Klein insists he maintains the highest journalistic standards; he says he does not publish a fact unless at least two sources corroborate it. He is so adamant about these principles that the first line of his current bestseller reads, “This is a reporter’s book.”
As in his previous books, his literary style in this one leans more toward the rhetorical than analytical. “The Amateur” repeats long-standing conservative opinions about Obama — that he is a Muslim, a closet socialist and riddled with delusions of grandeur.
“Ed Klein has a proven history of reckless fabrication in order to sell books,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. “Nobody in their right mind would believe the nonsense in this one.”
The umbrella theme — that Obama is an amateur in the White House — is established in a prologue that claims to depict a scene in Bill Clinton’s office at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y. Klein draws a portrait of a heated Clinton — “his nose was turning shades of red” — demanding that Hillary challenge the sitting president in this year’s election.
“ ‘The country needs us!’ he shouted, banging a fist on his desk,” Klein writes, basing his account on anonymous witnesses. Bill rattles off the reasons Hillary is a better candidate than Obama — strong secret polling numbers and the president’s incompetence — leading to the outburst that frames the book: “Barack Obama is an amateur!”
Philippe Reines, a Hillary Clinton aide and deputy assistant secretary of state, worked on efforts to debunk many of the claims in “The Truth About Hillary” and sees a pattern of imagined scene-setting recurring in Klein’s latest work. Of the Chappaqua incident, he said: “It’s completely fabricated. . . . At the end of the day, he’s nothing more than a congenital liar who believes if at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again.”
In June 2009, Obama invited a group of nine eminent historians to the White House for dinner and an off-the-record discussion of presidential history, an evening Klein re-creates in “The Amateur” based apparently on one anonymous historian who attended and left disillusioned with his host. In Klein’s telling, Obama regaled the historians with a long list of his intended accomplishments as president.
“It was, by any measure,” Klein concludes, “a breathtaking display of narcissistic grandiosity.”
Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University and author, most recently, of a biography of Walter Cronkite, attended the meeting. He describes it as a casual history book club discussion — the president did not grandstand about his ambitions, nor did he discuss policy.