According to Peter Osnos — the publisher of Random House’s Times Books division from 1991-1996, during which he published Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father — Obama’s first and long-time literary agent Jane Dystel discovered Obama via a February 6, 1990, article in the New York Times (“First Black Elected to Head Harvard’s Law Review“). Wrote Osnos in 2006:
At Harvard Law School in February, 1990, Obama was elected president of the law review, and the New York Times did a profile of him as the first black leader of the publication. The article caught the attention of a young literary agent named Jane Dystel.
As revealed by Team Breitbart, from 1991 until 2007 Jane Dystel employed a short bio of Obama that referred to his being “born in Kenya.” A protestation of a “fact-checking error” to the contrary, Barack Obama was overwhelmingly likely to have been the source of the “born in Kenya” nugget.
Perhaps adding weight to the conjecture that “born in Kenya” was a conscious marketing decision by Obama and Dystel, the New York Times article that drew the interest of Dystel the year prior mentioned a Hawaiian birth:
The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago’s South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.
The Internet Archive does not list a crawl of this article prior to 2009, but a scanned PDF of the article stored at ProQuest certainly reads “born in Hawaii.”
So the New York Times article which helped net Obama a literary agent printed Hawaii as his birthplace. Obama was undoubtedly the source of this information. He was also undoubtedly aware of the “born in Kenya” bio.
Accordingly, Dystel either:
- Missed this information, and later relied on false information supplied by Obama;
- Convinced Obama to use Kenya instead of Hawaii for marketing purposes; or
- Arrived at the decision to use Kenya with Obama’s input.
If Obama had been using a false Kenyan birthplace for affirmative action reasons, he likely would not have been using this information when applying to Harvard Law School. A New York Times article stating a Hawaiian birthplace contradicting his application would certainly have ruffled feathers in the admissions office; Obama should have been wise enough not to tell such a fib to the Times reporter.