Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama came out in 1995 and has sold over a million copies, but to rightbloggers it is a constantly fresh source of discovery.
Last week somebody noticed that some people in the 17-year-old book were described in the introduction as “composites.” Rightbloggers were outraged. Whoever heard of such a thing — besides, that is, the hundreds of thousands of people who read it?
A little background: The introduction to Dreams contains these lines: “For the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are composites of people I’ve known, and some events appear out of precise chronology,” and “With the exception of my family and a handful of public figures, the names of most characters have been changed for the sake of their privacy.”
Writer David Marranis went looking for people who might have been the originals of the people in Obama’s book. Marranis got some good access — to an ex-girlfriend of Obama’s, Genevieve Cook, and to Obama himself — and part of his material appeared last week in Vanity Fair in advance of a new book. (Obama affirmed that the girlfriend in the book was, like others, a composite.)
In the normal world, this all makes sense: An ambitious young politician uses, and wisely admits up front to using, plausibly deniable composite characters so he can evade potentially explosive tell-all interviews with named characters later. A writer looks up possible sources, and gets the author, now President, to comment on them.
In rightblogger world, however, this was a major scandal, despite 17 years of advance notification.
To be fair, they had help: Politico ran an item that at first suggested Obama had never noted the composite characters before, then claimed he’d added the note in a late edition, then finally got around to noticing that the info had been there all along.
Nonetheless the original version of the post was hot news to rightbloggers.
“Obama admits lying about girlfriend in book. What else has he lied about???” asked Phoebe’s Detention Room.
“Obama admitted he misled readers in his autobiography, The Dreams of My Father,” said My Pet Jawa. “The white girlfriend described in Dreams From My Father turns out to be a ‘composite’ — i.e., not real,” said Moonbattery. “Composites Published And Not Mentioned As Such Are What?” asked Chuck Ring of the Sandia Tea Party, and answered, “Why, they are lies, pure and simple.”
“Turns out a character he addressed in his memoir Dreams From My Father wasn’t actually one person, as he claimed, but a ‘composite’ of individuals with which he was associated,” breathlessly reported Stephan Tawney of The American Pundit.
“Now that the cat is out of the bag, and everyone knows that Obama lied, and actually made up the ‘New York girlfriend’, the Obama camp is scrambling to try and spin their lie, and now Obama says that the ‘New York girlfriend’ is actually a composite character,” said USbacklash. “What a crock of shit! Obama is a compulsive liar, who will not stop lying to the American People until we vote his lying ass out of office!”
Etc., etc., etc., over dozens, maybe hundreds of posts. And unlike Politico, none of these guys bothered to correct their items.
Even when reminded of the truth, rightbloggers who weren’t still pretending they hadn’t heard it found new ways to spin it.
“Dave Weigel reminds us that Obama pointed out his use of ‘composites’ in the introduction of the book,” wrote Jim Geraghty at National Review. “So this isn’t really a huge scoop.”
Nonetheless, he went on about it as if it were the Watergate break-in for hundreds of words. “Obama’s autobiography was a big, big part of his 2008 campaign,” wrote Geraghty, “and it was how he introduced himself to the American people. And yet it was . . . by the author’s own admission, not accurate… When you think about telling the world your story, and telling the world about the people who shaped you . . . would you use a composite?”
A day later Geraghty was still at it: “What happens when it turns out that the story isn’t true?” he wrote. And he wasn’t talking about his own story.
“‘Composite character’ is code for ‘lie,'” claimed Hugh Hewitt. “Recall James Frey, author of the non-memoir A Million Little Pieces. He made it up key parts of his ‘memoir,’ and got slammed by Oprah when this lying was revealed. ‘Composite events’ like ‘composite characters’ don’t fly when the MSM doesn’t want them to take off.”
Wait, wasn’t the issue with Frey that he substantially fabricated major events in his book, including his criminal record, and didn’t admit it till he got caught? Nonetheless Hewitt kept on — “Now the president is caught in having made up stuff for his memoir… If he was willing to make stuff up in his memoir, what other stuff as he made up along the way?” — as if it didn’t matter. Well, for propaganda purposes, we suppose it didn’t.
“I think we need Oprah to get to the bottom of this like she did with my fellow Denison alum James Frey and the falsehoods in his ‘A Million Little Pieces,'” said Spencerblog.
“As usual, the leftist media have come to Obama’s defense,” complained Gary DeMar of Godfather Politics. “‘He told us right in the book that some of the events were compressed into “composite” stories. It’s no big deal,’ media supporters of Obama are telling us.” Those bastards!
DeMar had an answer for such people: the James Frey example. But unlike Hewitt, he didn’t know when to quit. “The difference, of course,” DeMar admits, “is that Frey didn’t tell anybody about the fabrications.”
We were looking forward to seeing where DeMar would take this next. Disappointingly, it was here: “If [Frey] had, he wouldn’t have gotten to sit down with the Queen of daytime talk. The point is, people don’t like to be lied to even if they’re being told up from that what’s coming is not true.”
A non-sequitur? What’s that? Something like a composite? Hey, Obama ate a dog.
