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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Klein Comes Out as 'Colors' Writer

WASHINGTON -- "My name is Joe Klein, and I wrote 'Primary Colors.'"


With that simple statement, the biggest political and publishing mystery of the year was laid to rest Wednesday. After The Washington Post discovered Klein's handwriting on a manuscript copy of the novel, the Newsweek columnist and CBS commentator was finally forced to come clean.


Klein acknowledged lying to his fellow journalists -- even his colleagues at the magazine and the network -- in denying that he was the anonymous author of the immensely popular satire of the 1992 Clinton campaign. Still, he asserted: "Joe Klein has never lied in a column and will never. My credibility as a journalist has never been questioned."


But many members of the political and media worlds expressed dismay over his yearlong deception. Newsweek, whose editor knew about the book, stood by Klein. CBS, which did not know, was taking a wait-and-see approach. The big-budget movie appeared on track, as did the paperback. And no matter what happens, he can console himself with his $6 million in royalties.


Klein said at a news conference that conflicts between journalistic honesty and protecting his anonymity were "tough," but he added: "I gotta tell you, none of this has been really terrible."


If Klein was in a forgiving mood toward himself, others were not.


"This was a breathtaking act of mendacity," said 1992 Clinton campaign consultant Paul Begala, who, like many other political figures, has been criticized in Klein's Newsweek columns. "What would Joe Klein be writing about a politician who innocently mis-stated some detail of his life from 20 years ago? I'll tell you: He'd hammer him. Mr. Klein has clearly failed his character test."


The attitude at Random House on Wednesday seemed to be a mixture of hope that this unexpected revelation could be turned to the book's advantage and sadness that the truth had come out. Klein insisted that his motive in trying to remain anonymous had nothing to do with boosting sales of his book. Rather, he said, he feared reviewers would judge a book by Joe Klein on his reputation as a journalist -- not on its literary merit. Also, he said that as a first-time novelist, he did not want to be embarrassed if he bombed as a fiction writer. Klein added that he had hoped to keep the secret forever, or at least through many more novels by Anonymous.


For a long time, the secret of Klein's authorship was secure. Random House is a notoriously gossipy place, but no one there had a chance to leak the author's identity because no one there ever knew it. There was only one slip-up. The incomplete manuscript that Klein's agent handed in to Random House in April 1995 had 10 words written on it in the author's hand -- tiny improvements he had made without bothering to print out a fresh copy.


That early production copy was circulated inside the publishing house. Eventually, someone there gave it to someone else, who sold it to a rare-book dealer. The dealer listed it in his catalogue for $200, noting that it was "certainly a most unusual and uncommon early state of the current bestseller."


No one expressed any interest at all until a Washington Post reporter called to ask if, by any chance, this manuscript had any writing in it. Forensics expert Maureen Casey Owens was then hired by The Post to compare the manuscript to a sample of Klein's writing. When they matched, the game was over.


Donald Foster, the Vassar professor who used computer analysis to finger Klein for New York magazine in February, was gracious in victory. "He made some disparaging remarks to me when he was denying authorship, but one has to let that roll off one's back," he said.