City Desk

Did Harry Jaffe Ghostwrite Michelle Rhee’s Book?

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

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  • DCPS parent

    I have now officially lost all respect for Harry Jaffe. How can he defend Rhee's disastrous tenure as Chancellor? The last round of closures was extremely poorly executed and ended up costing millions of dollars and the loss of 3000 students. Many of her policies failed- capital gains, pk-8 education campuses, etc. Remember her promise to transform Garnett Patterson- it was her show piece and now the school is slated for closure. Let's not mention the cheating scandal.

    Michelle Rhee was a complete fraud and can't even own up to her huge mistakes. Really poor judgement Harry.

  • name

    On the contrary, Rhee was the best thing to happen to DC since the Control Board.

    No one liked the control board either, but without it the city would look like Detroit today.

    Tough medicine, but medicine nonetheless.

  • Rob

    Harry Jaffe has been one of the biggest promoters of Michelle Rhee and Adrian Fenty, both incompetent frauds and the worst Chancellor and Mayor in the city's history. As long as the two of them pushed policies that adversely affected those east of the park, they shined in Jaffe's narrow vision of what's best for the city. So much for objective journalism.

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  • Keeping It Real

    "Name",

    How can you praise Michelle Rhee, unless of course you are Kaya Henderson or one of the many people downtown making over $150K/year as a result of Rhee increasing the bureaucracy not only in size, but in cost?

    Two years after Rhee left and we "need" to close 20 schools. Thanks to the city funding free public school for 3 year olds otherwise the DCPS population would be even lower with more schools to close.

    Many of the teachers and principals that Rhee hired are gone. Teacher churn is a huge problem. Teachers are bombarded with e-mails asking what the central office can do to keep teachers from fleeing the system each and every year.

    Rhee presided over a cheating scandal that caused inflated scores. As the DCPS parent said, Rhee's miracle at Shaw-Garnett has never materialized. Neither has the miracle at Sousa MS. Dig up the piece that the Wash. Post did praising that school and compare it to the school's current performance and you will see that Rhee was a fraud.

    It was all smoke and mirrors and you fell for it. Many people have come around and realized the truth. In time, you may too.

  • efavorite

    TO DCPs parent -- It was only poor judgement on the part of Harry Jaffe if he thinks self-respect is more important than money.

    perhaps that's a point of view that he and Rhee share.

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  • Mario

    Rhee was a lot of hot air, in way over her head, and clearly someone who put herself first, not students.

  • noodlez2: electric bugaloo

    WHATEVA BABY. JAFFE IS THE MAN AND WAS DODGING BULLETS IN DC BEFORE YOU AND YOUR SKINNY JEAN WEARING PUNK ASS FRIENDS WERE EVEN A GLIMMER IN YO MAMAS EYES.

    SO WHAT IF HE HELPED WITH A BOOK. WHY IS THIS NEWS WHEN MY BLACK BROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE GETTING KILLED ON THESE MEAN STREETS EVERY DAY.

    JAFFE GOTS BABY MOUTHS TO FEED. AT LEAST HE WORKING AND NOT LOOKIN FOR A HANDOUT OR STANDING IN LINE FOR A HANDOUT ALL DAY LONG.

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