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Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters have Hijacked American Culture

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©Jack Cashill - January 1, 2009

A recent New Republic headline boasts “How TNR Exposed A New Oprah-Endorsed Memoir As A Hoax.”

That memoir would be Herman Rosenblat’s relatively benign Angel At The Fence. Rosenblat claimed to have eventually married the girl who saved his life by throwing apples over the fence to him at Buchenwald. Although he did survive Buchenwald, Rosenblat contrived the apple story.

The New York Times followed up on The New Republic’s expose and ran with it on December 28, the day after Israel’s retaliatory strike on Gaza.

Given the liberal media’s Palestinian sympathies, neither publication saw fit to spike the story for fear that it would feed the Jew-hating Holocaust revisionism of an inflamed Middle East.

Rosenblat was expendable. He served no more useful a political purpose than James Frey. A few years back, if you recall, Frey embarrassed Oprah when his memoir on drug addiction, A Million Little Pieces, also proved to be at least partly fabricated.

These same media, however, have turned a blind eye to much more significant literary hoaxes. These include Alex Haley’s counterfeit Roots, Rigoberta Menchu’s Nobel Prize-winning fraud, I Rigoberta, Margaret Mead’s fanciful Coming of Age in Samoa, and leftist superstar Edward Said’s repeated claims of being a Palestinian refugee.

I could cite a score more, but let me focus on one Oprah-endorsed memoir that neither The New Republic or the Times has shown the least interest in investigating, Barack Obama’s 1995 bestseller, Dreams From My Father.

Dreams may prove to be the most consequential literary hoax of our time, but unlike Roseblat’s or Frey’s, Obama’s memoir has enormous political value.

"Dreams" may prove to be the most consequential literary hoax of our time, but unlike Roseblat’s or Frey’s, Obama’s memoir has enormous political value.

To make it easy on the hard-working reporters of these and other publications, should they choose to honor their profession, let me summarize what this amateur sleuth has learned to date.

  • Obama’s publications before 1995 were few and uninspired.
  • After receiving a six-figure contract from Simon & Schuster in 1990, he failed to deliver.
  • Happily, Hyde Park had a gifted literary doctor to tend to the neighborhood’s ailing literary leftists, terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers.
  • Hyde Parker Rashid Khalidi, for instance, gave Ayers top credit for helping with his book Resurrecting Empire.
  • In 1995, a muse descended on the theretofore pedestrian Obama and inspired him to pen what Time Magazine has called “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”
  • That same fateful year, 1995, Ayers got Obama appointed chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant and held a fundraiser for him in his Chicago home.
  • Two extended anecdotes from Ayers’ 1993 book, To Teach, show up in only slightly altered form in Dreams. A third anecdote from Dreams shows up in Ayers 1997 book, A Kind and Just Parent.
  • In Kind and Just, with a knowing wink, Ayers cites the “writer” Barack Obama as one of the celebrities in his neighborhood.
  • Obama wrote a glowing review of that same book for the Chicago Tribune.
  • Dreams and Ayers’ 2001 memoir Fugitive Days each begin in media res with a difficult to understand and abruptly ended phone call. The call comes from a trusted female who informs the memoirist of the accidental death of a loved one.
  • The Odyssey also begins in media res. The call from Athena inspires Telemachus, like Obama, to begin the search for his father, one of many conscious parallels in Dreams.
  • Some of these parallels feel fully contrived like the “older balding man with a glass eye” who challenges Obama or the blind soothsayer who dwells by “a wide chocolate- brown river.”
  • Dreams’ Circe figure, an unnamed female who pulls Obama off course for a year-- the same time frame as with Odysseus--bears a stunning resemblance both in appearance and in background to Ayers’ lost love, Diana Oughton.
  • In fact, the green-eyed Oughton and Obama’s green-eyes inamorata would seem to have grown up on the very same estate, right down to the ancestral home, the grand library, the encircling trees, and small lake in the middle.
  • There are scores, if not hundreds, of distinctive words and phrases in Dreams that repeat in Ayers’ books. Both Obama and Ayers, for instance, describe their position in “capitalist” America as “behind enemy lines.”
  • Both also talk about radical theorist Frantz Fanon, but each misspells his first name as “Franz.”
  • Ayers and Obama also make reference to the Anglo-Polish author Joseph Conrad, whose signature rhetorical flourish—the triple parallel without conjunction—is also the signature rhetorical flourish of both their memoirs.
  • Although his earlier writings were wonkish and straightforward, in Dreams Obama seems to have mastered the postmodern patois in which Ayers communicates.
  • As a former merchant seaman, Ayers often thought in terms of charts and maps when plotting life’s journey Given the Odyssey theme of Dreams, it is only natural that Obama speak often of “maps” and “charts” as well.
  • Similarly, although there are only the briefest of literal sea experiences in Dreams, the following words appear in both Dreams and in Ayers' work: fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, anchors, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky.
  • In the way of a control, my own memoir on race, Sucker Punch, makes no reference at all, metaphorical or otherwise, to any of the above words save “current” and “tides.”
  • In completing his journey, Obama explores any number of Ayers’ postmodern themes, including the unreliability of the narrator, the need for intimacy, the interiority of the struggle, and the convergence of the individual with the universal.
  • Both writers use the very same terms in describing the “fictions” into which people force their lives, the “grooves” into which they fall, the “poses” they assume, the “narratives” they “construct,” the “messy” condition of their “reality,” and even the “stitched together” nature of their identities.
  • After writing Dreams, the man who astonished Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison with “his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase” wrote not another word of consequence for a decade. His 2006 book, Audacity of Hope, reads as if were written by a different, less interesting author.


Yet with all of this information in the public sphere, the most incisive question any major media person has asked Ayers on this subject has been this one from Salon’s Walter Shapiro, “ Did you follow the right-wing blogger, I believe it was, who was totally convinced that you wrote Barack Obama's books?”

Answered Ayers evasively, “It's amazing where the paranoid mind can take you.”

Sometimes, friends, if you care to look, it can take you to the truth.

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Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing new book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.


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