Kathleen Parker

Sometimes the answers to our most perplexing questions can be found on the playground.

Take Scott McClellan. Is he dishonest? Dishonorable? Disloyal? Is he telling the truth that the Bush administration conducted an organized propaganda campaign in order to lead the country to war?

Did McClellan know it all along and, if so, why did he hang so long with those guys?

Curious Americans want to know.

At the White House, former colleagues wonder what happened to the Scott they thought they knew? What caused that sweet guy to betray his former boss and friends with a tell-all memoir -- "What Happened" -- already No. 1 on Amazon?

Who is that unmasked man?

Suddenly, benign Scott McClellan is the serial killer next door whom stunned neighbors recall as "kinda quiet but always polite, a loner," whose garden was, come to think of it, suspiciously fertile.

Maybe what happened isn't as complicated as a moral dilemma tied to catastrophic events -- a devastating hurricane or a questionable war. Maybe McClellan wasn't as conflicted about those issues as we might wish him to have been.

Maybe he was just seething with rage.

After all, the honorable man knows what to do when he believes that the president is lying about something as serious as the need for war. An honorable man quits his job rather than be complicit in fatal fraud. He stops the lie in its tracks and heads straight to the nation's newsrooms.

Immediately. Not after he's left the job.

But McClellan didn't do that. Instead, he warmed himself by the glow of the inner circle and stood before the nation as a bumbling, inept spokesman, saying nothing repeatedly -- and badly. It couldn't have been easy to be so flawlessly awful or to suffer the media's relentless evisceration.

McClellan wasn't merely bad. Being an incompetent communicator was both his job description and a Bush administration strategy to geld the media, according to New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen.

In his "rollback" theory, Rosen suggested that the Bush administration wanted to "downgrade the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country."

Instead of feeding the beast, as past administrations had done in hopes of receiving favorable coverage, the Bush White House decided to starve it, said Rosen. McClellan was selected as the best man to withhold nourishment. Not only was he willing, but he seemed to have a gift for non-communication.

Indeed, he tended to make things less clear the more he talked, which Rosen assumed was as Bush liked it.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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