.S. Treasury Secretary under former president Clinton. In the book, Summers is quoted as telling the budget director Peter Orzsag, “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

Suskind says that the actions of Summers and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve” in the book, according to a New York Tiimes article.

Allegations of a hostile workplace for women also surface in the book, with former communications director Anita Dunn saying, “Looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace ... Because it actually fits all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.”

But now some people quoted have told news sources that their words were either embroidered or simply not quoted correctly. Summers told The Washington Post that “the hearsay attributed to me… is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context.” Dunn also denied her quote, saying to Politico, “This is not what I told the author, this is not what I believe and anyone who knows me and my history of supporting this president as a candidate and in office knows this isn’t true.”

Communications director Dan Pfeiffer says the book is filled with “drama, palace intrigue and salacious details based on anonymous accounts,” according to a New York Magazine article. The book – which concludes in early 2011 – doesn’t include more recent events such as Obama’s decision to approve the bin Laden mission or his battle with Congress on the debt ceiling.

Suskind, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work at The Wall Street Journal, has not yet commented on the allegations made by his sources.

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