Chicago Sun-Times on Obama’s Book: ‘What’s Real, What’s Not’

Jan 16, 2007 3:09pm

The Chicago Sun-Times columnist who got the scoop on Barack Obama’s presidential announcement today is the same reporter who earlier raised serious questions about the facts in Obama’s much-praised autobiography that was the No. 1 bestseller in the country. Lynn Sweet, the savvy Chicago political columnist who’s been tracking Obama’s rise, called into question Obama’s use of composite characters and made-up names in his highly praised autobiography. Her 2004 column on the subject was headlined "Obama’s Book: What’s Real, What’s Not." "I was dismayed," wrote Sweet, "at what I found when I read Dreams from My Father. Composite characters. Changed names…Except for public figures and his family, it is impossible to know who is real and who is not." "Colorful characters populate the Chicago chapters: Smitty the barber, LaTisha, the part-time manicurist, Angela, Ruby, Mrs. Turner and one Rafiq al Shabazz. Who they really are, or if they are composites, you would not know from reading the book." Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. As Sweet noted in her article, in the introduction of the book, Obama does disclose to his readers the use of composite characters "for the sake of compression" and also says that other than his family and public figures, other characters’ "names have been changed to protect their privacy." In one example, Obama writes at length about his first boss "Marty Kaufman," recalling dozens of detailed conversations in direct quotes and mentioning his name more than 40 times. Sweet questioned Obama about Kaufman’s true identity and the other composites in the book in an interview just prior to the 2004 Chicago Democratic Convention. Obama said that while he couldn’t remember all the real names, he said "Marty Kaufman" was really "Gerald Kellman," his first boss at the Calumet Community Religious Conference in Chicago. Sweet tracked down Kellman who had no complaints about his portrayal in the book. "I think Barack was very accurate not only about myself but other people that I knew," Kellman told the reporter. "That’s reassuring," wrote Sweet, "but most readers do not have the ability to call around to try to sort out the fictional characters from real people." Obama’s response? "’I say in the book it is my remembrances of what happened,’ Obama told me [Sweet]. I don’t set it out as reportage…read the book for what it is worth. ‘You reconstruct your memory for what happened. It is not reportage. It is not appearing in the New York Times or the Sun-Times. I say that explicitly in the book.’" When reached by ABC News today, a spokesman for Sen. Obama first tried to find out if the Chicago Sun-Times story was being "pitched" to ABC by a rival campaign, and after being told that was not the case, the spokesman declined to comment for the record. "It was a non-story then, and it’s a non-story now. Let the book speak for itself,"  he said.

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