The White House and its former staff cannot understand why Scott McClellan wrote What Happened in the manner that he apparently did, according to first reports from Politico and others. His predecessor appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s radio show and professed surprise, telling O’Reilly that the book had changed from its earlier drafts, at least as described by McClellan in private. The publisher apparently “tweaked” passages for effect, Ari Fleischer says:

Meanwhile, former counselor Dan Bartlett also insists that McClellan hasn’t told the truth. In fact, Bartlett says that McClellan didn’t participate in the events he describes in the book, and that McClellan didn’t have anything to do with communications on the war. Bartlett reminded CNN that McClellan worked on domestic issues as deputy press secretary before his promotion in July 2003, after the war started:

Former White House counselor Dan Bartlett lashed out at Scott McClellan in a telephone interview Wednesday, saying the allegations that the media was soft on the White House are “total crap,” adding that advisers of President Bush are “bewildered and puzzled” by the allegations in McClellan’s new book. ….

Bartlett said the bewilderment stems from “Scott’s decision to publicly air these deep misgivings he’s never shared privately or publicly” with fellow Bush insiders. “To do it now, through a book, is a mistake,” he added.

Bartlett asserted that McClellan did not play a major role in key events, noting that the former aide was serving as deputy press secretary for domestic issues during the run-up to the war in Iraq, raising questions about how McClellan could claim the President used “propaganda” to sell the war.

“I don’t think he was in a position to know this,” Bartlett said flatly. He said it’s “troubling” that McClellan is now “gives credibility to every left-wing attack” on anecdotes that are “either thinly-sourced or not witnessed by him” in the White House.

It will be difficult to test that response until the full context of McClellan’s “propaganda” charge can be read. McClellan may refer to the communication efforts during the war, not prior to it. In any event, for those of us who have followed this White House carefully during the entirety of the war, the charge is frankly absurd. If what we saw was propaganda, it was the least effective example of it. The milbloggers with their front-line reporting have performed at least ten times as well as the White House in communicating the successes on the ground and the need to finish the mission.

The claim that the publisher somehow changed the direction of the book doesn’t mitigate its impact. McClellan put his name on it, and unless he publicly repudiates his own memoirs, it will be left to other insiders to write their own accounts to contradict McClellan. In these issues, the people who speak against interest will usually have the most credibility — and sell the most books.

That’s the point of memoirs, in the end — to have notoriety and make money. If the publisher pushed McClellan in a different direction, one can certainly understand why. They wouldn’t have made much money from the book that Fleischer understood McClellan to be writing. McClellan either lied to Fleischer from the start or he tossed aside his principles for the cash; the only other explanation is that Fleischer is lying while having nothing to gain from doing so. In ten years, if people remember McClellan at all, they’ll have plenty of data to determine his credibility.

Update: Rudy Giuliani shrugs off the impact of the book, and notes that past presidents got plagued by sell-out former staffers, too:I’m with Rudy on this one. In the end, no one will remember McClellan, even with the dishy memoir.

Tags: White House