AJR logo     

 AJR  Features

From AJR,   April/May 2012  issue

A Nonstory on Politico   

Yes, Obama used composite characters in his autobiography—as he said at the time. Weds., May 2, 2012.

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Today's nonstory of the day award goes to Politico.

The political bible is running a piece "revealing" that the "New York girlfriend" mentioned by President Barack Obama in his 1995 autobiography "was actually a composite character, based off of multiple girlfriends he had both in New York City and in Chicago."

This bombshell emerges in David Maraniss' new biography, "Barack Obama, The Story," which is being published June 19. Vanity Fair has posted an excerpt from the book that focuses on Obama's life in New York City in his early 20s.

The Politico piece is a graveyard smash over at the Drudge Report, which as I'm writing this has the following link at the top of the homepage: "Obama admits fabricating girlfriend in memoir."

Problem is, it's hardly a secret that Obama used composites, since he copped to it in the book.

I'm with Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple: Composites are a bad idea. If you're writing nonfiction, stick to the facts. Use actual characters. Is that really so hard?

But using a composite, if you spell it out, is a far cry from, as Drudge would have it, fabrication. And to blow up this old news like it's big news is ridiculous.

Will Politico now run a series of pieces, day after day, with the headline, "Obama: [Whatever] was a composite"?

The end of the Politico story has this "UPDATE": "In the reissue of 'Dreams from My Father,' Obama writes in the introduction that 'some of the characters that appear are composites of people I've known.' "

It's followed by this "CORRECTION": "An earlier version of this blog post stated that Obama had acknowledged using composite characters in the reissue. In fact, Obama acknowledged the use of composite characters in the first edition of the book."

Seems to me it would be a good idea for Politico to rewrite the top of the piece and make clear that Obama had acknowledged using composites from the get-go, and that Politico is running this story because it finds it interesting that the "New York girlfriend" was one of them.

Then maybe Matt Drudge could change his link to "Obama admitted using lots of composite characters 17 years ago."

Yeah, that'll happen.