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Video: Author: Controversial Obama book 'solid as a brick'

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    >> the controversial new book about president obama and the questions over its accuracy. chuck todd joins us, nbc's chief white house correspondent.

    >> the president is waking up in new york city this morning and is enjoying the brief respite he'll get with folks on international issues because between the book and the new debt plan he released with i is being met now by republicans with a thud. middle east peace may look more attainable to president obama as he heads to the u.n. than selling republicans on his plans for the economy.

    >> i'm ready to sign a bill, i have' got the pens all ready.

    >> reporter: the president laid out a $3 trillion deficit reduction package including $1.5 trillion of new taxes on wealthier americans.

    >> i will not support any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary americans. this is not class warfare . it's math.

    >> reporter: but speaker of the house john boehner wasn't buying it.

    >> i don't believe that class warfare is leadership and you know we can get into this tax the rich, tax the rich, but that is not the basis for america and it's not going to get our economy going again and it's not going to put people back to work.

    >> reporter: senate republican leader mitch mcconnell issued a terse statement saying the president's plan is not a press pi for economic or job growth or meaningful deficit reduction. all of this comes as a new book by ron suskind paints an unflattering picture of the president's leadership on the economy. it quotes peter orszag saying "peter we're really home alone , there's no adult in charge, clinton would never have made these mistakes." roehmer told suskind i felt a piece of meat. "this felt the classic piece of requirements for a hostile workplace for women." they contest the book saying their words were taken out of context or saying the words were never spoken. timothy geithner was also asked about the book.

    >> the reports bear no resemblance to the reality we live together, no resemblance.

    >> reporter: the white house is pushing back furiously at author suskind suggesting he lifted part of the book directly from the internet.

    >> one passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from wikipedia in the book. based on that i would caution anyone to assume that if you can't get those things right that you suddenly get the broader analysis right. that analysis is wrong.

    >> so you can judge for yourself on that charge from the white house . here is the comparison that they are making, "it was a description of fannie mae , in confidence in?i 1968 it officially became a publicly held corporation to remove its debt and related activities from the federal balance sheet." wikipedia, in 1968 it converted to a publicly held corporation to remove its activity and debt from the federal budget ."

    >> ron suskind joins us to talk about his book, "confidence men." did you or did you not lift that passage from which cikipedia?

    >> of course not. they're not even the same in the two sentences. the white house should be doing something better on wiki searches on a 500 page book.

    >> they've come up with more. let's get to it one by one.

    >> sure, not a problem.

    >> you write that the president tried to navigate the economic crisis as he was trying to do this, you write that "his authority was systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers, for example you report that the treasury secretary timothy geithner ignored the president's order to create a plan to do something about citigroup. i'm wondering just yesterday geithner said these reports in your book "bear no resemblance to the reality." did geithner ignore the president or didn't he?

    >> geithner clearly slow walked the president, meaning that he did not move as the president hoped he would, some would say he ignored the president. this is not just reflected in tim geithner 's conversation with me. he responded to that, it's all in the book the response but also memos, internal memos in the white house from pete rouse , they didn't like what the president was deciding, they simply ignored it, they buried it bureaucratically and the president responds to that in the interview, doesn't disagree, this was hard, there were difficult decisions, the bureaucracy didn't do what i wanted them to do. ann, almost everything is responded in the book. toward the end everybody was asked about the comments and they responded.

    >> let's talk more about the comments, the white house communications director dan feiber told us that the comments with timothy geithner are 100% not true so they are saying they're not true.

    >> he is disagree with tim geithner 's rendering in "confidence men." we talked about 35 minutes through citi. everyone was quoted and sourced on the citibank issue. the issue is whether the white house will respond to whether the president is still getting gamed by his advisers or not. the evidence is that he's not and in her interview, the president, he says "i've grown into the office." he was a president with very little experience, came in, in a crisis but the whole point of the book is the evolution of barack obama to now and the president is quite forceful. in a way saying i'm the president, people hoped i would be, and that's part of what the book says.

    >> the book also quotes this comment by pete orszag, we heard about it in chuck todd 's report, larry summers , former director of the national economic council often relitigated the president's decisions and said "we're home alone , there's no adult in charge and clinton would never have made these mistake." in response to your portrayal, larry summers says it's words taken out of context. i have always believe the president led this country with determined, steady and practical advice in the economic area." did summers believe the president was in over his head or didn't he?