Others just winged it, sometimes spectacularly. The Ulsterman Report asked readers for information on Genevieve Cook. He updated with a report from “reader ‘Cindy’ and the folks over at Right Entertainment” about “the still mysterious Obama New York girlfriend.”
“After they split up,” Right Entertainment reported, “Obama’s ex-girlfriend married an Egyptian accountant named Mohamed Moustafa and then went by the hyphenated name Genevieve Moustafa-Cook.” They also claimed to have found an old cached social networking page on which Moustafa-Cook wrote, “I would like to learn Arabic so that I may read the Quran and pray properly.”
Alas, the Ulsterman Report was forced to follow up: “The cached version detailed by Right Entertainment appears to be from an American woman aged 21 — which would of course indicate she would not be the same Genevieve Cook linked to Barack Obama.” But Ulsterman has other theories, which you can go to his site and read if so inclined.
Some of them just said Obama didn’t even have a girlfriend because he didn’t swing that way, if you know what they meant and unfortunately you do.
“I don’t believe Obama had many girlfriends. Personally, I always pegged him to be gay,” said Support Your Local Gunfighter. “Obama admits to writing fiction… The only real question here is if, by ‘multiple,’ he meant ‘imaginary,’ or if by ‘girlfriends,’ he actually meant ‘boyfriends,'” said Vox Day. “Composite sketch expert renders Obama’s ‘girlfriend,'” wrote I Own The World, offering a drawing of a guy with a “Ramrod Club” tattoo and “Larry [hearts] Barry” on his shirt.
As Ozymandias of Freeper Madness noticed, this theme was very popular with the denizens of Free Republic, an important section of the Republican base.
Some said the real story was that liberals hadn’t read the Obama book as carefully as rightbloggers were belatedly pretending to have done.
“What stands out from the composite story ,” said Tim Stanley at the Telegraph, “isn’t that Obama amalgamated characters, it’s that the press hadn’t noticed until now. As with the dog story, this confirms the suspicion that the mainstream media gave Obama a free pass in 2008 and declined to check too deeply into his background.”
This makes as much sense to us as blaming the Fourth Estate if you fail to read the “crab flavored sticks” description on a package of crab sticks, but we are probably not the target audience.
“The revelations of dog eating and girlfriend compositing come as news to almost everyone is evidence in favor of the conservative claim that the media failed to vet Obama sufficiently,” said James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal. He added parenthetically that “it must be acknowledged, however, that the conservative media also failed in this regard in 2008.” Yeah, but what motivation would they have had for doing so?
Then Taranto sent some open editorial queries to Obama’s publisher: “Shouldn’t [Obama] tell us which characters are composites?” he asked. “For that matter, if disclosing the use of a fictional narrative device is sufficient to meet the standards of nonfiction, isn’t every fiction book a nonfiction one, so long as it has FICTION stamped on the cover?” If only they’d had his notes in 1995. The course of history might have been changed!
At American Thinker, Jack Cashill said “the real problem” was “the inexcusable dishonesty throughout the book. The promiscuous use of composites is merely a symptom of the larger problem” — which was that the book was at least co-written, if not entirely devised, by 60s radical Bill Ayers — a claim of which Cashill has made a years-long career.
Cashill thought Genevieve Cook was a red herring, because the woman who better “matches the brief description” of the girlfriend in Dreams was, to Cashill’s trained eye, the deceased Weatherman bomber Diana Oughton, “Ayers’ great lost love.” Also, Cashill thought Marranis had been “misled” by the women he contacted, because “the events they ‘remember’ fill holes in the Obama narrative much too neatly.” They’re in on it, too!
That people make fun of him just convinced Cashill that he was onto something big: “My suspicion is that Team Obama green-lit the Cook story expecting the Media Matters spin to prevail, not Politico‘s,” he huffed. “The White House could not have been pleased with the results. All the e-mails I received were congratulatory.”
Cashill’s article also contained painstaking literary analysis (“the [Obama] letter is entirely free of the problems with punctuation, noun-verb agreement, and participle use that dog Obama to this day”), and a demand that Marranis “explain whether he was misled by Botkin or whether he willfully misinterpreted what she told him,” though he neglected to ask when Marranis stopped beating his wife.
That The American Thinker published this nonsense is not surprising. What is surprising, at least slightly, is that other prominent rightbloggers, some not previously identified with the Ayers conspiracy theory, found Cashill’s article worthy reading, among them Ace of Spades (“Barack Obama’s College ‘Composite’ Girlfriend, Who Doesn’t Exist, Just Happens To Match the Description of Bill Ayers’ Former Girlfriend, Who Does”), Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (“Dreams of my Ghostwriter’s Ex”), Robert Stacy McCain, Ed Driscoll and Bookworm Room (“It’s rather strange that Obama’s composite girlfriend matches Bill Ayers’s real one… Maybe this peculiar coincidence is just the random effect of too many drugs in Obama’s system…”).
So, it would seem, the controversy has got the brethren nodding along with the (let us be kind and say) fringe idea that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s book. No wonder Cashill got congratulatory emails! Actually, if this is the sort of thing they’ll be trying to put over throughout the campaign, it’s Obama who deserves to be congratulated.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 6, 2012