Saturday, May 31, 2008
WH Reporters Not Shocked by McClellan- Bush Expose
Even after Scott McClellan’s publisher released a juicy excerpt from his memoir last November, some of his former combatants in the White House press corps remained skeptical that the longtime Bush loyalist would really open up.
But Newsweek’s White House correspondent Richard Wolffe wasn’t one of them.
“He promised when he first started writing this book that he’d engage in some truth-telling,” said Wolffe, who had spoken to McClellan in recent months. “And that’s what he’s done.”
Since excerpts from McClellan’s forthcoming book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” were published by Politico on Tuesday evening, most of McClellan’s former White House colleagues have expressed shock at the book’s negative tone.
Those familiar with the inner workings of the Bush White House — from current press secretary Dana Perino to former political guru Karl Rove — have said the book doesn’t sound like the McClellan they knew.
But several of the reporters who jousted with McClellan during his tenure at the briefing room podium from July 2003 to April 2006 — the same group of reporters who McClellan now describes as being “too deferential” in the run-up to invading Iraq — say they are not surprised that the mild-mannered spokesman has lashed out.
Peter Baker, previously a White House correspondent for The Washington Post and now a writer for The New York Times magazine, said McClellan — despite years of loyalty to Bush — has a deep sense of betrayal over unknowingly conveying misinformation as press secretary.
The book is “not surprising after talking to him,” Baker said. “You got a sense that his perspective had changed. You can’t overestimate how the CIA case [in which former operative Valerie Plame was outed] left him burned ... and being pummeled for passing along untrue statements.”
In “What Happened,” McClellan alleges that he was misled by White House aides, including Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, into passing along erroneous information to reporters about the CIA leak case.
In a chapter titled “Revelation and Humiliation,” McClellan writes about a particularly tough briefing in July 2005. At that time, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff had a scoop about conversations between Rove and reporter Matt Cooper, who was then at Time magazine and is currently at Portfolio.
“I could feel something fall out of me into the abyss as each reporter took a turn whacking me,” McClellan writes. “It was my reputation crumbling away, bit by bit. And the affection for the job eventually followed it.”
Julie Mason, the Houston Chronicle’s correspondent, said that it has long been apparent that McClellan was coming to terms with his role.
“The last story I did about him — when he was leaving — I wrote about how he lied,” Mason said. “I waited for him to call and scream at me.”
But McClellan never did call, leading Mason to assume that he believed he did lie, or at least that he unknowingly misled reporters.
Although McClellan writes in his book about how the press corps hammered away during Plame affair, he also slights the media for not being aggressive enough before the administration’s decision to invade Iraq.
“[T]he national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq,” he writes.
McClellan also writes that “the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
On this point, White House reporters bristle. “When people say White House reporters weren’t asking the tough questions, that’s false,” said Mason, who contended that White House aides such as McClellan kept reiterating talking points and that reporters “weren’t getting any usable responses.”
When asked about McClellan’s criticism, NBC’s David Gregory responded in an e-mail to Politico: "I think my work speaks for itself and is the clearest refutation of Scott's claim."
McClellan wasn’t press secretary during the invasion but took over as the case for war began crumbling. In one passage, he writes that ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton came to him in June 2003 and — despite his talking points to the contrary — told him that “if there were any [weapons of mass destruction], they would have found them by now."
“She spoke with an air of confidence as someone who had worked in Washington long enough to anticipate a story’s likely end,” he writes. “I was a bit shaken for a moment, but as Ann left my office, the sense of hard-nosed reality she brought with her departed as well.”
Compton said she was surprised by McClellan’s decision to write a blistering memoir. “What stuns me is that Scott McClellan is the last person I can imagine writing a book as witheringly critical as this one,” said Compton, who is also president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“I would find it easier to believe that Laura Bush wrote this than Scott McClellan,” Compton added.
The publication of false information in the run-up to the war has been chronicled extensively by press critics, from Greg Mitchell to Michael Massing. Nevertheless, since McClellan’s statement about the “deferential” press leaked out, bloggers have jumped back on the media story — which, as the war enters its sixth year, has faded from view.
However, it’s not only the blogosphere renewing old debates about the media’s pre-war role.
On “Today” on Wednesday, host Matt Lauer brought up McClellan’s “scathing commentary on the press” with the three network news anchors — NBC's Brian Williams, CBS's Katie Couric and ABC's Charlie Gibson — who had assembled to talk about a cancer research television special.
"There was such a significant march to war, and people who questioned it very early on, and really as the war progressed, were considered unpatriotic," said Couric. "And I think it did affect the way — the level of aggressiveness that was exercised by the media. I really do."
Note: This article was updated.
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]