I’ve written too much here about whether Barack Obama wrote Dreams from My Father, most recently in “Flim and flam of the world” yesterday. I have pursued the subject because I find it interesting. I would also concede that It is more interesting than it is important.
Jack Cashill has argued the thesis that Obama had a collaborator writing Dreams and has identified the unrepentant anti-American terrorist Bill Ayers as Obama’s collaborator. Cashill first ventured his thesis during the campaign and has followed up on it several times since then. His many columns on the subject can easily be found online. I infer that Cashill was motivated to pursue the question in part to demonstrate Obama’s close relationship with Ayers.
As Obama has made appointments and demonstrated his own political views in office, it has become much easier to get a fix on the substance of Obama’s political identity than it was during the campaign. Anyone who doesn’t understand where Obama is coming from at this point has no excuse. The mainstream media’s continuing lack of interest in Obama’s relationship with Ayers shouldn’t be much of a hindrance to understanding now.
I have tried to separate the two issues raised by Cashill: Did Obama have help writing Dreams? Based on the available evidence, I think Obama probably did. Did Ayers provide the help? Based on the available evidence, the case hasn’t been made to my satisfaction. I addressed these two issues at length here.
In the course of trying to think the issues through, I contacted Professor Donald Foster of Vassar College. Professor Foster is a professor of English and perhaps the foremost forensic literary detective in the country. He has been involved as an expert working with law enforcement in several cases in which textual evidence came into play.
Professor Foster has also written about his academic and forensic experiences as a literary detective in the 2000 book Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. Frank Lewis’s review of the book in Philadelphia’s Citypaper provides a good account of Professor Foster’s work.
Among other things, Professor Foster is the man who deduced that Joe Klein was the “Anonymous” author of Primary Colors. Professor Foster originally set forth his findings identifying Klein as “Anonymous” in an article published in the February 26, 1996, issue of New York magazine (the article is not available online).
Professor Foster compared Klein’s columns with the text of Primary Colors and found certain verbal trademarks that led him to attribute the novel to the author of the columns. Among the telltale signs was Klein’s use of the phrase “tarmac-hopping.” (Adam Liptak briefly related the story of Professor Foster’s sleuthing in the case of Primary Colors in the Times review “Paper chase.”)
Jack Cashill claims to have discovered many such telltale signs of Ayers’s handiwork in Dreams. My sense is that if Ayers was in fact Obama’s collaborator, the evidence would be stronger than Cashill has found, but this is a question of judgment.
I find Cashill’s treatment of the evidence to be overblown. Lawrence Auster separately provides solid grounds for resisting Cashill’s treatment of the evidence in certain instances in “My doubts about Jack Cashill’s judgment and reliability on the Obama authorship question.” Cashill’s apparent penchant for conspiracy theories — a look at his Web site suggests he believes that former Clinton administration Commerce Secretary Ron Brown might have been murdered — should also give one pause.
Dreams was published by Times Books after Obama blew the advance provided and the deadline set by his original publisher for the book. As it happens, our old Internet friend Tom Lipscomb was the founder of Times Books. Now Lipscomb takes a look at the questions about Dreams in “What if Ayers’ ‘joke’ about writing Dreams is on the press?”
UPDATE: So what did Professor Foster tell me? Several readers have written to ask. I should have added: Professor Foster had no interest in the issues raised about Dreams and expressed no opinion on it except to say that it is difficult to compare two edited works for the purposes of attributing authorship. He briefly discussed his work with the FBI in the Unabomber case, discussed how he had investigated the case of Anonymous/Joe Klein and implied that he had grown tired of his work with law enforcement. My brief conversation with him provided helpful background in the art of literary detection rather than analysis of Dreams per se.
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