Magazine article American Journalism Review

A "Book Nut" Turned Sleuth

Magazine article American Journalism Review

A "Book Nut" Turned Sleuth

Article excerpt

Anonymous might still be anonymous had it not been for one man's passion for books and a stroke of luck.

Washington Post reporter and self-described "book nut" David Streitfeld had just finished a 10-month Pew Charitable Trusts fellowship in California when he finally opened the mail that had been piling up back at his Washington address. As usual, it included dozens of book catalogs, among them one from bookseller Gordon Beckhorn offering a photocopy of an early manuscript of "Primary Colors" for $200.

Streitfeld, 36, had a hunch that the manuscript might be the key to revealing at last the much-guessed-about identity of the bestselling political novel's author. He called Beckhorn in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, to ask if there happened to be any handwriting on the manuscript. Beckhorn replied that there was indeed a tiny bit of scrawl on a few pages.

"The odds were that [the writing] was the author's, the editor's, a copy editor's, the agent's or the agent's assistant," says Streitfeld. "It really wasn't that much sleuthing. It was a lot of luck."

Streitfeld says he had been loosely following the media parlor game of trying to identify Anonymous. Newsweek's Joe Klein had become his lead suspect in the wake of a February 19 New York magazine article in which Vassar professor Donald Foster concluded from a computer analysis that Klein, despite his many denials, was the author.

Once he received the galley, Streitfeld was able to determine that the notes hadn't been written by the book's editor because he had a signed letter from him. But the next step was a bit trickier. "I couldn't call Joe Klein and say, `I'm a reporter. Please write six words for me to see if you are the author.' "

Nevertheless--Streitfeld won't say exactly how--he managed to get a sample of Klein's handwriting. …

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