Jonah Goldberg

Not since America's most revered feckless crapweasel, former Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, switched parties have Beltway Republicans been more eager to sew a half-starved ferret into someone's body cavity. In this case, the desired victim is former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who has coughed up a time-honored hairball of capital culture: the "tell-all" memoir. This is a bit of a misnomer in that they usually tell little but claim much.

It's been rumored that McClellan was hired by the Bush White House to appeal to a specific sub-constituency: pasty middle-aged men with a thumbless grasp of the English language. The veracity of this rumor has long been undermined by the assumption that Bush had locked down this constituency all on his own.

Whatever the justification for McClellan's tenure, he succeeded in showing that the inability to communicate and the incapacity to deal with the press artfully are not insurmountable obstacles to one's dream of rising to the position of White House press secretary.

In McClellan's book, "What Happened" (oddly missing a question mark), the author purports to explain how the Bush White House launched a "propaganda machine" to push the country into a war of choice.

I have not read the book. I will once I finish eating the contents of my sock drawer (which ranks slightly higher on my to-do list). But in interviews, McClellan's argument boils down to the fact that the White House employed a high-pitched media campaign to persuade the American people and push the press to more favorable coverage.

Apparently this is something new in McClellan's eyes. Perhaps such visitor-from-Mars cluelessness will prompt him to report in his next tell-all that when you pull a hidden lever behind a white bowl in the Oval Office bathroom, a sudden burst of water appears and then swirls down the bottom. Some of a suspicious bent might guess that such a system was invented for Bush to quickly jettison damning documents.

Or maybe the "propaganda machine" in the White House is something newer and more surprising than flush toilets. But I doubt it. Propaganda is a scary word - and can be a scary thing - but it's worth keeping in mind that even a White House press release is technically propaganda, as are those guests of the president at State of the Union addresses. The Clinton administration fine-tuned its propaganda effort by releasing pretend TV news stories - "video news releases" - that the press sometimes utilized in lieu of real reporting. The Bush administration continued this practice, but only then did critics shout "propaganda!"


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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