Computer names 'Anonymous' Identified: The author of the scandalous and best-selling 'Primary Colors' is 'Newsweek' magazine writer Joe Klein, according to analysis of his writing.

February 16, 1996|By MICHAEL PAKENHAM | MICHAEL PAKENHAM,SUN STAFF

The anonymity of Anonymous suffered a major -- possibly mortal -- new blow yesterday with revelation of a scholarly computer analysis that indicated the author of "Primary Colors" is Newsweek writer Joe Klein. Mr. K article written for The Sun by David Kusnet and published last Sunday.

This latest affirmation will be published in the issue of New York Magazine that goes on sale Monday. The identification of Mr. Klein was developed by Donald Foster, the Vassar College professor of English who a few weeks ago set the authoritative Modern Language Association on its ear by identifying a previously obscure 578-line elegy as the work of William Shakespeare.

Professor Foster used the same computer-based "attributional study" techniques to identify Mr. Klein as he had employed in pinning the tale on the Bard.

His computer runs did cross-correlations of the novel's text with hundreds of thousands of words from other writings by Mr. Klein and more than a dozen other writers and insiders who have been mentioned as possible authors of "Primary Colors."

Those computer runs led Dr. Foster to conclude: "Joe Klein wrote this book, or else it's an almost impossibly clever hoax by someone who wanted his work to be taken for Joe Klein's."

Mr. Klein has repeatedly dodged the question of authorship of the scathing, transparently disguised novel of the Clinton presidential campaign. He was among 20 or so potential authors cited in newspaper, magazine and broadcast speculations from before the book was published several weeks ago.

Though there have been a number of reports that he has denied authorship, all of his published responses have left some room for interpretation -- have preserved the possibility that if he were revealed as the author he could argue that his statements have )) been elusive, evasive, but not outright untruths.

Mr. Klein last night was in New Hampshire, covering next week's primary election, but could not be reached by The Sun. He was not quoted by New York Magazine in connection with its new material.

Last Sunday's article in the Books pages of The Sun, headlined "'Primary Colors' -- Outside the White House; beyond the Beltway," argued that Mr. Klein was the most probable author on the bases of the content, sophistication and style of the novel.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the speculations that it had to have been written by a campaign-team participant, Mr. Kusnet argued that the "insider" information all could "have been culled from a data base of the mainstream media and a pile of old supermarket tabloids." But, the article argued, the knowledge of New York street politics and other relatively arcane background would have been hard or impossible for any of the Clinton team insiders to come by.

Mr. Klein, who had been political writer for New York Magazine before moving on to Newsweek, was steeped in just that sort of information. What is more, Mr. Kusnet wrote, the book is so bitterly unkind to many of the Clinton insiders that for one of them to have written it would be "an unforgivable breach of faith" and "the literary equivalent of a drive-by shooting."

Mr. Kusnet, who wrote the article on assignment for The Sun, was chief speech-writer for President Clinton during the general election campaign in 1992 and through the first two years of the Clinton administration. He also has been cited as a possible "Anonymous" but has categorically denied writing the book.

"Primary Colors" is a fast-moving novel written in the voice of a narrator who in the story is Mr. Clinton's press secretary. It is mainly delivered in intense dialogue, much of it vulgar, cruel, colorful and disdainful of commonly accepted decencies and ethics.

Jack Stanton, the governor and presidential candidate, and his wife, Susan, are portrayed as vulgar, cynical, adulterous and almost pathologically mendacious.

Partly on the hype of its anonymity, the book leapt to the best seller lists on launch and then to the top of the national fiction lists last week. A $1 million movie deal has been signed.

Dr. Foster, in his work for New York Magazine, wrote that "while no single word or group of words establishes Klein's authorship, the profile of his active vocabulary forms a matrix closely matching that of Anonymous."

In a copy of the article provided to The Sun last night by the magazine, Dr. Foster says that Mr. Klein "tends, for example, to use the same adverbs used habitually by Anonymous, especially, entirely, fiercely, incredibly, mortally, particularly, precisely, profoundly, reflexively, relentlessly, seriously, subtly, surprisingly, ultimately, utterly, vaguely, wistfully."

In another of a substantial number of other of the "lexical clues" elaborated in the article, Dr. Foster writes: "Like Anonymous, Klein likes adverbs made from -y adjectives: crazily, eerily, goofily, handily, huffily, juicily, scarily, spottily, uncannily (etc.)"

In his richly literary analysis for the magazine, Dr. Foster unabashedly enjoys his game.

"While there are a number of compound adjectives used by Anonymous that appear elsewhere only in my Klein cross-sample," he writes, "one of the most distinctive features of the Klein-Anonymous manner is its sheer fecundity of compounds, the length to which words are playfully strung out: Klein likes to create such verbal constructions as "triple-back-over-somersault-and- pander-pirouette.'"

Mr. Klein was political columnist at New York Magazine from 1987 to 1992, when he moved to Newsweek as a senior editor, writing a regular column titled "Public Lives." He regularly comments on politics on CBS News. He has written widely for other magazines and has had two books published: "Payback: Five Marines After Vietnam" (Knopf 1984) and "Woody Guthrie: A Life." (Knopf 1980).

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