Professional Hack: A Review Of Ed Klein's The Amateur

“The Amateur” by Edward Klein is a book about an inept, arrogant ideologue who maintains an absurdly high opinion of his own talents even as he blatantly fails to achieve his goals. Oh, and President Obama is in this book too." - NY Times' Janet Maslin

“The Amateur is the best book I've read on how Barack Obama is wrecking our country.” - Donald Trump, on the book jacket

Though his previous work has been marred by falsehoods and his journalistic integrity called into question by people from across the ideological spectrum, you can rest assured that Ed Klein is still a serious reporter. Just ask Ed Klein.

As New York Times book reviewer Janet Maslin noted in her justifiably brutal review of Klein's new anti-Obama book, The Amateur, Klein announces on the first page that it “is a reporter's book,” and recounts the “nearly two hundred” interviews and “dozens of four-inch-thick three-ring notebooks” of research he compiled during its writing. These boasts of gumshoe reporting and exhaustive inquiry come off as a feeble attempt by Klein to explain why anyone should respect his new book given his ugly track record.

That Klein's credibility needs repair is beyond question, but it's doubtful that people who stopped taking Klein seriously after he wrote a book forwarding suggestions that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian -- and that Chelsea was conceived when Bill raped Hillary -- will be swayed by his claims of scholarship. (Klein's other recent work includes an embarrassing self-published novel “based on real stuff” co-authored with conspiracy theorist John LeBoutillier about a CIA agent who discovers that Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim Manchurian candidate.)

In a 2005 column excoriating Klein's The Truth About Hillary, conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called the book “poorly written, poorly thought, poorly sourced, full of the kind of loaded language that is appropriate to a polemic but not an investigative work.” The same criticisms can all be leveled at The Amateur.

Despite Klein's pile of three-ring binders, The Amateur is filled with lazy research, bad writing, bizarre generalizations (“Political wives have always found something to complain about”) and gossip forwarded by anonymous sources -- exactly what you should expect from an Ed Klein book.

It would be tedious to run through every distortion in the book (and impossible, considering his heavy reliance on unverifiable anecdotes from anonymous sources), but a couple of characteristic examples show that Klein either isn't very good at research, or just prefers to rely on exaggerations and distortions when it suits him.

In a section attacking Obama for his June 2009 speech in Cairo, Klein complains that Obama “made no mention of how existing policies in the Arab world discriminated against women.” But Obama did just that, specifically highlighting “women's rights” and saying that a “woman who is denied an education is denied equality.” From Obama's remarks:

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

In a chapter titled “The Jewish Problem with Obama,” Klein argues that Obama's Israel policy resulted in a hemorrhage of support from Jewish voters. As part of his evidence, he mentions “one poll” finding that “Obama's approval rating among American Jews has plummeted to 54 percent.” The poll in question is likely a much-discussed Gallup poll from last summer that did indeed find Obama's support among American Jews had fallen to 54 percent (we have to assume because Klein never provides a specific citation). Gallup's write-up of that poll, however, said “there is little sign that Obama is suffering disproportionately in support among Jews,” which “calls into question attempts to link a decline in Obama's approval among Jews to his statements or policies on matters important to Jewish policymakers and lobbyists.”

In the same chapter, Klein repeats a story from 2010 about how Obama ostensibly insulted Benjamin Netanyahu during a 2010 visit to the White House by leaving the meeting “to have dinner with Michelle and their daughters, Malia and Sasha.” As the White House pointed out at the time, this would have been impossible, “since Michelle, Sasha, and Malia Obama were in New York City that night.” This was debunked more than two years ago, but it's the kind of thing Klein felt was worth including in his book.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

In the past, Klein has repeatedly been criticized for his thin, second-hand sourcing and tabloid-level gossip-mongering. The Boston Globe staff, in their review of The Truth About Hillary, described Klein's research as consisting “mostly of anonymous interviews of the kind one finds in newspaper tabloids.” While Klein did conduct a number of on-the-record interviews for The Amateur, many of the sections of Klein's book that are now being echoed throughout conservative media outlets rely on vague anonymous sourcing.

One of the first excerpts of The Amateur to surface featured Bill Clinton supposedly labeling Barack Obama an “amateur” and urging Hillary to run against him in the primary. In the chapter, Klein describes how the ensuing argument took place in front of “a few old friends” and recounts comments from “one of those witnesses” and “one of their friends.” (The Clinton camp quickly denied the story and labeled Klein a “known liar.”)

Discussing the story in question on Fox Business last week, conservative Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto said the story sounded “too good to be true in every particular.” Indeed, Klein's tale sounds more like a bad novel based on the Clintons than something from a “reporter's book”:

“Why risk everything now?” Hillary demanded to know.

“Because,” Bill replied, “the country needs you!”

His voice was several decibels louder than necessary, and his nose was turning shades of red.

“The country needs us!” he shouted, banging a fist on his desk to drive home his point. [The Amateur, pg 6]

Other thinly-sourced scoops include a story that Michelle Obama “had divorce papers drawn up” following Obama's loss in a 2000 congressional race (according to “one of her friends”), and a rumor that “some of [Obama's] friends worried that he was suicidal.”

Klein devotes an entire chapter to reprinting anonymous complaints from Oprah staffers about Michelle Obama's supposed feud with Oprah. Quoted objections include a “high-ranking” Harpo executive saying Oprah was upset that she had to run questions for a possible Obama interview past a deputy speechwriter:

“Oprah isn't a snob, but she doesn't like having to put up with mid-level clerks. These guys were $75,000-a-year men. Oprah was like, 'Hello, what is this shit!' But she did it; she went to Washington with Gayle and met with both Doebler and Stephens to has out the details. I was surprised she went there, hat in hand.” [The Amateur, pg 139]

An unnamed executive also decries how “Michelle mentioned that the White House cooks made the best pie in the world. But she didn't offer Oprah or Gayle any. It was almost an act of cruelty. Instead, she served them almonds, not an Oprah fave.” Serving almonds to Oprah! It's a wonder Obama hasn't been impeached yet.

Perhaps Klein's worst journalistic sin in The Amateur is that the book is boring. While promoted as some sort of groundbreaking tome about the president, the insights he supposedly provides -- that Obama is an incompetent narcissist who is unprepared for the job, that Michelle is controlling and has a bad temper, that the two “share a sense of entitlement,” et cetera -- are exactly the same things people like Rush Limbaugh have been yelling about for years.

Klein cynically bet that conservatives would run with the allegations in his book, despite his utter lack of credibility. While some have treated Klein with the appropriate level of skepticism, people like Sean Hannity (who rolled out the red carpet for Klein on Fox last night) and Rush Limbaugh are happily promoting the allegations from The Amateur, which says more about their character than the president's.