The talking point du jour from the White House regarding Scott McClellan’s surprisingly non-bland memoir is that “this is not the Scott we knew.” Actually, it is.
What’s likely is that just as the White House pushed him to make statements he couldn’t cobble together on his own, so too did the editor for this book, What Happened.
At least that’s what I deduced from Ari Fleischer’s Wednesday night interview with CNN’s Campbell Brown. Fleischer said that he asked McClellan if he had worked with a ghostwriter on the book. McClellan said no, according to Fleischer, but allowed that his editor had “tweaked” some of his copy.
“Tweaked” probably means massively rewrote. And if so, why should this surprise the White House? Why is the White House surprised that a dullard they manipulated could also be manipulated by a book editor?
Exhibit A of the thesis of McClellan’s guided book is McClellan himself. Why did Bush hire him in the first place?
Some of these defections are due to caginess; this is one probably just due to cluelessness. A sharp and opportunistic book editor probably saw in McClellan an effective puppet and McClellan went along with it.
It was funny to watch Chris Matthews on Hardball read McClellan’s supposed prose with such solemnity. Suddenly a flack the press considered a buffoon a few years ago has become in their eyes a major thinker, whose words deserve magisterial treatment.
From David Stockman to John Dilulio to Scott McClellan, nothing excites the press more than a “Republican” critical of an old boss, provided the defector shows a willingness to fortify the media’s prejudices. Had McClellan written in the book of his disappointment with Bush’s sham conservatism, the book would sink without a trace.
But throw in a couple of passages that read like New York Times editorials and you have a bestseller after days of media mulling. Some of the reported passages in What Happened contain tortured, highly qualified criticisms of Bush, which McClellan is likely to get tangled up in over the next few days on Countdown and the like where he is scheduled to be interviewed.
But you have to hand it to his unscrupulous editors: they did manage to coax some usable gossip out of him. Such as this morsel, in which Bush talks about the media’s investigations into his possible cocaine use:
“‘The media won’t let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,’ I heard Bush say. ‘You know, the truth is I honestly don’t remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don’t remember.’
“I remember thinking to myself, How can that be?” McClellan wrote. “How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn’t make a lot of sense.”
This should keep The Daily Show busy for days. Bill Clinton said he didn’t inhale pot; Bush, pace McClellan, seems never to have exhaled at “wild parties” long enough to sort out the evening’s events.
A lot of these Republicans defections are predictable and self-inflicted: a Republican administration, seeking to curry favor with the press, brings in a liberal Republican or semi-conservative Democrat (like Dilulio) and then lo and behold this person finds he objects to that administration and later criticizes it. In this case, the Bush administration’s self-inflicted wound was to hire a stooge who it first manipulated and then released into the world to be manipulated by others. They handed him talking points and he read them to millions; then his new masters handed him talking points and he wrote them up into a bestselling book.
This is the McClellan they knew.