In The Amateur, a decidedly anti-Obama book released this week by conservative publisher Regnery, author Ed Klein claims to have conducted more than 200 interviews—many of which portray the president as “temperamentally unsuited for the job, …lacking executive leadership ability, …incapable of learning on the job.” Barack, Michelle, and the people closest to them in and out of the White House would not talk, but Klein’s interviews with the Obamas’ former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and with the Reverend Jesse Jackson were on the record, and they emerge as two of the more interesting figures in the book.
Klein, a former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief and Newsweek foreign editor, told me by telephone today from his home in New York that he found Wright “nothing but charming, intelligent, forthcoming…not in any way obnoxious or offensive.” According to the author, the last time Wright saw Obama was during the 2008 campaign, when candidate Obama made a secret visit to Wright at Trinity United Church of Christ to “beg” his long-time pastor not to give any more speeches or sermons. Klein said he has Wright on tape charging that the Obamas’ friend, Eric Whitaker, sent an email offering $150,000 for Wright’s silence until after the election. Wright refused. There’s an “irreparable breach” between them, says Klein, who adds that Wright told him that after the election, the pastor is planning on writing his own account of his relationship with the president.
Mountains of words have been written about the Obama/Wright relationship; what’s new here is Wright telling Klein about his father/son tie to Obama “well before he was a member of Wright’s church.” Klein quotes Wright as saying that Obama knew a lot about Islam but “little about Christianity,” and Wright rectified that. Klein also told me that Wright claimed that after Obama’s humiliating loss to Bobby Rush in 2000, Michelle was furious with her husband and the two came to Wright for marriage counseling.
Klein likewise breaks some new ground in a telephone interview he did with Jackson, who said that Obama, at Jackson’s invitation, went to Operation PUSH every Saturday to learn the oratory skills he needed to win election to the U.S. Senate and the White House. Klein alleges that Jackson felt “unappreciated” and that Jackson has never once been invited to the White House. (A call and emails to Jackson’s press aide and scheduler seeking confirmation were not returned by post time.)
When I met Klein, 75, for the first time last summer, the author—who has written mostly-warts books on Hillary Clinton and Katie Couric—was starting a book on the Obamas and their relationship with the person he considered most important in their lives: Valerie Jarrett. That angle narrowed, he told me today, as he interviewed people who described the president as “in over his head.”
Asked if there has been any pushback from the White House, he says no, although a White House spokesman had dismissed him earlier as a purveyor of “reckless fabrication.” Klein says, “They haven’t released the dogs on me. They calculated that if they don’t respond with all their guns that it will go away, but it’s not going to go away.”
At post time, The Amateur ranks #12 on Amazon.com, and that could improve after Klein’s appearance tonight on Fox News’s Sean Hannity Show. Klein gave Hannity the three-hour tape of the interview he conducted with Wright, and Hannity will be playing excerpts. Mainstream TV has largely ignored the book—no invitations from Good Morning America or Jon Stewart, Klein says (here's the New York Times' review of their former employee's book). He did receive an invite from MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, but says he declined because he knew that O’Donnell “just wanted to call me names.” After an interview this morning Good Day Chicago, Klein described co-anchor Kori Chambers as “surprisingly contentious.” For now, Klein says, most of his publicity is via talk radio shows around the country, which he does from his home telephone.
Below, a few more nuggets from the book, none too surprising and mostly from unattributed sources:
+ Klein portrays a poisonous relationship between then Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Jarrett; he describes the former as being “thwarted” at every turn by an insecure, inept Jarrett who “was aware that Emanuel had tried to block her appointment to the White House staff.” Klein describes Emanuel as desperate to depart the White House, in part because the president was more likely to take Jarrett’s advice than his. (Jarrett pushed comprehensive health care reform; Emanuel advised against it, pushing instead for a focus on jobs. Jarrett persuaded both Michelle and Barack to “put the prestige of the presidency” behind Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics by personally traveling to Copenhagen; Rahm “urged Obama to leave the Olympic crusade to others and deal instead with ….skyrocketing unemployment.”) Klein describes Jarrett as “expert at enhancing her power by finding fault with others.”
+ In Klein’s telling, Bill Daley is “hapless” and bound to fail as chief of staff because he had no experience in dealing with Congress. Klein describes Daley’s White House tenure as “the Daley debacle” and reports that Daley also feels backstabbed by Jarrett.
+ And then there’s Oprah Winfrey’s complaint about the Obamas. Check out John Kass’s column for more on that.