The latest viral rumor on the Internet is that former Weatherman William Ayers wrote President Obama’s best-selling book “Dreams From My Father.”
The story has its origin on Anne Leary’s blog Backyard Conservative. She recounted running into Ayers at Reagan National Airport. After she introduced herself, Ayers supposedly blurted out that he wrote Obama’s book.
You don’t have to be an FBI agent to recognize that even if true, no one would make such an admission in those circumstances. Moreover, having read the book and Obama’s more recent “The Audacity of Hope,” I can say that the writing in both books is so exceptional that very few authors — and certainly not Ayers — could have written them.
Even when Ayers suggested to Leary that they split the royalties, the book has made Obama over $9 million, Leary did not get that perhaps Ayers was joking with her. Subsequently, at a book festival, the National Journal asked Ayers about the report of his presidential ghost writing.
An “Abbie Hoffmanish, steal-this-book-sort-of-smile lit up his face,” the publication wrote. “He gently took National Journal by the arm. ‘Here’s what I’m going to say. This is my quote. Be sure to write it down: Yes, I wrote “Dreams From My Father.” I ghost wrote the whole thing. I met with the president three or four times, and then I wrote the entire book.’ He released National Journal’s arm and beamed in Marxist triumph. ‘And now I would like the royalties.’”
Thus, Ayers in effect confirmed that he was “jerking some chains,” as Jonah Goldberg put it on National Review Online. Later, asked by the Daily Beast about the claim that he wrote the book, Ayers e-mailed, “You’ve all lost your minds. Best of luck in the twilight zone.”
In contrast to Obama, President John F. Kennedy really did not write “Profiles in Courage,” for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. As recounted in my book, “The Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Founded,” Gertrude Ball, Joe Kennedy’s New York secretary, told me that one of her earliest assignments was to type the research reports that his employees wrote and which became chapters in his son’s book.
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“Mr. [James A.] Fayne did some of the research on it, and [James] Landis did some of the research on it while Jack was in the hospital with a bad back in New York City,” Ball said. “I typed up their reports, their notes, to give to him. I typed up some work from Jack after he got their notes and put some of it together. It might not have been the final form. The Daniel Webster chapter Landis did most of the research on. Mr. Fayne did research on some of the other chapters.”
Ball said she understood Theodore C. Sorensen, the bespectacled, lean, intense, and completely devoted lawyer who became Jack Kennedy’s speech writer, wrote final drafts.
Harper & Row published “Profiles in Courage” on Jan. 2, 1956. A compendium of prosaic vignettes of men like John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster, the book was a best-seller and gained JFK national attention. A year after its publication, the book won him the Pulitzer Prize.
To be sure, Jack Kennedy had suggested people to profile and had collated the material others produced for him. Janet Des Rosiers, Joe’s Hyannis Port secretary and mistress for nine years, told me she recalled seeing Jack Kennedy working on the book.
“I saw Jack write ‘Profiles in Courage’ in Palm Beach after his back operation,” she said. “His bedroom was piled high with reference books. He would sit in bed and write in longhand.”
But President Kennedy was a poor writer and had little patience for tedious research. Mark Dalton, who wrote speeches for him during his first campaigns, recalled that JFK would contribute ideas and concepts.
“He could write,” Dalton said. “What he needed was a good editor. It might be incoherent and not quite fit together.”
“Jack told me Joe got people to help him with Jack’s writing,” his friend Henry James Jr. said. “Jack told me they did a rewrite job.”
For his 1980 book “JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy,” author Herbert S. Parmet compared his handwritten version of the book with the finished product and found little resemblance between the two. He described the president’s writing as a “disorganized, somewhat incoherent mélange from secondary sources.” He found “very rough passages without paragraphing, without any shape, largely ideas jotted down as possible sections, obviously necessitating editing.”
Even without knowing that Joe Kennedy’s employees had conducted the research and written the first drafts, Parmet concluded that Jack Kennedy’s role was “overseer, or, more charitably, as a sponsor and editor, one whose final approval was as important for its publication as for its birth.”
This was hardly the way Pulitzer-Prize-winning books are supposed to be written. In disclosing that she had typed research reports that formed the basis of “Profiles in Courage,” Ball revealed for the first time that not only the writing but most of the research for the book was not the president’s.
As for our current president, the writing is all his.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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