“Why,” asks the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley writing about the excerpt in Vanity Fair from David Maraniss’s soon-to-be released biography of Barack Obama,
. . . didn’t we know all these details four years ago – even though some of them were published in a best-selling autobiography that was sold to us as if it was a fifth gospel? And yet we knew everything there was to know about Sarah Palin, despite the fact that she was in the race for a much shorter space of time than Obama – and only running for veep.
Via Powerline Picks where John Hinderaker, who has read a good chunk of the excerpt, highlights an event that Obama apparently manufactured for his memoir, Dreams From My Father. Genevieve Cook, a woman he once dated in New York, says he never took her to the theater despite Obama’s claim that he had taken a girlfriend in New York to the show:
No such play, no such dialogue. Maraniss charitably supposes that the event involved a different, later girlfriend in Chicago who was part of the “composite” girlfriend character. But Obama places the play in New York, not Chicago. My guess is that the incident never happened at all: one nice thing about fictionalizing an autobiography and including fake characters is that it gives you license to include events that didn’t happen but, from an artistic standpoint, should have.
When people who read my novel asked if it were autobiographical, I quipped that I changed the facts to make the truth more manifest, but I made clear that I was writing a novel. I made clear I wasn’t telling the story of my life. By calling his a memoir, Obama indicates that he is telling the story of his.
There is a real question here not just about the misrepresentation, but also about the stories Obama chooses to tell (and apparently invents) to define who he is.
*NB: Changed the title to more accurately reflect the meaning of the post.
And this story then deserves far greater consideration than inquires into Mitt Romney’s mode of transporting his pet in the early 1980s. And Ann Romney’s wardrobe. More on this anon.
UPDATE: “The composite girlfriend“, writes James Taranto,
. . . raises another interesting question: What exactly is nonfiction? Using a “composite” character wouldn’t be acceptable in newspaper work; the practice cost Janet Cooke her Pulitzer Prize. On the other hand, it’s fine in a based-on-a-true-story movie dramatization like “Shattered Glass,” the 2003 biopic of New Republic fabricator Stephen Glass.
“Dreams From My Father” seems to have been based on a true story, but is it really nonfiction? True, as Politico notes, Obama discloses “the use of composite characters,” but is that enough? Shouldn’t he tell us which characters are composites? 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?
UP-UPDATE: “‘Composite character‘”, writes Hugh Hewitt, “is code for “‘lie'”:
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.
Read the whole thing.