'The Amateur,' a new book slamming Obama, is already amassing critics

The book, by former NYT Magazine editor Edward Klein, makes Jodi Kantor’s “The Obamas” 'feel like a neighborly visit.'

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    “The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House” by former New York Times Magazine editor Edward Klein has barely been out two days but it’s already creating a stir.
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Certain laws, whether of the natural world or otherwise, never fail. Where there’s road kill, there’s vultures, and in the publishing world, where’s there’s an election, there’s bound to be a book – or a dozen – attempting to destroy the candidate.

The latest in a string of books taking aim at Barack Obama hit bookshelves Tuesday and, writes New York Magazine, “it’s likely to make Jodi Kantor’s “The Obamas” … feel like a neighborly visit.”

“The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House” by former New York Times Magazine editor Edward Klein has barely been out two days and it’s already creating a stir.

Recommended: Books

Among Klein’s sometimes unsubstantiated claims: Barack and Michelle almost divorced after his crushing Congressional defeat in 2000, an Obama “friend” unsuccessfully attempted to stop the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from preaching until after the November election with a $150,000 bribe, an “unusually jealous” Michelle Obama orders women close to her husband watched lest he cheat on her, and Oprah and Michelle have an ongoing feud.

Obama and his advisers have “gone to elaborate lengths to hide his dark side,” writes Klein, dubbing the President an “Amateur.”

It’s a bold claim, one perhaps made too easily in today’s political publishing world, and one any responsible reader ought to examine more closely.

Thus far reviews suggest Klein’s book is long on accusations, often caustic, and resoundingly short on specifics – or sources.

“The personal accusations – that Mr. Obama is aloof, that he has not learned from experience, that he has snubbed former supporters – are nasty but vague,” writes Janet Maslin in a stinging critique in The New York Times. Earlier, she writes, “And although the book repeatedly calls him a failure and a disappointment with regard to domestic affairs, Mr. Klein has no capacity for explaining specifics.”

A Tuesday New York Magazine blog post titled “There’s a Glaring Factual Error on the First Page of Edward Klein’s New Anti-Obama Book,” found fault with “The Amateur” before the writer turned the first page. (He found fault with this line, “No American politician had attempted to usurp a sitting president of his own party since Ted Kennedy failed to unseat Jimmy Carter more than thirty years before.” Pat Buchanan, Dan Amira, pointed out, attempted to unseat George H.W. Bush in 1992.)

What’s more, Klein’s book appears to suffer from a severe shortage of sourcing, a surprising oversight from a journalist who once edited The New York Times Magazine.

Certain accounts, like a supposed shoutfest between Bill and Hilary Clinton about the latter’s campaign against Obama, have been roundly denied by all parties involved. Others are so thinly, or distantly, sourced, as to cast doubt on entire episodes in the book.

After quoting a particularly nasty tidbit Michelle supposedly said about Oprah, New York Magazine’s Andre Tartar writes, “Though it should be mentioned that it is not entirely clear if this is coming straight from one of the First Lady's staff or if this is second-, third-, or even eighteenth-hand information.”

(That reminds us of playing telephone in third grade with 18 other friends arranged in a circle passing around a phrase that eventually got so botched we dissolved in giggles when it was finally mouthed aloud at the end.)

Earlier, Tartar writes, “Some of Klein’s past practices have been questionable at best, so please bring your oversize salt shaker.” (This is the man, after all, “whose previous book alleged that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Bill Clinton raped Hilary Clinton,” another New York Magazine post reminds us.)

Indeed, the brash claims and past blunders were enough to cause The New York Times’s Maslin to start her review with this zinger: “ ‘The Amateur’ by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too.”

Who, exactly, is revealed to be an amateur in “The Amateur?” It may not be the man whom Klein has targeted.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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