June 17, 2012

“The book belongs in the category of literature and memoir, not history and autobiography. The themes of the book control character and chronology.” [Darleen Click]

So writes David Maraniss of Barack Obama’s putative autobiography Dreams of my Father

Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story punctures two sets of falsehoods: The family tales Obama passed on, unknowing; and the stories Obama made up. The 672-page book closes before Obama enters law school, and Maraniss has promised another volumne, but by its conclusion I counted 38 instances in which the biographer convincingly disputes significant elements of Obama’s own story of his life and his family history. […]

Maraniss finds that Obama’s young life was basically conventional, his personal struggles prosaic and later exaggerated. He finds that race, central to Obama’s later thought and included in the subtitle of his memoir, wasn’t a central factor in his Hawaii youth or the existential struggles of his young adulthood. And he concludes that attempts, which Obama encouraged in his memoir, to view him through the prism of race “can lead to a misinterpretation” of the sense of “outsiderness” that Maraniss puts at the core of Obama’s identity and ambition. […]

As Obama’s Chicago mentor Jerry Kellman tells Maraniss in a different context, “Everything didn’t revolve around race.”

Those are just a few examples in biography whose insistence on accuracy will not be mistaken for pedantry. Maraniss is a master storyteller, and his interest in revising Obama’s history is in part an interest in why and how stories are told, a theme that recurs in the memoir. Obama himself, he notes, saw affectionately through his grandfather Stanley’s fabulizing,” describing the older man’s tendency to rewrite “history to conform with the image he wished for himself.” Indeed, Obama comes from a long line of storytellers, and at times fabulists, on both sides.

Dick Opar, a distant Obama relative who served as a senior Kenyan police official, and who was among the sources dismissing legends of anti-colonial heroism, put it more bluntly.

“People make up stories,” he told Maraniss.

Indeed. Though this is only a little vindication for the people who suspected, and pointed out, Barry’s empty suit in 2008 and were subsequently dismissed as unhelpful or raaaaacist. Fact remains, honest reporters should have actually vetted Obama more than four years ago. Vetting is not a biographer’s job.

Posted by Darleen @ 10:23am
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Comments (36)

  1. I’m developing a sense that vetting — having become almost a term of art where not merely a chunk of rhetoric — is beginning to take on far too large a role in our discourse, vacuuming up older and better words we used to use to describe the various investigative processes, research techniques, philosophical analyses, empirical demonstrations, probabilistic mental calculations and forensic argument now being subsumed under the umbrella. But, it is current, it is common-coin, it is on nearly every tongue, so I suppose I should keep my discomfort to myself and watch to see what happens. After all, it’s the people using the term who have the motives and urges so to proceed, since mere terms have no life of their own, nor act as agents in any genuine sense at all. Therefore, it could be, matters will all turn out better than I imagine: nothing will be lost and great things gained in the exchange.

  2. sdferr

    In the old days, “vetting” was usually called “in-depth” or “investigative” reporting by real reporters.

    Contemporary j-school “advocacy journalism” grads operated under a different paradigm … presenting facts for people to make a decision is no longer their job, its presenting the correct facts to “help” people make the “correct” decision.

  3. Note: I removed the ping-back from “aliterature.com” because I got a “can harm your computer warning”

    I checked through whois and found it was created only last November out of Singapore

    If the owner of the site is legit, then as soon as your site is cleared of whatever is triggering the warning, I’ll restore your ping-back. But out of an abundance of caution, it remains unapproved at this time.

  4. I believe I’m old enough (I don’t know this is true, but am willing to assert it as such) to recall the use of vetting or ‘to vet’ themselves over the years — so what I think I see is the continued movement of these terms up the ladder of cognitive distinction or honor, so to speak. That is, when I was young I only heard the term used in very narrow contexts, and those mostly to do with decidedly minor or relatively unimportant matters. So I believe I see (or hear) the term’s use broadening to include ever more consequential stuff. That’s all I mean, in the gisty sense.

  5. Let me hasten to add an apology, Darleen, for veering the subject of your post off in this absurd direction right from the jump. I shouldn’t, but succumbed to my urge to spill an advocacy.

  6. sdferr

    No apologies needed. I believe “vet” has followed a lot of other words that appear to capture the attention of increasing numbers of people who want to use it as a new, clever shorthand to a concept that may take more words to describe.

    But whether it is “vetting” or “investigative reporting” … that’s not a job of a biographer who, necessarily, takes years putting together a fuller picture of the subject.

    The difference between a rough sketch and a finished mural.

