Saturday, May 17, 2008

Authors Against Obama

I call for the formation of Authors Against Obama, a group of professional writers who object to crap like this:
Mr. Obama’s story first surfaced publicly in February 1990, when he was elected as the first black president of The Harvard Law Review. An initial wire service report described him simply as a 28-year-old, second-year student from Hawaii who had "not ruled out a future in politics"; but in the days that followed, newspaper reporters grew interested and produced long, detailed profiles of Mr. Obama. The coverage prompted a call to him from Jane Dystel, a gravelly-voiced literary agent. . . . Ms. Dystel suggested Mr. Obama write a book proposal. Then she got him a contract with Poseidon Press, a now-defunct imprint of Simon & Schuster. When he missed his deadline, she got him another contract and a $40,000 advance from Times Books.
Mr. Obama’s original plan was to write a book about race relations. But, sitting down to write, he found his mind "pulled toward rockier shores." So the book became more personal — the record of an interior journey, as he put it in the introduction, "a boy's search for his father, and through that a search for a workable meaning for his life as a black American."
Writers of the world, UNITE! We are being oppressed, and it's people like Obama, his agent and his publishers who are oppressing us.

A 28-year-old law student gets written up in the newspapers, then gets a call from a literary agent? She calls him?

The agent then signs this 28-year-old nobody -- whose only credential as an author is student law journal stuff -- with Simon & Schuster. Hello? In what alternative universe does this happen?

He misses his deadline, but that's OK, because he then gets another big contract with a $40,000 advance. At this point, Obama's story is reminding me of another popular book, The Peter Principle.

But the real killer is how, having gotten a contract based on a proposal for a book about race relations, Obama pulls a bait-and-switch, and instead delivers ... a memoir.

A memoir! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?? Unless you led the league in RBIs and helped the Yankees win the Series, how the hell does a 28-year-old get away with selling a memoir to a major publisher for $40,000?

By what accomplishment does a 28-year-old law student merit readership for a memoir? What can he possibly write that anyone would want to read? Nothing.
Mr. Obama, an inveterate journal writer who had published poems in a college literary magazine but had never attempted a book, struggled to finish. . . .
The book came out in the summer of 1995, shortly before Mr. Obama announced that he was running for the Illinois State Senate. At 57th Street Books, in Mr. Obama’s neighborhood in Chicago, a few dozen people turned out for a reading.
There were respectful reviews in newspapers including The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Times Books sold 8,000 to 9,000 copies.

First-time author. $40,000. Memoir. Reviewed in the New York Times.

All right, that's it. Forget about Jeremiah Wright. I don't care about Bill Ayers or Hamas or Obama's health care plans or anything else. When a 28-year-old student gets a $40,000 book contract based on a proposal to write about race relations, then instead turns in a memoir that gets favorably reviewed by The New York Times (!), he has committed an injustice against the profession of letters which no self-respecting author can endorse or condone.

Authors Against Obama! Who's with me?

UPDATE: I've created a Facebook group.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers. I don't know whether the link should be interpreted as an endorsement from Professor Reynolds. Somehow, though, I don't think any major publishers were offering him big bucks for a memoir when he was a second-year law student.

UPDATE III: In the comment field, Reliapundit notes his post from June 2005, recounting how Obama broke his contract with his first agent once he hit the big time, reportedly resulting in an out-of-court settlement. This only amplifies my argument that Obama has damaged longstanding traditions in the literary community. Agents usually screw over authors, rather than the other way around.

UPDATE IV: Hey, buy a book, OK? David Horowitz called it "irresistible."

UPDATE JULY 31: Welcome National Review Online readers. Wow, it's not every day a two-month-old post makes the Site Meter jump. Thanks, Jim Geraghty -- and I'll be sure to buy a copy of Voting to Kill just as soon as NR acknowledges the existence of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party, which the magazine couldn't even be bothered to review in 2006. Ah, the injustice of it all! (Maybe if I'd had Obama's agent . . .) Have added an updated reaction.


  1. I heard that when he was a summer intern at one of the big Chicago firms, he told them he couldn't do any work (for his princely summer pay) because he was busy on his first book. And made it clear that they had better not get any ideas about discharging the great black hope of Harvard Law/Illinois politics just because he was above mere work.

  2. Here's another excerpt from the NYIMES piece:

    "When his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention sent his memoir soaring out of obscurity and straight onto the best-seller list, he untethered himself from his longtime literary agent in favor of Robert B. Barnett, the Washington lawyer who had gotten Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton an $8 million book advance and then landed Mr. Obama a $1.9 million, three-book deal."

