Congressman Cannon questions Obama authorship

Published November 3, 2008 8:03 am
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WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and his brother-in-law attempted to prove last week that former terrorist William Ayers ghostwrote Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's autobiography by asking a British professor to study the alleged link.

Cannon says the allegation intrigues him but that he didn't set out to unjustly vilify the Democratic presidential candidate days before voters go to the polls.

"I think that it's clear, absolutely clear that Obama has minimized his relationship with a guy who is a terrorist and Marxist, and did I go out and try to prove that [he wrote Obama's autobiography] in the last week of the election?" Cannon asked Sunday. "Hey, if someone can come up with evidence, that would be interesting."

The Oxford professor, Peter Millican, meanwhile, says a quick analysis shows that it is highly improbable that Ayers helped write Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father."

Cannon, who lost the his re-election bid in the Republican primary earlier this year, charges that Millican, a philosophy professor at Oxford's Hertford College who devised a computer system to compare writing styles, is "miffed" and drawing inaccurate conclusions because he didn't receive the negotiated $10,000 fee to compare Obama's book and Ayers "Fugitive Days" memoirs.

Cannon's brother-in-law, California businessman Robert Fox, dismisses the idea that he was helping to orchestrate a "Republican plot" against Obama. He says he felt compelled to explore the allegation but that no one else was behind the effort.

"This is no last-minute smear," Fox said. "I'd say it's a desperate attempt to save the republic [from Obama]."

Ayers, now a professor at the University of Chicago and neighbor of Obama, co-founded the radical group Weather Underground that was responsible for bombing the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and other public buildings during the Vietnam War era.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain has accused Obama of "palling around" with Ayers, with whom he served on a nonprofit board.

The Times of London first reported the story in Saturday's editions, with the headline: "Republicans try to use Oxford don to smear Barack Obama."

The Obama campaign Sunday declined to comment on the story.

Millican said Fox called him Oct. 26 urging him to compare Obama's book to Ayers' autobiography.

Fox wanted Millican to check into the theory pushed by writer Jack Cashill, that Ayers actually wrote Obama's first book "Dreams From My Father." Cashill bases part of his theory on a rudimentary analysis of word length and frequency of words using Millican's software Signature.

Even though Millican was never paid to do a full analysis by Fox or by Cannon, he decided to take a look, releasing his quick analysis of Cashill's claims online.

"In short, I feel totally confident that it is false," he wrote on the site philocomp.net.

Millican also looked at word length, showing that President Clinton's biography matched Ayers book more closely than Obama's did.

"I do not think that any evidence has been provided that even gets close to proving, or rendering the least bit probable, the 'ghostwriting' hypothesis," Millican said via e-mail Sunday.

Cannon never talked to Millican directly, but noted that an Oxford representative did call his Washington office and that he was aware of the negotiations. Cannon says he didn't help secure the money to pay Millican because doing so would have made the findings of any study partisan, making them less credible.

"I'm off to the side watching this thinking, 'This is interesting,'" Cannon said.

Fox said he dropped Cannon's name to add credence to his request but that the congressman wasn't involved to any big degree. He added that he wanted to find out if Ayers wrote Obama's book and if so, that he hoped it would change the election.

Neither Cannon, Fox or Cashill believe Obama wrote his own book, which was heralded for its prose. Obama served as the Harvard Law Review president but Cannon says he only wrote one, unsigned item.

They also don't agree with Millican's conclusions either.

Cashill says there's no doubt Ayers was behind Obama's book.

"Ayers had a hand all over that book and I can prove it 20 times over," he said, citing his own research and that of four independent studies.

For his part, Cannon says he did suggest a digital analysis of Ayers' and Obama's books and told Fox to see if Brigham Young University had any resources that could help. Fox instead turned to Millican at Oxford.

But Cannon says he wasn't out to raise some controversy before the election, and that asking the question about a ghostwriter for Obama's book isn't much of a story. He said Obama will probably win Tuesday's election.

"I don't see anything wrong with anything here," Cannon said.

Matt Canham contributed to this story.

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