Although Barack Obama can count on one hand the number of houses he and his wife own, the candidate's first real financial security was derived from his success in the publishing world with his memoir Dreams from My Father. The powerful agent who helped turn Obama into a literary franchise is lawyer Bob Barnett, who gets profiled in today's Financial Times. The mysterious Barnett also boasts the Clintons, the Cheneys, and most of Bush's cabinet as loyal clients. How exactly did he become the guy behind the guy?Locking Obama up before he even arrived in Washington turned into a brilliant steal for publisher Crown, but at the time the income from Obama's three book deal was crucial for the senator's rising star. Barnett made it happen for the young pol, and he did it far cheaper than most agents. Indeed, much of Barnett's success in attracted big-time clients can be traced back to his unusual practice of forgoing the usual commission on a book, and just billing his clients hourly for their time. Barnett's influence doesn't end in the publishing world, as last decade he was given the unenviable task of informing Hillary Clinton about her husband's indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. Despite being employed by friends on both side of the aisle, Barnett isn't universally admired. His first big sale was Geraldine Ferraro's autobiography Ferraro: My Story, and literary agent Esther Newberg doesn't recall Barnett having an impressive debut or career:
Esther Newberg is thanked for her contribution “above and beyond that of literary agent”. Newberg, whose clients include Thomas Friedman (currently number three on The New York Times non-fiction bestseller list) and Patricia Cornwell (number three on the mass-market fiction list), doesn’t agree with Barnett’s account of the Ferraro negotiations. “He didn’t work with me. He did the contracts later. I sold the book in an auction. He watched."
In part, it's Barnett's willingness to represent Republicans including Karl Rove, Paul Wolfowitz and Lynne Cheney that bothers Newberg.
She adds that "three-quarters of the people he [Barnett] represents are morally repugnant to me". Apprised of Newberg’s comments via e-mail, Barnett replied: “[She] taught me a lot, but seems to have regretted it – and been jealous about it – ever since.”
Indeed, Barnett's connections are so extensive that he's a fixture on The L Word chart: