'Anonymous' no more Author: Ending months of lively specula- tion, reporter Joe Klein admits that he wrote the political best seller "Primary Colors."

July 18, 1996|By Michael Pakenham | Michael Pakenham,SUN STAFF

Declaring "Clearly, I am 'Anonymous' no longer," reporter Joe Klein admitted yesterday that he is the author of the political best seller "Primary Colors."

Klein is a political writer for Newsweek and a consultant to CBS news.

He and Random House publisher Harold Evans made the revelation at a news conference in the company's New York headquarters, confirming the identification first singled out in The Sun on Feb. 11.

Evans introduced the author, who strode boldly out of anonymity -- all smiles and ebullience -- to declare to the political and publishing worlds, and to live television cameras: "My name is Joe Klein and I wrote 'Primary Colors.' I did it by myself, with no secret sources, and it was the most fun I ever had with a keyboard."

Thus ended seven months of on-again, off-again speculation that had enlivened Washington and New York dinner parties, enraged Clinton loyalists, puzzled acquaintances of Klein and helped skyrocket sales to beyond 1.1 million copies at a hardcover price of $24. Estimates of Klein's income from the book and subsidiary rights range to $6 million.

The book has been immensely popular. Most reviews and other published speculations have tended to agree that its main characters are precise depictions of President Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and several of the closest associates and aides to the president.

That has been no small source of distress to the White House, for the book presents those characters as almost pathologically untruthful, as cynical, vulgar and, in the case of the character who becomes president, obsessively adulterous.

Clearly aware of that distress, Klein said forcefully: "I want to emphasize this was a work of fiction." As if to reinforce the point, he added: "I've been covering politics for nearly 30 years and I felt that no one had ever really captured in fiction the hilarity and the intensity and craziness of a political campaign. The 1992 campaign was the most crazy I had ever covered."

Klein had been cited as among 20 or more possible authors since soon after the publication of the book in January. Until yesterday, he had consistently and often categorically denied writing the book. He had been quoted as telling a Washington Post editor that he would stake his professional credibility on his denial.

In response to questions about that in the news conference yesterday, Klein said that he had felt throughout his denials of authorship that his "credibility rested very heavily on my capacity to keep secrets. I kept it a secret."

Nonetheless, questions were raised, at the news conference and elsewhere, about Klein's credibility.

He said that he had confided in his editor at Newsweek, Maynard Parker.

But Jonathan Klein, executive vice president of CBS News and no relation to Joe Klein, put out a statement saying: "We are obviously disturbed by the fact that Joe Klein was not forthcoming with us nor with nearly anyone else about his authorship of the novel 'Primary Colors.' When Andrew Heyward returns to New York next week he will discuss the matter with Joe face to face."

Heyward is president of CBS News.

Joe Klein said that he had decided long before yesterday that he would keep his authorship secret until "tangible evidence" was made public.

"Tangible evidence, my handwriting, appeared today in the Washington Post," he said.

The article he referred to appeared on Page 1 of yesterday's Post. It reported that the newspaper had obtained access to a proof copy of the book on which handwritten amendments had been made.

Comparisons of those jottings with other samples of Klein's handwriting were "absolutely consistent throughout," in the judgment of Maureen Casey Owens, a nationally respected document examiner, the article reported.

The first firm suggestion that Klein was author of "Primary Colors" was published as "The Argument," The Sun's books pages' lead essay, on Feb. 11. The article was written by David Kusnet, a Washington writer and consultant who was Clinton's chief speechwriter during the general election campaign in 1992 and for the first two years of his presidency.

In it, Kusnet concluded that "in the guess-who-wrote-it sweepstakes, my money is on: Joe Klein." He insisted that most of the highly touted "insider information" in the book could have been attained by any hard-working reporter. He also insisted that if an insider had written it, doing so would constitute "the literary equivalent of a drive-by shooting."

In contrast, Kusnet wrote that episodes in "Primary Colors" that describe New York and Boston political intricacies would be hard for anyone to construct, unless the writer had special experiences and insights -- which Klein did as political writer for New York magazine before joining Newsweek.

Clearly worried about the public impression that the book closely resembles the Clintons and the 1992 campaign, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said yesterday: "The president did not seem particularly surprised by the disclosure. Remember, again, for us he wrote a piece of fiction, and that's how we treat it."

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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