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Radical, the memoir by former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, doesn’t come out until February, but it’s already received its first negative review. My colleague Alan Suderman, working from an advanced copy, slammed the book for everything from Rhee’s lack of self-reflection to her cartoonish description of Marion Barry.
Rhee might not be the only one who deserves criticism for how the book was written, though. His name only appears once in Radical, buried inside its acknowledgements section, but Washingtonian and Washington Examiner writer Harry Jaffe collaborated with Rhee on the book. Neither Rhee or Jaffe will say, though, how much work he did on it.
Why does it matter whether Jaffe edited a draft of Radical, or wrote the entire thing? There’s nothing unusual about a public figure using a ghostwriter, after all. But readers of any future Jaffe column about DCPS should know whether he’s been paid to promote the former head of the school system and her policies, many of which successor Kaya Henderson still essentially supports.
Jaffe definitely worked on Radical to some extent. Examiner editor Stephen G. Smith, whose paper runs Jaffe’s column, says Jaffe told editors that he was working on the book. At the end of her memoir, Rhee thanks him for his help, writing, “Harry Jaffe’s writing guidance was essential.”
A more revealing disclosure comes at the end of a story Jaffe wrote for Washingtonian about DCPS in October. The disclosure reads: “Harry Jaffe is collaborating on a memoir with former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee.”Did Jaffe offer Rhee “writing guidance”, or were they collaborating? Is there any difference? It’s hard to know, because people involved in the book are not nearly as forthcoming as Washingtonian. A publicist for HarperCollins, Rhee’s publisher, said she didn’t know whether Jaffe ghostwrote Radical and would “neither confirm nor deny” his role in its production. As for Rhee, an attempt to schedule an interview with the ex-chancellor about her writing process fizzled after a spokeswoman for StudentsFirst, her school reform organization, refused to arrange one.
Jaffe’s talking, but he may be the cagiest of all. When I asked him week last to define the “writing guidance” he gave Rhee, he said Rhee’s description would have to stand. “She acknowledged me, and that was nice of her,” he says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery