Harry’s Ghost, Like Obama’s, Talks Too Much - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Harry’s Ghost, Like Obama’s, Talks Too Much
Prince Harry’s memoir on display at a New York Barnes & Noble (lev radin/Shutterstock.com)

Maybe I missed something in ghostwriting class, but I always thought the ghostwriter’s job was to remain as ghostly as possible. The book, I thought, should be the author’s — his or her life, thoughts, ideas, and, as far as possible, actual words. Hell, in the 30 or so books I have edited/ghosted, I’ve asked to keep my name even out of “acknowledgements” section. I figured if I want attention, I can write my own books, which I do.

The temptation is always there for a ghost to steal a little glory. I get that. But as the two cases under review suggest, the “author” always loses when the ghost insists on being seen. Prince Harry loses face from his dwindling supply of the same. Barack Obama loses sleep.

Married to a woman who talks way too much, the last thing Prince Harry needed was a ghostwriter who did the same, but he got one nonetheless. To be fair, J. R. Moehringer writes very well, but he gabs more than any ghostwriter ever should, way more.

In the May 8 edition of the New Yorker Moehringer goes on at great length about his experience with Harry. One telling exchange between Harry and his ghost reveals more about J. R. (actually, John Joseph) than it does the prince.

During a Zoom call, Moehringer reports, he and Harry came to a nearly terminal impasse. Due to the fact that people had always “belittled his intellectual capabilities,” Harry wanted to include a particularly clever remark he made under duress:

“Oh,” I said. “O.K.” It made sense now. But I still refused.


Because, I told him, everything you just said is about you. You want the world to know that you did a good job, that you were smart.

As Moehringer explains, he insisted on a more artful reordering of Harry’s life and risked a significant “financial hit” to get his way. Given that Moehringer is the hero of the article — it’s about him, really, not Harry — Harry ultimately surrendered.

“Yes. I get it,” a defeated Harry finally conceded, and they moved on. The book has turned out to be a huge bestseller, but then again, it probably would have been if Harry had written it himself. The book was, in fact, about Harry. People may not be wild about Harry, but they care about him and Meghan. No one cares about the ghost.

That Harry had a ghostwriter was expected. Just about every celebrity who writes a memoir has substantial help. This includes most politicians. Some, like John McCain, acknowledge the help. For his 1999 memoir, Faith of My Fathers, McCain shared credit “with John Salter” on the book’s cover.

In 2008, McCain found himself running for president against the rare politician who needed no help with his books. “I’ve written two books,” Barack Obama told a crowd of school teachers in 2008 on the campaign trail in Virginia. “I actually wrote them myself.”

Obama was not telling the truth. No one much cared about Obama’s second book, the wonkish, team-written Audacity of Hope, but much hinged on Obama’s claim to sole authorship of his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. “There is no underestimating the importance of Dreams From My Father in the political rise of Barack Obama,”  New Yorker editor David Remnick writes in his Obama biography, The Bridge.

From the perspective of the literary elite, Dreams established Obama’s genius. It made him one of them. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, British author Jonathan Raban declared Obama “the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln.” American literati were equally agog. “I was astonished by his ability to write, to think, to reflect, to learn and turn a good phrase,” said Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison of Dreams.

Aware of the buzz, I picked up Dreams at an airport bookstore in the early summer of 2008. I did not have to read too deep into the book before concluding Obama had major help. I noodled around a bit with key words and phrases, looking for matches elsewhere, and got nowhere. Given the state of Obama’s finances in 1995, I presumed he enlisted the help of some local, left-wing poet.

After I dropped the search, I started following a separate track. Wondering whether Obama knew famed terrorist Bill Ayers when both lived in New York City, I picked up Ayers’s 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days. The parallels in language, metaphors, even stories leaped out from the pages. My first thought was that Ayers and Obama shared the same ghostwriter. With further reading, I realized Ayers did not need a ghostwriter. He was the ghostwriter.

Among the giveaways was the anger embedded in the text of Dreams. The author writes so eloquently of rage — “impressive rage,” “suppressed rage,” “coil of rage” — that Dinesh D’Souza titled his Obama book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, but Obama is not an angry man.

Ayers is. He made his reputation at the infamous 1969 donnybrook styled “The Days of Rage.” In Fugitive Days, Ayers tells of how his “rage got started” and how it evolved into an “uncontrollable rage — fierce frenzy of fire and lava.” The ghost, I was convinced, had imposed his outrage on his author.

On October 10, 2008, four weeks left before the election, American Thinker published a 3,700-word piece detailing my suspicions. Rush Limbaugh picked it up, and everything got weird. Much was at stake. “This was a charge,” Remnick would later write, “that if ever proved true, or believed to be true among enough voters, could have been the end of the candidacy.”

Things, I suspect, got weird for Ayers as well. In his 2009 bestseller, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of a Marriage, the apolitical celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen gives a credible account of how Ayers became Obama’s muse.

According to Andersen, the debt-ridden Obama had a deadline pending for Dreams but was “hopelessly blocked.” At “Michelle’s urging,” he “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.” The Obamas obviously knew of Ayers’s reputation as a writer and editor.

So did their mutual friend, PLO fellow traveler Rashid Khalidi. As a case in point, Khalidi begins the acknowledgment section of his 2004 book, Resurrecting Empire, with a nod to his muse. “First, chronologically and in other ways,” writes Khalidi, “comes Bill Ayers.”

As to the writing process, Andersen explains that Obama had already taped interviews with many of his African and American relatives. “These oral histories,” writes Andersen, “along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.”

In 1994, when Ayers intervened, he was the big dog in Chicago’s left-wing circles. Obama was just another lawyer struggling to write just another book. (In my 2011 book, Deconstructing Obama, I explain what his likely quid was for Ayers’s quo.) At the time, neither had any reason to hide their relationship. Obama was likely proud to have Ayers’s help. I suspect all their friends knew. Andersen would base his account of this literary relationship on two unnamed sources within Hyde Park.

After Obama’s breakout speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Dreams became a massive bestseller. Ayers, however, became an albatross. If anyone knew he had helped Obama write Dreams, it would kill Obama’s career. This secret gave Ayers leverage over Obama, but it did not give him glory. He had to be itching to let the world know. Andersen and I provided an opening.

In October 2009, soon after the release of Andersen’s book, Tom Lipscomb explained the impossible weirdness of being Bill Ayers. Lipscomb knows something about publishing. He founded Times Books, which originally published Dreams. In his article, he told the story of a then recent airport encounter between Ayers and a nervy Chicago blogger named Anne Leary,

Spotting Ayers in line at Starbucks, Leary took a picture of him for her blog. After a few pleasantries, Ayers said unprompted, “I wrote Dreams From My Father.” Replied Leary, “Oh, so you admit it.” Ayers quickly added, “And if you can prove it, we can split the royalties.” This was one of several occasions in which Ayers repeated the same shtick, on at least one occasion without even a hint of irony.

Personally, I don’t believe Ayers wrote the book. Dreams is wildly uneven. Some parts are masterful. Some parts meander. The Kenyan sections borrow heavily — too heavily for comfort — from Kuki Gallman’s 1994 book, African Nights. Ayers, I believe, served as the book’s doctor. He injected just enough rage and style to allow the literary world to overpraise it.

Ayers injected enough of both, however, to give the game away. He made Dreams his book. I am sure he would love to get the credit for greasing Obama’s skids to the White House, but no one in his world wants to hear that story. And so, sadly, he remains a ghost, visible only to the people he least wants to see him.

Jack Cashill’s new book Untenable: The True Story of White Ethnic Flight From America’s Cities is available for pre-order.

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