So who will be his Ted Sorensen this time?
On Thursday, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation named Barack Obama the 2017 “Profile in Courage” award honoree, and no one in the major media caught the irony of it.
According to the foundation, the award is given to those “whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership in the spirit of ‘Profiles in Courage,’ President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book.”
The reader should forget for a minute about Obama’s alleged courage and focus instead on the phrase, “President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book.” This phrase would carry a little more weight, and the award would make a little more sense, if JFK actually wrote Profiles in Courage. He did not.
In a similar vein, and here is where the irony comes into play, Barack Obama has been credibly accused of not writing in any meaningful way his own two books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. The apolitical celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen sends six pages of his 2009 book, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, explaining how neighborhood editor and terrorist Bill Ayers took over the writing role from a “hopelessly blocked” Obama. Literary forensic work on Obama’s books supports Andersen’s claim.
Unlike Obama, JFK won the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after receiving the award, Kennedy was accused of having had more than a little help in the writing of the book. Short of libeling the accusers as racist, Kennedy supporters reacted to this charge with much the same dumb fury Obama supporters would fifty years later when Obama was accused of not writing his literary masterpiece, Dreams.
One particular accuser, however, had the clout to make the charge stick. That would be the legendary pundit, Drew Pearson. He also had a more formidable platform, namely Mike Wallace’s show on ABC. As is evident, the media took their responsibilities to the truth more seriously back in the day.
Understanding full well what a “fraud” label would do to JFK’s presidential ambitions, the Kennedys used the servile family retainer Ted Sorensen to force a retraction from Pearson and Wallace. Under oath, Sorensen would testify, “I did not write the book for Senator Kennedy.” Had the presumed collaborator on Profiles been a figure of comparable disrepute to Bill Ayers — say, Alger Hiss — Sorensen’s prevarications could not have dampened what would surely have been a media firestorm.
In his 2008 book Counselor, Sorensen would finally admit what he had been leaking since the book was first published, that, yes, he “did a first draft of most chapters.” He had also received half the book’s royalties before being bought out of his contract. Still uneasy more than fifty years later about his testimony before Pearson, Sorensen insisted, “I took my oath seriously.” He convinced no one including himself.
Sorensen sums up his sophistry with a question meant to be rhetorical, “Is the author the person who did much of the research and helped choose the words in many of the sentences, or is the author the person who decided the substance, structure, and the theme of the book.” Sorry, Ted, Pulitzers usually go to the guy who put the words on the page. That would not be JFK.
Obama biographer Christopher Andersen reports that Obama, unaware of JFK’s chicanery, hoped to launch his own political career with a book just like Profiles in Courage. He may have succeeded in ways he did not anticipate. In an even quirkier footnote, Ted Sorensen helped Obama with some of his speeches.
The question now is who will write the newest Obama memoir, one that comes with an advance well beyond that ever offered a political figure. If Obama’s editors at Penguin Random House are insisting Obama write the book himself, they may want to start shorting Penguin Random House stock.