    Er um... "untethered himself from his longtime literary agent"... ?!?!?






    Obama ditches friends as soon as it becomes advantageous to move on.

    His mother. His agent. His pastor. Et al.

    Obama is a low-life ingrate who doesn't know the meaning of the word LOYALTY.



  4. This whole story doesn't seem right. Just as with many stories about Obama's past, the initial story he tells turns out not to be true. His parents didn't march in Selma. His father wasn't brought over on some Kennedy family grant, he never heard the crackpot minister spew racist rants from the pulpit, etc.

  5. you're just jealous!

  6. You mean, you've found out that Obama's a swine and a user?

    I wonder how Jane Dystel likes it under the bus w/ Grandma?

    Anyone who votes for this con man is a damn fool. At this point, I could say something about Andrew Sullivan, but I'd rather not and say I did...

  7. It seems as if the big O has a fairy godmother. Who might it be? An interesting point of conjecture.

  8. More in the nature of a question. Which big Chicago law firm did the DAN intern in?

  9. I believe the publication offer was given after his first year working as a summer associate for the prestigious Chicago law firm of Sidley and Austin.Apparently, this appointment is extremely strange as well. He had not been appointed Editor until later and firms don't want associates right after their first year of school.

    Obama met Michelle Obama and Berenardine Dohrn while working at this firm. It is a good possibility Obama would have been introduced to Dohrn's husband, Bill Ayers at that time.

    I'd be fascinated to find out if this publication offer occurred after Obama spent some time with Bill Ayers, his father and their associates. In particular, when he first met George Soros. The source of my information derives from Steve Diamond, a law professor at Santa Clara University. Here's the link to his article:

    Those connections would explain such a bizarre offer to an unknown law student. It certainly explains why a inexperienced, second-year lawyer,like Obama was given the position of directing the Ayers- founded, multi-million dollar Annenberg Challenge. In fact, the appointment is beyond bizarre.

    The Ayers family directed high-profile goodies at Obama very early in his career. Could Ayers have suggested to someone in his network and with publication connections, that a publication would help launch Obama's future in politics? It's not surprising that Maria Warren of the blog, "Musings&Migraines" wrote about watching Obama give a talk in the home of Ayers and Dohrn, She described a political "launching party" given by them:

    I begin to suspect that this
    was not a casual relationship, but a longterm, carefully executed plan to launch a Trojan horse into the heart of Washington.


  10. It's not all that unusual for black law students to get summer clerkships after their first year of law school. There aren't a lot of black students at the better schools (especially if you're looking to hire the ones who are there on merit, rather than affirmative action), so the big firms do everything they can to recruit them, including offering them clerkships after the first year.

  11. "It's not all that unusual for black law students to get summer clerkships after their first year of law school."

    I understand your point; qualified minority students are fought over by academics, law firms and corporations.

    However, Read over the opinion of the law professor from the linked article I posted. His explanation: He regarded the early appointment as odd because law firms want to be able to hire their associates right after they graduate.

    If a student takes a position right after their first year, then another firm gets a crack at them during their second year summer.

    So if a firm wanted to recruit a black law student and have a good chance at hiring them; that early appointment strategy would have been risky.


  12. The answer, of course, is
    "Because he's black*".

    *Identifyably black that is. (white mother)

  13. Obama ditches friends as soon as it becomes advantageous to move on.

    uh, just like the Clinton's do when the you know what is about to hit the fan? ask Webster Hubbell.

    The pattern is a pattern of a certain ideological party, not a person.

  14. Barak the magic negro!

    Reverend Sharpton, I feel your pain brother.

  15. Still, being the first black president of something (Harvard Law Review) made him, not his ex literary agent's pandering book deal.

  16. Yes, measued against the usual struggling author experience (those outside the sacred circle of the literary industrial complex) it does seem rather... odd.
    Especially being called by an agent. I would venture that someone suddenly became famous through a news event might get a call or two from an ambitious agent wishing to strike while interest in that person is hot, but still...

  17. One of the premises in this post is, I believe, incorrect -- that Obama's only credential as an author was "student law journal stuff." If you'll look at some comments on the Volokh blog, you'll find that although he was head of the Review, Obama was apparently one of the few Review members ever -- out of 1000s -- to publish NOTHING in the Review. Typically editors publish a roughly 10-page "case comment" AND a "note," which consists of the 3rd year paper they have to write anyway to graduate from HLS. So he was sought out to write a book even though he's never published anything (other than, apparently, some stuff in a college newspaper).