  7. My sense of what “vetting” used to mean was something akin to checking references. If somebody said, “So-and-So sent me,” you checked with So-and-So and if they said, “I never heard of this mook” you sent the mook packing. Or worse.

    Once upon a time people didn’t seek prominent positions such as, oh, let’s just say for the sake of discussion President of the United States, unless they were accomplished people — and accomplished people as a rule tend to like to talk about their accomplishments, which could be asked about and either confirmed or debunked. That wouldn’t be considered “vetting.”

    These days it’s more a question of one’s connections, which in the Chicago Way goes back to, “Who sent you?” Hence, vetting.

    Obama didn’t even really get that much. Whoever was supposed to check his references failed to check the references of the people they were checking with.

  8. “. . . used to mean was something akin to checking references.’

    Heartily agreed, and I’d include something such as the following: commander points to a spot on the map and says “We’ll make camp here overnight”, but then has the wit to send a man out to see whether the nearby watercourse on the map actually contains any water, since being a seasoned commander, he knows maps and reality don’t always coincide.

  9. Moved and seconded.

  10. - Exactly. The simple process of thouroughly checking facts puts the snake-oil salesman in a tenuous position. Shifting everything to a prescribed, and intentionally limited vetting process, means you can game the system by having an army of prepared liars, scripts in hand, that provide full control over the ‘facts’ presented to inquiries.

    – Now who do we know that opperates like that?…..Anyone?……Bueller?

  11. Darleen, I got a look at the site that sent that pingback. All the posts appear to consist entirely of content from others — linked back and credited, but without any content from the blog’s owner.

    This is a form of what’s known as a “scraper” blog, and it’s highly unlikely there’s anything legitimate about it.

  12. - OT – “….No, no, nooooo, youkids are doing it all wrong….Here, let me show you….

  13. Insty has today linked a couple of pieces by a fella named Arthur Leff (evidently a Constitutional law professor at Yale, but someone unknown to me before this morning), both serious pieces, so far as I can tell, voicing a position I think I make out as positivistic or arising from the point of view of positivism. Anyhow, Leff poses the abiding human problem of the question of the ‘normative’ or the question of the ‘ought’ in them both.

    Just for fun, juxtapose that question or context with Howard Kurtz’s voluble and strenuous assertions against the questioning act of Matt Lewis’ colleague Neil Munro last Fri. It is to laugh.

  14. National Soros Radio is spinning this today

    “He was starting to think about the larger world and he had basically the sensibility of an internationalist. He lived in Indonesia as a kid, his mother was still in Indonesia. He didn’t feel comfortable yet connecting particularly with some of the inner-city black students at Occidental. He could actually deal with anybody, but the people he felt most comfortable with were some of the foreign students, many of whom were rather wealthy Pakistanis. … And I don’t want to make too much of that, but he was half-white half-black himself, they were neither black nor white, plus they had this international sensibility, I just think he felt very comfortable with them.”

    that is too too fucking creepy… and check the next bit

    On his ‘lost period’ in New York

    “He felt uncomfortable around the black student organization. He would go to some of the meetings, but he never became part of it. Dozens of African-American students that we interviewed there did not remember him. So he basically found that same set he did at Occidental — some of his Pakistani friends moved there.

  15. It’s a shared culture thing. Like a Catholic kid dreaming he would one day play for Notre Dame

  16. Like a Catholic kid dreaming he would one day play for Notre Dame and then viciously rape America’s economy into a stupor and leave the bitch on the side of the road to die maybe

  17. Yes that is exactly what i meant. or not.

  18. When is Obama going to let all of us see his stellar, bangin’ grades? He’s “the smartest president we’ve ever had”, said someone, so surely he should have no qualms about letting us take a peek, yes?

    Unless he’s lying.

  19. Is “international sensibility” code for Islamist, I wonder?

  20. … the various investigative processes, research techniques, philosophical analyses, empirical demonstrations, probabilistic mental calculations and forensic argument…

    How are you ever going to fit all that into just one tweet?

  21. Seriously, wiki defines vetting as this:

    Vetting is a process of examination and evaluation, generally referring to performing a background check on someone before offering them employment…

    So for all their intents and purposes, the media and the left did vet Obama, and declared him perfect.

    The problem is the huge fucking disconnect between what one is looking for in the process.

