Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's memoir, with its implication that President Bush and his allies overhyped the threat represented by Iraq to explain our attack on that country, is just the latest in the interminable series of "kiss and tell" accounts by former presidential aides purporting to reveal the deceptions, or at least exaggerations, used by our successive presidents or their spokesmen and media defenders to justify their actions.
There is always a ravenous market for such "exposes." The administration's political opponents leap upon them to "prove" the administration was lying; the media swell the chorus; and the public -- always nervously on guard against being deceived by their politicians -- tend to accept the charges uncritically. The exposer, who in most cases actively participated in any deception there was, gets a free pass for his complicity and high praise for his (belated) candor, and the sales of his book (there is practically always a book) go up. The advance the publisher paid him will already have factored in whatever profit is expected to be realized from the charges -- the more incendiary, of course, the better.
This is an old, old story. McClellan's version of it is largely remarkable, if at all, for how little misbehavior it actually reveals. Frank Rich, in The New York Times, all but bites himself in two trying to flog McClellan's book for some revealing tidbits but is finally forced to admit that there aren't any. "There is no news in his book," Rich laments, "hardly the first to charge that the White House used propaganda to sell its war. ... (T)he tale of how the White House ginned up the war is an old story." So Rich settles for contending that "the big new news is how ferocious a hold this familiar tale still exerts on the public all these years later." How's that for a headline?
Every president's White House is a set-up for such exposes. There is always a more or less official account, and explanation, of every presidential action. And in the nature of things, the whole story will be at least a little more complicated, if not strikingly different. People working in the White House will tend to know this whole story, and as the years go by, their attitude toward it may change. They may become disaffected or disgruntled. In our day, there will most certainly be a market for accounts of what happened that differ markedly from the accepted version -- the more sharply and more negatively, the better. So, at a minimum, the price of a discreditable account keeps going up.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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