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Suskind Book Paints Unflattering Portrait of Obama White House

Tuesday, 20 Sep 2011 01:32 PM

Pulitzer prize-winning author Ron Suskind’s new book about the Obama White House already is stirring trouble with its unflattering picture of orders ignored during the financial crisis and women discriminated against.

The book, “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President,” was released today, although The Washington Post and The Associated Press got copies in advance and are reporting the more explosive allegations in the book.

According to the book, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ignored a March 2009 order from President Barack Obama to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup, AP reported last week.

“The Citbank incident, and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president’s authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers,” Suskind writes.

Meanwhile, the Post notes that female White House staffers felt so marginalized during Obama’s first two years in office that the president invited senior women staff members to dinner in November 2009 to reassure them.

“There were some issues early on with women feeling as though they hadn’t figured out what their role was going to be on the senior team at the White House,” senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told the Post. “Most of the women hadn’t worked on the campaign, and so they didn’t have a personal relationship with the president.”

The book is based on more than 700 hours of interviews and quotes a number of top officials who describe a difficult work environment for women. The morale-busting mood is attributed mostly to the dominating roles of such officials as economics adviser Lawrence Summers and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The book was reported with cooperation from the White House, and President Obama was interviewed. However, that cooperation could backfire as the book raises questions about Obama’s management style, the Post reported.

Former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted in the book as saying that “this place would be in court for a hostile workplace . . . Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”

But Dunn told the Post that she told Suskind “point blank” that the White House was not a hostile work environment.

However, Suskind played a tape of the conversation for the Post. In it, Dunn is heard telling Suskind about a conversation she had with Jarrett.

“I remember once I told Valerie that I said if it weren’t for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” the Post quotes Dunn as saying on the tape. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.”

Former Economic Advisers Council Chairwoman Christina Romer’s battles with Summers also are featured in the book. At one point, she describes the experience of being excluded by Summers at a meeting as feeling “like a piece of meat,” the Post said.

Other complaints circulating include rough language and football throwing during staff meetings, the Post said of the book.

At the dinner called to discuss the problem, Obama said, “I really want you guys to talk to me about this openly because recently there has been this suggestion that there are some issues here. I’d like to know how you guys feel.”

The dinners have continued, albeit without the presence of the president. Jarrett described Obama’s responses at the first dinner as “empowering,” the Post reported.

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