  18. Arriving here from the happy environs of Instapundit, we are displeased at the impertinence of the author of this very modest place. The person misconstrues our kind condescension in choosing to tarry here as an invitation to familiarity. What could possibly be more cringeffective than such "incursions insinuantes?

    If we were dealing with a person who was sensitive to the appropriate tone and the social realities, we might deign a glance of appraisal - might advise on the less than perfectly harmonious interplay of colors, the faulty juxtapositions of narrative mood. After all, one of the obligations placed upon our selves is the cultural improvement of our lessers. But one is disinclined to cast pearls before upstarts. No, indeed, we withdraw.

    There are places where the elevated patronage of vaunted habitues of Instapundit is sufficiently recognized and observed. At such a place you may attend me.

  19. section9 said...

    Anyone who votes for this con man is a damn fool.

    My feelings exactly, from the very first time I saw Obama on TV four years ago. Con man. Snake oil salesman.

    Nothing he's done in the ensuing years has done anything other than reinforce this impression.

  20. While your idea is well-intentioned, who are you to cast the stones? Take a look back in your past and I'll bet you'll see that there are many defining moments that you are not too proud about.

    As the author of numerous biographies, I have seen firsthand the accounts of very inspirational men who have had very checkered past and admit their sinful conduct. One is Thomas Merton, perhaps the greatest spiritual writer of the twentieth century. He was very much the sinner, but he turned his life around and became a beacon of light for many who read, and still read his works.

    My new biography of him brings Obama to mind, for Merton also was castigated for his past behavior. But he was given a chance, as I think we must do with Obama especially since the alternative is four more years of Bush/McCain. So why not focus on the positives of Obama instead of the negatives and hope that he can lead this country out of the wilderness. At least he deserves a chance to do so.

    Mark Shaw

  21. Original commenter here-- I thought it was Sidley but something said Kirkland for a moment, so I didn't say. This idea has been floating around the blogosphere that firms don't want first years in the summer but that's crazy-- every first year has a summer job, and I don't know why people would assume that everyone would automatically take a job at their second year firm, as if they'd forgotten all about the first year place. If anything you're probably more critical of the second year place, having more of a standard to judge it by. Anyway, an impressive black Harvard law student is just about as golden a catch as you could land, no firm would pass that up because of some silly rule, nor would you need inside influence to land the job if you were Obama. But it does show that he was being groomed from early on-- and making connections to the powerful in Illinois politics.

  22. The New York Times has just published another spin on this story. According to this new version; Obama was the initiator and took his unpublished memoir to the agent.

    I wish they would make up their minds about which spin they are going to present to all the guillible rubes. They have lost any crediability with their former readers.

  23. There's a lot that doesn't add up here. Has anyone fact-checked Mr. Obama's memoir?

  24. someone said
    So why not focus on the positives of Obama instead of the negatives and hope that he can lead this country out of the wilderness. At least he deserves a chance to do so.

    I for one prefer NOT to base my country's leadership on a "hope" that someone can lead us and I certainly do NOT feel MR. Obama "deserves" anything. He hasn't given nearly enough to deserve.

  25. You're missing a big piece of the picture.

    Obama got a $125,000 advance on that first contract, as reported by Peter Osnos, his Random House publisher.

    Did he return the money? If he did, then where did he and his wife come up with $110K down payment for their condo in 1993?

  26. Hope, or change. Our choice.

  27. Hmmmm

    That's it. I am officially changing my race to black.

    Note to everyone. You're all bigots and racists and I hate you for enslaving my ancestors.

    Now give me a damn donut or else I'll picket your racist behinds!

  28. I was wondering when someone else would notice:

  29. Gotta get me some of that action.

    One of the screenplays my wife and I co-wrote took grand prize honors in two international screenwriting contests and three -- count 'em, three -- film festivals for best screenplay.

    Getting an agent interested in our work -- fuggetaboutit!

    We contacted every friend of a friend or relative five times removed who might, maybe, perhaps have the slightest tangential contact in the biz. Not a nibble. We discovered the moat is about 100 miles wide.

    Finally, we sent out queries (a no-no, really, in dealings with L.A. agents and managers but we'd exhausted every other avenue). Out of two hundred queries which included press clippings of our wins, we got two responses.

    One was selling an online, pay for play script-reading service. The other guy was actually interested in our work. One bite out of 200.

    Turns out, there's a happy ending. We now have an agent. But what we went through to just get someone to read us. Good god. And I'm sure our story isn't atypical.