    >> seems he did. from he and others the start from early 2009 to 2010 these sorts of things were part of the prevailing conversation in the white house . when i asked larry summers about that quote i said look, what did you mean when you said that he offers a comment in "confidence men" which is more seasoned and less political, he says "we were overwhelmed, five times as many problems and not five times as many people."

    >> are you saying he spoke this to you after this?

    >> i said what did you say, what did you mean? he said look i will say this, we had too many things going on and not enough people and we were overwhelmed.

    >> if in fact he said this he was questioning whether the president was in over his head. did he step back from that or say that was exactly what he was feeling at the time?

    >> in the book he first said i never said it. i said a lot of people heard you say it. he said here's what i meant when i said such a thing this is what i meant. it's important to note, ann, there was enormous cooperation from the white house and they knew virtually in this book before it came out and had a chance to respond.

    >> they say they cooperated with you because they were concerned about the direction you were taking and wanted to make sure that you got it right. let's talk about this one issue because i want to make sure we get to it. this issue is perhaps as sensitive as we said before, the idea the white house was a boy's club. in one story you quote christina roehmer saying "i felt like a piece of meat" when she was excluded from a piece of meat and anita dun calling the white house "a genuinely hostile workplace to women. both women have subsequently denied making these comments. how do you respond to that?

    >> everyone is under a great deal of pressure. the fact of the matter is all of them said everything, we have ex-tensive notes and tapes from the book. they were told what would be said next to them and what they said in the books. with anita "the washington post " this morning confirms the quote. i had to do something i've never done before but i said it's a special occasion , i let "the washington post " listen to the tape. they're like there it is clear as a bell.

    >> let me get to that what's on tape. i understand what's on tape is the fact that she said "if it weren't for the president this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. that's not quite the same as saying it's a hostile work environment . she said if it wasn't for the president it would be a hostile work environment . did you take liberties with that quote?

    >> absolutely not. i did as i did with many subjects i called anita back at the end, here is what's going next to your name in the back to. she said can we say looking back rather than in present tense? we talked about that and ultimately the quote is broken down in terms of the core of the quote that she agreed with, and interestingly the comments about the president is throughout the book. it's shown that people felt good about the president. part of why the white house actually pushed me to write about this women's issue in the workplace is they felt the president solved this issue and in large measure the book says the president stepped up here. a key core issue of the book is the president's growth as a boss, as a manager. he had very little experience, sat all of the sudden atop the most complex managerial organism on the planet. that's the kiev lugs, he learned how to be the president, the boss. this is a stumbling block along the way.

    >> i've got to ask you one final question. we did some looking through your book. you make some mistakes, cnbc erin burnett , you call her erin burkett, the unemployment was 8.2%, in fact it was 9.5%, you say the dow dropped 378 february 10th , it dropped 382 points on that day. jay carney agrees if you cannot get these details right then the broader analysis that you subscribe to, that you put forth in this book has got to be judged in accordance with that, has got to be questioned. there are inaccuracies.

    >> this is a 500 page in this book. everything in this book is solid as a brick and we have gone through every little thing that they have found, much of it was changed early, the book was pushed through with great effort, and the fact is, is it this book like all the books i've written is densely sourced and the analysis is picture perfect , everyone in the white house was confronted with this early, they responded in the book, and this is really a portrait, a first portrait of this white house and this president. when this happens, when the curtain is pulled back, they often respond vigorously, they are and that's testimony to the fact that this is really who they are.

    >> well it's touched a nerve, not the last we're going to hear about it, ron suskind . thank you so much, the book is called "confidence

By
TODAY contributor
updated 9/20/2011 10:26:28 AM ET 2011-09-20T14:26:28

President Obama’s leadership in his early days in office is called into question by members of his own economic team in a new book by Ron Suskind. But the White House has sharply slapped back at the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, claiming he fudged quotes, got basic facts wrong and even appeared to lift a passage from Wikipedia.

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On Tuesday Suskind answered some of those allegations on TODAY, defending his newly released book “Confidence Men” during an interview with Ann Curry. He gave his rebuttals to White House charges, which include U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner saying the reports he’s read of the book “bear no resemblance to the reality we had together. No resemblance.”

“Everyone is under a lot of pressure; it’s a political season,” Suskind told Curry of the blowback he’s receiving from the White House. “The fact of the matter is, all of them said everything; we have extensive notes and tapes for this book.”

