Unlike many Beltway denizens, I'm not surprised that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has written a kiss-and-tell book about his years as President George W. Bush's spokesman. The memoir, titled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," has provoked a furor in Washington.
McClellan, who claims to have a sudden burst of conscience, wants to tell the world that the administration was wrong to go to war in Iraq and, I say, to quote the wisdom of "Seinfeld," yadda yadda yadda.
While serving as press secretary, McClellan was simply doing the bidding of his bosses by spreading their message. He's doing the same thing now -- only these days he's getting paid handsomely by a publisher.
Let's get real. McClellan wrote the book for the money. Maybe he went to work for Bush in the first place to satisfy an ideological yearning. But he sold Bush out for the bucks.
In some circles, McClellan would be hailed as a capitalist and an opportunist. Others might call him a weasel or a turncoat. In the movie "Goodfellas," the Mafia leaders would call someone like him, quite simply, a rat.
Who's kidding whom here? Publishing houses love it when knowledgeable insiders dish dirt on their benefactors. And who is more newsworthy than the president of the United States?
Of course, much of the criticism of McClellan's book is about saving face. It is in the interests of President Bush and his minions to act stunned and outraged. They say they didn't know this Scott McClellan.
At the same time, it's hard to feel sympathy for the administration. It misled the public and the media about invading Iraq. Folks on the left will get great satisfaction from seeing the administration squirm.
The media's role
The media, however, should derive no satisfaction from this memoir. McClellan writes about the skill with which the Bush White House manipulated reporters, who arguably allowed that to happen.
Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote in Friday's Wall Street Journal:
"Mr. McClellan dwells on a point that all in government know, that day-to-day governance now is focused on media manipulation, with a particular eye to 'political blogs, popular web sites, paid advertising, talk radio' and news media in general. In the age of the permanent campaign, government has become merely an offshoot of campaigning. All is perception and spin. This mentality can 'cripple' an administration as, he says, it crippled the Clinton administration, with which he draws constant parallels. 'Like the Clinton administration, we had an elaborate campaign structure within the White House that drove much of what we did.'" (The Journal, like MarketWatch, is a unit of News Corp. )
I haven't read McClellan's book, so I can't quote from it. But to me, the furor surrounding it raises a question: What will happen when someone genuinely important -- for example, someone who actually helped craft Bush's Iraq strategy or the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina -- writes a memoir?
I didn't vote for Dubya in 2000 or 2004, so it isn't like I'm sympathetic to his policies or interested in protecting his legacy.
Still, McClellan is no hero to me, either.
I just hope, at least, that he is a good writer.
: How would you describe Scott McClellan now: A) Capitalist; B) Opportunist; C) Weasel; D) rat?
: Last week, some well-regarded television journalists second-guessed the media's performance in the buildup to the Iraq invasion. They make the case that said they should've probed more carefully into the administration's motives for going to war. A little introspection is fine, but this seems to fall into the category of "too little, too late." Don't we all wish these folks had been more vocal when a little skpticism would have represented responsible journalism?
The media's soul-searching was epitomized by headlines like this one on the widely read Romenesko Web site: "News anchors debate media's performance in run-up to war."
Too little, too late, folks.
to about Myron Kandel:
"I've known Myron since 1996, the first year I came down to the NYSE, and he was always warm and friendly, even though we worked for different networks. He still comes by -- he was here at the NYSE a couple weeks ago; we chatted for a few minutes about the old days and how TV journalism has changed. It's good you recognize his work, because he is quiet and unassuming and it's easy to forget his contributions, particularly since there's so many young people working in this business with little sense of history."
-- Bob Pisani, CNBC
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By Jon Friedman