  22. it’s nice it’s only five months til we can vote this piece of shit out

  23. I’m not sure why they need a solid, solid reporter like Maraniss to tell us what we all know:

    1. Like all Pols, Obama puts the best spin on anything, and in a pinch, lies out his ass and
    2. He is a garden variety humanities department liberal (progressive), possessing neither the drive or the curiousity to succeed in business or academia, nor the balls to critically examine his own side’s views, so by default, he winds up in 3. Politics, where an interesting backstory ported on to the ability to express yourself and emote are remarkably effective.

    Obama as a candidate for the Presidency encountered three tailwinds that no candidate, of either party, has been able to simultneously marshall prior to 2008, and likely will never see again.

    1. Economic armageddon. Prior to “Lehman (Brothers) weekend” in mid September 2008, where Lehman collapsed, and AIG and Merrill Lynch were moments from dying (you can safely assume Goldman Sachs was safely behind them,) McCain/Palin were fairly close to Obama in the polls, within a few points. When that happened, it was really easy for many to throw up their arms and vote Obama out of frustration and fear.

    He won’t get that again.

    2. McCain/Palin sucked as a ticket and broadly sucked as a policy option. Whatever the merits of them personally–and Palin is growing as a viable leader, IMHO–she wasn’t remotely able to handle the nightmare of that campaign. She did a lot better than McCain, however, who was probably interesting in 1988.

    Romney, and I’m not a fan, has been running one hell of a crisper campaign.

    3. Mainstream media has totally collapsed, professionally and economically. When Clinton ran in ’92, the media was at its apex of power, with fully-staffed, well-trained investigative units at every mid-sized and large paper in the US, and many radio and TV stations retaining paid staff to dig into legal and financial filings surrounding local and regional issues of note. That’s gone and not coming back. The Politico is more important than WaPo now, and within a few years, will likely challenge the NYT for relevance in DC.

    Let’s recap: Obama won’t get dug into by the media because media can’t really dig anymore–the NYT is down 55% in newsroom personnel since the late 90s, and much of what’s left is older and lifestyles oriented.

    Romney is running a sharper, crisper campaign that does not step on its dick 24/7 and when POTUS/BIden do–“the private sector is fine” make him pay in blood.

    The economy is pretty crummy, but the free market isn’t going to collapse into the toilet in November (not that some major changes don’t have to be made.)

    Takeway: Obama is a dead letter. We have to figure out how to reverse the damages he has done, and tolerance for the dependence he has allowed.

  24. here’s a 10-yr trend on cable news viewership showing fox has grown +50% in total viewers since food stamp was elected

    remember how food stamp started his whole stupid presidency with a war on “rush limbaugh” and fox news?

    looks like they kicked his pussy ass

  25. It’s up to us to vet ourselves.

  26. In other book related news.

    Remember how every news outlet clucked their tongues about guns and violence in America when this moke claimed he was shot in a “drive-by in Montana”?

    Authorities say hitchhiker shot himself.

  27. Valley County sheriff’s officials said they believe 39-year-old Ray Dolin shot himself as a desperate act of self-promotion

    I just shot, myself, too.

  28. Doing something like that way out in the Montana hinterlands is all kinds of stupid. He was lucky somebody came along.

  29. He must have been close to one of the cities, McGehee. I read a different article that said he was standing on the side of a highway waving his jacket at traffic and apparently wearing a shirt covered in blood. A woman stopped and waited with him for EMTs to show up, so there must have been cell tower service.

    What a jerk. He’s still not taking any responsibility for filing a false police report and is recuperating at a VA hospital.

  30. Pingback: GayPatriot » “the first sustained challenge to Obama’s control over his own story”

  31. “People make up stories,” he told Maraniss.

    It was probably like trying to find out how many actual resistance members were in France, or how many actual Nazis were in Germany in 1946.

    Let us say that some people have very convenient memories.

  32. “Is “international sensibility” code for Islamist, I wonder?”

    Sounds more like “transnationalist”, which is what they were calling the communist-types back in the early oughts.

  33. If we weren’t so provincial, being dumb bitter-clingers like we are, we’d understand that Barry was just trying to add a little pizzazz to his life story and advance the narrative.

    He hasn’t figured out yet that we have him figured out.

  34. I’d think that his books belonged over in Children’s Stories. Or Self-Improvement. Or Fantasy. Take your pick.

  35. I’d think that his books belonged over in Children’s Stories. Or Self-Improvement. Or Fantasy. Take your pick.

    Don’t forget “Cooking Tips” or “Grilling” or “Outdoor Cooking”. Or “Pets/Meals”.

  36. Pingback: The PJ Tatler » Barack Obama, Fabulist

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