‘Home alone’
Among the most eye-popping anecdotes in the book came from Suskind’s interview with Peter Orzag, vice chairman of global banking for Citigroup. As the banking giant was working with the White House to ensure its solvency in 2009, Suskind quotes Orzag being told by Larry Summers, then chairman of the White House Economic Council, “You know, Peter, we’re really home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

Last week Summers responded, telling the Washington Post that “the hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion and words being taken out of context,” adding he believed Obama led the country through the economic crisis with “determined, sturdy and practical leadership.”

Video: Author: Controversial Obama book 'solid as a brick' (on this page)

Suskind insisted to Curry he fully vetted the quote attributed to Summer with the man himself.

“These sorts of things were part of the prevailing conversation in the White House,” Suskind said. "When I asked (Summers) about that quote, I said, ‘Look what did you mean when you said that?’ He says, ‘We were overwhelmed, we had five times as many problems, we didn’t have five times as many people.’ ”

When Curry asked if Summers officially confirmed Orzag’s quote, Suskind responded, “He said, ‘Look, I will say this, we had too many things going on and we didn’t have enough people, and we were overwhelmed.’ ”

“But that’s not what you’re saying here,” Curry countered. “In this quote, if in fact he said it, he’s questioning whether the president was in over his head. Did he slip back from that, or did he say that’s exactly what he was feeling at the time?”

Suskind responded: “In the book, he first said ‘I never said it.’ Then I said, ‘Look, a lot of people heard you say it.’ He said, ‘OK, here’s what I meant when I said such a thing.’ ”

Boys’ club?
Also sparking controversy in the book is Suskind’s portrayal of the White House as a boys' club in which women were given such short shrift that it bordered on illegal. Christina Romer, the former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is quoted as saying Summers blocked her from attending a key meeting, and said of her role, “I felt like a piece of meat.”

Even more startling was a quote attributed to former White House communications director Anita Dunn: “This place would be in court for a hostile workplace, because it actually fits all the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace environment.”

Both women have denied making the remarks, but Suskind said he not only stands by the quote, but also played a tape to the Washington Post of Dunn saying what was attributed to her. “There it is, clear as a bell,” he said.

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But Curry said reports show Dunn’s quote actually was, “If it weren’t for the president, this place would be in a court for a hostile workplace.”

“Did you take liberties with that quote?” Curry asked Suskind.

“Oh, absolutely not,” he responded. “In fact, what I did — I called Anita back at the end (of writing the book) and said, ‘Look, here’s what’s going next to your name in the book.’ She said, ‘Well, you know, can you say looking back rather than in present tense?’ We talked about that and ultimately, the quote is broken down in terms of the core of the quote that she agreed with.”

Lift from Wikipedia?
The White House has also taken Suskind to task for an apparent lift from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia in describing the government-sponsored mortgage company Fannie Mae. Suskind’s book contains this sentence about Fannie Mae: “In 1968, it officially became a publicly held corporation, to remove its debt and related activities from the federal balance sheet.” Wikipedia writes, “In 1968, it converted to a publicly held corporation to remove its activity and debt from the federal budget.”

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White House spokesman Jay Carney said of the similarities: “One passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from Wikipedia in the book. I think based on that, I would caution anyone to assume that if you can’t get those things right, that you suddenly get the broader analysis right. That analysis is wrong.”

Suskind told Curry the same combination of words was naturally used in describing a fact about Fannie Mae’s history, and added, “They’re not even the same in the two sentences. It’s absurd. The White House should be doing something better than wiki searches on a 500-page book after a week, that’s all they come up with.”

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But Curry said NBC research also found factual errors in the book: CNBC reporter Erin Burnett is called “Erin Burkett”; Suskind cites the U.S. unemployment rate at 8 percent in June 2009 when it was actually 9.5 percent, and he writes that the Dow Jones closed at 378 on Feb. 10, 2009, when it actually closed at 382.

“Do you agree with (Carney), that if you can’t get these details right, then the broader analysis that you subscribe to ... has got to be judged in accordance with that, has got to be questioned?” Curry asked.

Suskind responded, “The fact of the matter is, everything in this book is as solid as a brick, and we have gone through every little thing that they have found. Much of it was changed early; the book was pushed through with great effort.

“The fact is that this book … is densely sound and the analysis is picture perfect.”

Suskind added the book contains interviews with most of the key White House players during the economic crisis early in Obama’s presidency, including Obama himself. And he said he is not surprised the White House now pulls back from approving of what he wrote.

“This was really a portrait, a first portrait of this White House and the president,” he said. “When this happens, when the curtain is pulled back, they often respond vigorously. They are, and I think that is testimony to the fact that this is really who they are.”

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