Author defends book on Obama, 2008 economic crisis

WASHINGTON -- The author of a critical book on President Obama and his economic team is taking some heat himself.

Obama officials say that errors and questionable quotes undermine author Ron Suskind's claims of a dysfunctional White House; Suskind says the administration is reacting the way most institutions do "when the curtain is pulled back."

"They're trying to throw up as much dust and doubt as they possibly can," Suskind said in a phone interview.

Suskind's Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, which appeared in bookstores Tuesday, tells the twinned stories of the 2008 financial collapse and the concurrent political rise of Barack Obama.

After reaching the White House, Obama finds it hard to make actual policy, the book says, largely because of economic aides who fought with each other and sometimes ignored the president. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, for example, is accused of "slow walking" an Obama order to wind down the large bank Citigroup.

Geithner denied it, both in the book and in recent statements. The Treasury secretary — the only member of Obama's original economic team still working in the administration — said he has not read the book, but challenged its basic thesis.

One of the disputes over quotes centers on another book claim: That women who worked for Obama during his first year in the White House were frozen out of meetings and generally ignored.

In the book, former communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying that, in looking back, "this place would be in court for a hostile workplace … Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."

Dunn has said the quote is out of context.

The Washington Post, granted access to a tape of a Suskind interview with Dunn, reported that Dunn was citing a conversation she once had with White House adviser Valerie Jarrett: "I remember once I told Valerie that, I said if it weren't for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace, because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."

Asked in the phone interview why he left out the phrase "if it weren't for the president," Suskind said he went back to all of his sources before publication and discussed their interview comments. Dunn's quote in the book is "exactly as we had discussed," Suskind said.

Suskind wrote three books on the George W. Bush administration, all of which drew similar criticisms from that White House.

In his current work, Suskind wrote that he conducted 746 hours of interviews with 200 people, including Obama.

Confidence Men does have its share of errors. David Axelrod is identified as Obama's 2008 campaign manager; that title actually belonged to David Plouffe. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, has never been a deputy press secretary, as Suskind identifies him.

The book says that the unemployment rate in June 2009 was 8%; it was actually 9.5%.

Suskind said "typos" and other errors happen in a 500-plus-page book, and will be corrected in future printings. "There are no significant errors in this book," he said.