Identity Crisis

updated 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/29/1996 AT 01:00 AM EDT

FOR MONTHS THE COY TOY OF THE media and the chattering classes has been Primary Colors, the megaselling roman à clef based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and written, tantalizingly, by an author known only as Anonymous. So scalding and knowing was the portrait of the Clinton character—a relentless striver named Gov. Jack Stanton, depicted as a man with a handshake for every voter and an eye for every lady—that guessing the identity of Anonymous became a favorite parlor game inside the Beltway. Everyone from top Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos to cartoonist Garry Trudeau fell under suspicion. When anyone asked Joe Klein, Newsweek columnist and CBS commentator, whether he was the author, he flatly denied it. "For God's sake," he exclaimed during the New Hampshire primary, "definitely, I didn't write it."

So naturally it came as no surprise last week—this being politics—that Klein had been, well, less than candid. After a Washington Post reporter found the smoking gun in a rare book catalog—a manuscript of the novel with handwritten margin notes that an expert determined were Klein's—the paper ran a front-page story on the book. Klein appeared at a Manhattan press conference and admitted that he was indeed Anonymous—though, of course, no longer anonymous. "I feel some relief and sadness," he said. "It hasn't been easy not telling the truth."

Klein, 49, explained that part of the reason for not 'fessing up earlier stemmed from his desire to have the book judged on its own merits. But he may have bigger problems now. After his disclosure, former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers was just one of many who lambasted him for his deception. "In the end he traded his journalistic credibility for 30 pieces of silver," she says. Adds Howard Kurtz, the media critic for The Washington Post: "This reinforces the notion that journalists will lie, cheat and steal when they feel they can get away with it." In Klein's defense, though, Newsweek called him a "terrific journalist." In any case, the best color to describe Klein now is probably green. Between royalties for the book and a movie deal, he stands to earn more than $6 million.

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