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Obama, the best-selling author, on reading, writing and radical empathy

The personal and the political are intertwined in African American literature – from early slave accounts to the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X – and while young Mr. Obama constructed the philosophical tentpoles of his beliefs he also wrote extensively. . in her journal, sorting out the cross-streams of race and class and family in her own life.

His belief that Americans are invested in common dreams and can move beyond their differences – a belief that would later be articulated in his opening speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which introduced him to the country in his together – not only echoes the ending of Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible’ The Man ‘(in which the narrator concludes that’ America is woven of many strands ‘, that’ our destiny is to become one, and yet several ”), but is also an intrinsic part of her family history, with a mother who was born in Kansas and a father who grew up in Kenya.

In high school, Mr. Obama says, he and a “traveling group of friends” – many of whom felt like strangers – discovered that “storytelling was a way for us to explain ourselves and the world around us. , and where we belonged. and how we fit in or not. Later, trying to put his stories to paper and find a voice that came close to the internal dialogue in his head, Mr. Obama studied the authors he admired. “As much as anyone,” he says, “when I think of how I learned to write, who I imitated, the voice that comes to mind the most is James Baldwin. I didn’t have his talent, but the kind of fiery honesty and generosity of spirit, and that ironic feeling of being able to look at things, bluntly, and still have compassion even for the people that I did. ‘he obviously disdained, or distrusted, or was angry with. His books have all had a big impact on me.

Mr. Obama also learned from writers whose political views differed from his, like VS Naipaul. Although frustrated by “Naipaul’s sort of defense of colonialism,” the former president said he was fascinated by the way Naipaul constructed his arguments and “in a few strokes he could paint a portrait of someone and take a story. individual, incident or event, and connect it to broader themes and broader historical currents.

So, adds Mr. Obama, “there would be bits and pieces of people that you would kind of copy – you steal, you paste and you know, over time, you get enough practice that you can then trust your own voice. “


Researcher Fred Kaplan, the author of “Lincoln: A Writer’s Biography,” drew parallels between Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Obama, noting that they share a mastery of language and “a first-class temperament” for a president – “stoic, flexible, ready to listen to different points of view.

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Atlantic says he was cheated by author of niche sports post

Twenty-five years ago, Ruth Shalit Barrett was a young rising political journalist with a contract at GQ magazine when accusations of plagiarism derailed her career as an associate editor at The New Republic. Since leaving that magazine for an advertising job in 1999, she has written occasionally for New York and Elle magazines.

Now Ms Barrett finds herself charged again with professional misconduct in journalism after The Atlantic released an extraordinary editor’s note on Friday suggesting Ms Barrett cheated the publication in an animated article she wrote about wealthy parents pushing their children to play niche sports with hope. to get them into Ivy League schools.

The more than 6,000 word article, which was published online last month and appears in the magazine’s November print edition, chronicles a world of wealthy parents in suburban Connecticut obsessed with the idea of ​​pushing their kids into sports like fencing, crewing and squash, which they believe. will give them an edge in the hyper-competitive college admission process.

In an editor’s note of nearly 800 words, The Atlantic said that after publishing the article, “new information has emerged that raised serious concerns as to its accuracy and the author’s credibility. , Ruth Shalit Barrett.

The deception, according to the editor’s note, centered on a woman featured in the article, identified by her middle name, Sloane. She has been described as a stay-at-home mom with three daughters and a son, details that The Atlantic’s fact-checking service said they verified with the mom ahead of publication.

But Sloane later admitted through her lawyer that she did not have a son, according to the editor’s note, which said she investigated the matter after questions were raised by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple.

According to the editor’s note, Sloane’s attorney said Ms Barrett “first came up with a son’s invention and encouraged Sloane to cheat The Atlantic in order to protect his anonymity.”

“When we asked Barrett about these allegations, she initially denied them, saying Sloane told her she had a son and that she believed Sloane,” the editor said. “The next day, when we interviewed her again, she admitted that she was ‘complicit’ in the ‘escalation of deception’ and that ‘it would not be fair for Sloane’ to blame her alone for having deceived the Atlantic.

The editor’s note said that although Ms Barrett denied that inventing a son was her idea, she acknowledged that “on some level I knew it was BS” and “I take it. the responsibility”.

The note came more than two decades after Ms Barrett left the New Republic in 1999 after being accused of plagiarism.

These accusations, in 1994 and 1995, were based on a close resemblance between passages and phrases in articles written by Ms. Barrett and elements of articles by other journalists on the same subjects. At the time, she said she confused her typed notes with articles downloaded from the Lexis-Nexis research site. The New Republic has printed its apologies for both incidents.

The Atlantic said he attributed the article to her as a freelance writer because more than two decades had passed since those incidents and because her work had been published in reputable magazines in recent years. The editor’s note says Atlantic also considered the argument that Ms Barrett deserved a second chance.

“We were wrong to do this mission, however,” the editor’s note says. “This reflects a lack of judgment on our part and we regret our decision.”

In an interview on Saturday night, Ms Barrett said she had hoped her article would initiate a discussion of the “wider social and economic issues” raised by lavish spending, injuries and fierce competition in niche sports for women. youth.

“I never imagined a result like this,” she says. “And I’m so sorry that this is where it ended.”

She said that Sloane’s son’s invention wasn’t her idea, however, and that it was something Sloane had told her about.

“The claim that I told her to pretend she had a son who didn’t exist is not true. Absolutely not true, ”she said.

She said she blamed herself for not verifying the existence of a son.

“All of my internal alarms went off about the son’s claim, and I was wrong not to dig in and resolve it,” she said. “I didn’t cook this with her. But I take responsibility for it.

Ms Barrett said she “did not gain any benefit” from creating a son and that “it did not improve the article”.

“Even if you want to attribute the smartest motives to me, there is nothing to be gained,” she said. “It was just a mistake.”

The editor’s note says The Atlantic corrected other details in the article, including one on the severity of a neck injury suffered by Sloane’s middle daughter and another on the size of the hockey rinks. which, although large and equipped with projectors and generators, are not “Olympic”, as the article initially stated.

Atlantic said he had also updated Ms Barrett’s signature on the article, which was originally Ruth S. Barrett, at her request, but has since been changed to Ruth Shalit Barrett. Ruth Shalit was Ms Barrett’s signature in the 1990s, when the plagiarism incidents occurred, and the editor’s note stated that she had made the change “in the interest of transparency.”

“We are continuing to review this article,” the editor’s note said. “We will correct any errors we find and communicate our results to our readers as quickly as possible.”

Ms Barrett said she was sorry for embarrassing The Atlantic and breaking her trust with readers.

“I’m not the same person I was 25 years ago,” she says. “This piece meant a lot to me. And I wanted it to be my best job.

Concepción de León contributed reporting.

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Long-term journalist, author and tweeter Dan Baum dies at 64

Dan Baum, longtime journalist, author and tweeter, dies at age 64 He pioneered Twitter writing at length, 140 characters at a time, about losing his job at The New Yorker. He also wrote an admired book on New Orleans. By Katharine Q. Seelye