What If Ayers' 'Joke' About Writing Dreams Is On the Press?

Fortunately in an age in which many formerly authoritative news outlets have deserted the interests of their readers and viewers in favor of giving each other journalism prizes for stories few in their evaporating market care about, Americans are being taught to get their news where they can find it.

As a former adman, publisher, and a teacher of writing who has published a work on literary fraud, Cashill brought rare qualifications to the task. “In September 2008 I picked up a copy of Ayers’ Fugitive Days and it hit me,” he told me. “From comparing Obama’s Dreams From My Father to his earlier works it was already clear to me some one had helped him with it. And they did a damned good job.”

“But I’ll admit Bill Ayers as Obama’s ghost writer had never occurred to me before then.”

Those who praised Obama’s work may have some rethinking to do now.

“I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine.” Now Christopher Buckley may learn he has an even more vivid imagination than he thought. After all, his admiration for Dreams was an integral part of his explanation as to why he resigned from the National Review his father had founded and voted for Obama.

Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison had called the book “ ... unique. It's his. There are no other ones like that.” Well, she is partially right. At least there are no “ones” that may have been ghostwritten for an American president by a terrorist that anyone can remember.

Joe Klein at Time knows more about ghostwriting than most authors, having ghostwritten his own book under the pseudonym of pseudonyms: “Anonymous.” His authorship of Primary Colors was outed by another textual effort not dissimilar from Cashill’s. Klein has the only quote that stands up in the light of the new information. He said: Dreams “may be the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”

“Produced” may definitely be the operative word.

In January this year, the New York Times' Michiko Kakutani called it “The most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president.” Oh well, who knew?

As a former publishing executive and the founder of Times Books -- which originally published Dreams -- I can accept that these kinds of frauds occasionally happen. And without a direct admission of guilt, the evidence will always be unsatisfying with conflicting opinions battling back and forth.

A publisher can get gulled by a skillful con. And once outed it can be a major catastrophe. One has only to recall the James Frey controversy over his Random House best-seller, which, like Obama’s “truckload of notes,” was another A Million Little Pieces. Once Frey was revealed by a careful scan of his police records by SmokingGun.com as a liar whose “memoir” was largely fiction, Random House did the only honorable thing it could. It explained that all future printings of the book would be delayed until it had notes from both the publisher and the author on the lies in the text as well as notations on the cover and posted to the website. Random House also sent out inserts for the books already in the stores. Later Random House set aside several million dollars to compensate readers who felt they may have been defrauded in buying the book.

But at least no one accused James Frey of not writing it.

And the evidence keeps piling up around Ayers.