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-by Michael Cromartie

Anonymous No More. A Conversation With Joe Klein.

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

By Anonymous

Random House

366pp.; $24

Early in 1996, Random House published Primary Colors, a novel about the 1992 Democratic primaries, though featuring a fictionalized set of characters. The author was "Anonymous." Readers loved it (the book soon moved to the top of the bestseller list); critics praised it to the skies. Michael Lewis, writing in the New York Times Book Review (Jan. 28, 1996), observed that

"Primary Colors" is an odd book. But maybe the oddest thing about it is how good it is. In spite of its sins it is far and away the best thing I have read about the 1992 campaign; it breaks all the rules and lives to tell about it. The author's portrait of Mr. Clinton is astonishingly powerful. I doubt that anyone who reads the book will ever again think of the President in quite the same way. I'm not quite sure why this should be, except there is a wonderful honesty about it, a refusal to give in to the conventional interpretation of people and events that cripples so much that is written about politics.

Speculation about the author's identity was intense. Among the many names proposed, one that surfaced repeatedly was Joe Klein, longtime columnist and senior editor at Newsweek magazine. Klein denied that he was Anonymous, and rumors continued to swirl until the Washington Post broke the story, offering compelling evidence that Klein was indeed the author of Primary Colors.

What followed was a firestorm of commentary, heavily critical of Klein (and of Newsweek editor Maynard Parker, for helping to preserve the secret). By lying about his authorship of the novel, it was said, Klein had damaged the credibility of journalists everywhere and further eroded public confidence in the media. Some critics found irony in the exposure of Klein's deception. Was this the same Joe Klein who wrote a widely quoted piece about President Clinton's character flaws ("The Politics of Promiscuity," Newsweek, May 9, 1994)? Why, the man is himself a bare-faced ...

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