Journalists often play dumb as a way of drawing information from a reluctant source. But they are just as quick to act smart—to assume an air of authority over a topic with which they have been only briefly acquainted. Michael Lewis, the financial journalist and author of many bestsellers, is now an authority on Barack Obama. He’s been speaking with great familiarity about our president ever since last week, when Vanity Fair published Lewis’s heavily hyped profile of him, under the title “Obama’s Way.”
I would say he loves people,” he told a gathering at Bloomberg News in New York. “He’s got odd social habits for someone like him. What he really likes is non-transactional relationships, when you and I don’t want anything from each other.” He went on: “He doesn’t like people flattering him.” And on: “He’s got a gift for making people happy.” And on and on: “When he was a young man, he thought he was going to be a writer, I think—he won’t completely admit that. .??.??. He spends half his life laughing. He’s a very happy, warm person.”
Lewis acquired his expertise, as Vanity Fair publicists repeated frequently last week, over the course of six months during which he was allowed, off and on, to see the president and often to speak with him. “Unprecedented access,” the publicists called it, and interviewers repeated the phrase. It was his own idea, Lewis told the NPR interviewer Terry Gross in a publicity blitz, “to sit in the president’s shoes and see what it feels like.” Last year he sent off a request to the president’s press secretary. To his surprise, he says, he heard back the next day: Come on down!