Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has written a memoir of his experiences — and the political punditry has already started feasting at the appetizers. Politico’s Mike Allen gives an exclusive preview of the newest must-read, which dishes on the Bush administration and attempts to distance McClellan from its more notable controversies. Unfortunately, if Allen has properly represented it, one has to wonder why McClellan stuck around as long as he did:
Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs, $27.95):
• McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.
• He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.
• He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”
• The longtime Bush loyalist also suggests that two top aides held a secret West Wing meeting to get their story straight about the CIA leak case at a time when federal prosecutors were after them — and McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts.
• McClellan asserts that the aides — Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff — “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.
One has to operate with a caveat on pre-release information. Mike Allen is normally responsible in his reporting, but these kind of bullet-point revelations can leave out a lot of context. The actual release may mitigate quite a bit of these issues, or it may not, but one cannot tell until the book appears on the shelves.
McClellan says he still admires Bush, but thinks that his advisers served him very poorly, especially in the war. That will certainly gain a lot of attention, but it also calls into question why McClellan stuck around for three years of dealing “propaganda”. As Kathryn Jean Lopez notes, the honorable action would have been to resign for a press secretary who feels he or she has been told to lie. One White House insider has already stated that McClellan didn’t object during any of the meetings she attended or make his dissent known within the West Wing.
Furthermore, why wait for two years to reveal this? Obviously it makes his book a hot commodity, but the war started going badly in 2006 after he left the job. Two months earlier, AQI bombed the Golden Mosque and nearly touched off a civil war. Wouldn’t that have been a good time to open his mouth, especially with elections approaching that could have had a big impact on the war? Instead, McClellan waited until the war was almost over and the Bush administration has all but exited. The advisers he blames no longer work for Bush. What’s the point, except to cash out?
Expect all sides to redefine McClellan in order to either boost or reduce his credibility. To the Right, McClellan will have been the worst press secretary of modern times, and to the Left a man of extraordinary ability chased out of his job by Bush’s minions. The truth will be somewhere in the middle. When he left office, most people on both sides considered him a mediocrity at best. His status as favored punching bag for the hard Left can best be captured in the Keith Olbermann farewell McClellan received as he exited in April 2006. It will be particularly amusing to watch this fringe try to rehabilitate McClellan now.
We can expect more of these memoirs as the Bush administration comes to a close. The tell-all tome has become its own genre, and with mixed results except for the authors’ bank accounts. If the press secretary was that interested in truth, he took an awfully long time to tell it.
Update: ABC’s Jake Tapper recalls when a member of the Bush administration admonished another tell-all author and former official. Oh, wait — that was Scott McClellan scolding Paul O’Neill in 2004:
On the book critical of the Bush White House written in cooperation with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, “The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill,” McClellan said on January 12, 2004:
McCLELLAN: “It appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions than it does about looking at the results that we are achieving on behalf of the American people.”
McClellan also took issue with the book by former Bush White House counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror,” on March 22, 2004:
McCLELLAN: Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he’s raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. …
Yeah, we can’t trust people who do that, can we, Scott?