Local Ghostwriter Haunts
Obama’s “Plagiarism” vs. Hillary’s Synthetic Image
By Pat Hill
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton recently charged Barack Obama with plagiarism regarding his use of other people’s phrases without proper attribution in speeches, but like the ghosts who lurk in the dark corners of Livingston’s Murray Hotel, her use of surrogates to write books for her has come back to haunt her.
As convention time draws nearer, Democrats Clinton and Obama have emerged as clear front-runners this primary season. Obama, with his emphasis on change over business as usual, has been coming on strong, winning 11 straight primary contests by late February. Many political pundits have pointed to his stirring speeches as one reason the Illinois senator has the Clinton camp sweating. Hillary says, though, that some of those stirring phrases were taken from speeches given by Obama’s friend, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and she asserts that their use without attribution is akin to plagiarism.
“Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change you can believe in,” said Clinton at a February 21 debate in Austin, Texas, “It’s change you can Zerox.” Both Patrick and Obama claim use of the passages, some of which also contain the words of Martin Luther King, were an agreed-upon matter between the two of them, but Obama acknowledged that he should attribute other people’s words in the future.
Both candidates are popular published authors; Obama’s literary efforts include Dreams from My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006), and Clinton works include It Takes A Village (1996), and Living History (2003). A subtle but telling difference, though, lies between the published pages of the two candidates; Obama wrote his books with his own pen, but Hillary used ghostwriters for both of her books, and according to a February story in The New Repub-lic, using a ghostwriter hardly entitles Clinton to lecture Obama about using other people’s words.
In It Takes A Village, Clinton did not acknowledge ghostwriter Barbara Feinman, who Simon and Schuster paid $120,000 to help Hillary write the book. The New Republic reported that Hillary’s detractors had asserted Feinman wrote the whole book, adding that Clinton supporters rebutted the detractors by telling the New Yorker magazine that Hillary didn’t note Feinman’s work on the book because it was so bad.
The observations of journalist Walter Kirn (a Livingston resident who has written for Time magazine, Vanity Fair, and the New York Times Book Review), add yet another twist to the tale. Kirn, guest-blogging on Andrew Sullivan's popular blogsite The Daily Dish in August of 2005, revealed that yet another Clinton ghostwriter, Maryanne Vollers, resided in, of all places, Livingston, Montana.
“I do have some insight into Hillary and it makes me dislike her,” Kirn wrote. “A couple of years ago I had an office over a clothing store in my small town and the woman in the office next door was ghostwriting Hillary's memoir (Living History), of all things. She started out all excited and impressed. Hillary's so ‘down to earth’ and so on. (She took an immediate dislike to Bill, who struck her as a narcissistic snake).”
“Then she went to Washington,” Kirn wrote. “She was away for a long time, but on each occasion she came back to Montana I could see her spirit dimming. The problem, the woman said, was Hillary's people, who were ghostwriting the ghostwriting, angling every anecdote for effect and literally rejigger-ing their heroine's life. I was there in the woman's house the day the book arrived and the first thing she did with her copy was angrily hurl it against a wall.”
Kirn had further observations regarding Vollers’ dimming spirit: “Because she'd discovered that there was no Hillary, really, just a creature concocted by her people who was happy to be a concoction of her people,” Kirn wrote. “Oddly, my friend, a deep-down liberal, considered Hillary a conserva-tive, basically, with a lot of goody-goody suburban attitudes and pretty conventional good-government views. Another class president type, in other words.”
According to Lloyd Grove of the The New York Daily News, Vollers didn’t think much of Kirn’s observations, and denied his interpretation of the events.
“You think you know who your friends are, and they end up being delusional Clinton haters,” said Vollers. “I really like Hillary and Bill Clinton, and working with them was a wonderful experience.” Vollers claimed that Kirn finally “muttered an apology“ and took his observations off the Internet. Kirn, while appearing on C-SPAN, declined to discuss the matter “for legal reasons,” but said he removed his words from the blogsite “because [Vollers] was very upset and I was trying to do the gentlemanly thing.”
As for Obama’s writing skills, editor Rachel Klayman of Crown Publishing said “I've never worked with any other writer who needed less line editing than he did…Working with him was so much like working with someone whose day job is being a writer. He is a writer as far as I'm concerned.”