President Barack Obama shakes hands with then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January 2013 (AP)
Largely lost in the hubbub over former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s new book Worthy Fights is one intriguing revelation. As reported in the New York Times, the accusations that Barack Obama was not what he appeared to be, perhaps not even a natural-born citizen, caused him to become tentative on the national stage. “Those challenges have encouraged the president’s caution and defensiveness, which in turn has emboldened further challenges,” Mr. Panetta wrote.
As the originator of one of those challenges, namely that terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers helped Obama with his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father, I can confirm the validity of Panetta’s accusation. When challenged, Obama has become not only defensive but also downright dishonest.
Obama’s insecurity has caused him to violate the promise he made to his assembled staff on his first full day in office. “I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness,” said the newly minted president. “Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.” As I document in my new book, You Lie, Obama has dishonored this promise in a hundred different ways.
In the last six years, the White House has withheld information large and small, public and private, petty and grand. A perfectly instructive and heretofore unsung incident took place at a CNN studio on September 23, 2009. The guest was bestselling celebrity journalist, Christopher Andersen. The show was CNN’s "American Morning", and the host was a young woman named Kiran Chetry.
An establishment journalist with credentials of the first order, Andersen was there to plug his twenty-eighth book and his fourth biography of a presidential couple, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage. Despite Andersen’s credentials and his apolitical background, the interview almost did not take place.
“It’s important to note,” Chetry told Andersen on air, “we reached out to the White House for a response to the book. They declined to comment but made it known they weren't happy. In fact, they pulled a previously scheduled interview we had with a senior adviser once they learned you were on the show.”
This Andersen already knew. “About as senior as you can get,” he confirmed. Andersen expressed surprise that the White House would do such a thing, “I was dismayed because the USA Today story on the book said it was a glowing portrait of a rock-solid marriage, and that is exactly what it is. It's a very positive look at what I think is a remarkable first family.”
This move must have seemed all the more puzzling to Chetry because at the time Obama’s transparency myth remained largely intact. The folks at CNN, at least those who had not read Andersen’s book, had to wonder why Obama would object to his presence, let alone which “separate authority” raised constitutional objections.
Andersen’s surprised reaction, however, was just a shade disingenuous. By this time, he knew what a poison pill he had slipped into this otherwise innocuous brew of a book. The night before his CNN guest shot he appeared on two national cable shows, "Hardball" with Chris Matthews and "Hannity." Matthews, who likely had not read the book, interviewed Andersen in the nonconfrontational style Andersen expected. “You‘re an amazing, successful guy,” said Matthews at interview’s end. “You have a winning streak here.”
Although equally agreeable, Sean Hannity called attention to this toxin in the brew. On air, Hannity cited Andersen’s claim that Bill Ayers had assisted Obama in the writing of Dreams from My Father. He quoted Andersen to the effect that "literary devices and themes [in Dreams] bear a jarring similarity to Ayers’s own writings.” Asked Hannity, “Bill Ayers helped him with his book?” Andersen confirmed the same and quickly changed topic. As a celebrity journalist, Andersen may not have realized initially how the Ayers bombshell would alienate his potential audience and unnerve the White House.
Nor was the Ayers revelation an incidental part of the book. Relying on two sources in Chicago’s Hyde Park, Andersen relates in six pages of detail the how, when, and why of Obama’s collaboration with Ayers on Dreams. If true, his claim revealed Obama to have been a shameless liar in his disavowal of Ayers during the campaign. His claim also made a total sham out of the literary world's anointment of Obama as "the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln," the understanding on which the Obama genius myth was based.
To its humble credit, CNN did not yield to White House pressure, not on the surface at least. The network allowed Andersen to appear despite the intimidation. What “The Worldwide Leader in News” failed to do, however, was explore the Ayers connection, the one newsworthy item in the book. After discussing the White House threat, Chetry moved immediately to “some of the interesting parts” of the book, starting with the ever-pressing question of how the Obamas balanced work and domestic responsibilities. Someone at CNN apparently knew what the president wanted and obliged him.
This combination of White House strong-arming and media sycophancy worked well for Obama. Very nearly every major news outlet in the English-speaking world felt compelled to review Andersen’s book. Yet not a single mainstream reviewer dared mention the book’s most explosive revelation, let alone follow up on it.
Lost in the kerfuffle was CNN’s open admission that the White House had attempted, and largely succeeded, in suppressing information, both from Andersen and from the adviser who had been scheduled to speak. This gesture had nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with Bill Ayers. “Information will not be withheld just because I say so,” said Obama on day one. Well, if he did not “say so,” someone very close to him did, and that someone would not have been anyone’s idea of a “separate authority.”
The Andersen shutdown was mere prelude to what would happen with Benghazi. “Several times when I reached out to Congress or the press without prior White House approval,” Panetta wrote, “I was chastised for it.” As forthcoming as he appears to be, one suspects Panetta knows a lot more than he is saying.
Jack Cashill’s newest book, You Lie: The Evasions, Omissions, Fabrications, Frauds and Outright Falsehoods of Barack Obama is now available.