Washington need wonder no more who wrote “O: A Presidential Novel,” about an administration that looks a lot like Barack Obama’s: According to a Time magazine reporter, the mystery author is a speechwriter for Sen. John McCain.
Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to the senator whom Obama defeated for the White House in 2008, wrote the roman a clef from Simon & Schuster, Time's Mark Halperin reported Thursday.
Salter would neither confirm nor deny to NBC News that he's the author.
Halperin said Salter’s authorship has been “confirmed by sources,” but there are a number of pieces of corroborating evidence.
For one thing, Beltway reporting website Politico points out, the style of prose in “O” is similar to that of books Salter has co-authored with McCain. For another, the novel isn’t any too kind to its protagonist, President O, or his chief advisers.
And then there’s a character called “The Barracuda," who looks suspiciously like McCain’s erstwhile running mate Sarah Palin — sometimes known among her detractors as “Sarah-cuda.”
Set in the last days of the first term of the oddly familiar President O, “O: A Presidential Novel” is the latest in a long line of anonymous political novels. The genre reached its zenith 15 years ago with the release of “Primary Colors,” a lightly fictionalized story of Bill Clinton’s run for president that became a No. 1 best-seller. Its author, journalist Joe Klein, submitted his manuscript as “Untitled Novel by Anonymous Author.” The publisher kept things secret to drum up attention for the book, which spent 25 weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list before Klein’s identity was revealed.
Is Simon & Schuster trying to cash in on the cachet of “Primary Colors”? Appearing on TODAY Tuesday, publisher Jonathan Karp wasn’t saying. “I have to say when I read it, it was more like that great TV show ‘The West Wing,’ ” he told anchor Matt Lauer. “Instead of President Bartlet, it’s President O.”
As for the decision to keep the author’s identity secret, that was mutual between publisher and scribe, Karp said. “It was an idea we both had at the same time. There’s lot of creative freedom in being anonymous; you can say a lot of things, you can really put it all out there if you don’t have to worry about your name being out there.”
Who spun it?
Still, Karp was willing to rule out a few candidates. “Meryl Streep did not write it,” he said. Nor did “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki. And Comedy Central pundit-parodist Stephen Colbert probably wouldn’t have the time, Karp opined.
The publisher was also willing to exclude former State Department employee and journalist James Bruno, who wrote a 2006 novel that featured a presidential aide named Walter Lafontaine — even though a character by the same name appears in “O.”
But Karp wouldn’t go much further in trimming the list of could-be writers, though he did allow that it was “someone with long experience in politics.
“Some people have suggested that President Obama himself wrote the book,” he said, adding, “I would love it if somebody asked him … at a news conference, maybe.”
Among others who have been mentioned as possible authors are former Newsweek journalist Richard Wolffe and MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, who, interestingly, was a writer on “The West Wing.”
Joe Klein has also been mentioned. Klein has denied it — but then again, he also denied writing “Primary Colors” at first.
But while “O” has spawned plenty of speculation, the novel has not quite generated the kind of favorable reviews that “Primary Colors” received. For example, Michiko Kakutani, a critic for The New York Times, called it “trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny... The author of ‘O’ is described on the book flap as someone who ‘has been in the room with Barack Obama,’ but given this novel’s many inane implausibilities, the reader can’t help but think that the writer was either a lousy observer or that the room was really enormous — a hotel ballroom, perhaps, or maybe a convention center.”