I didn't pay a ton of attention to the fallout over Scott McClellan's scathing new book because it's not like he has an image worth rehabilitating, and I figure he's already sold enough books based on the hubbub. And anyway, there isn't a lot that's new there. As the Bush Reelect eCampaign Director Mike Turk said in his Twitter feed:
Feeling for Scott McLellan. Nice getting savaged for saying what everyone knows to be true anyway.
The midlevel operatives have all come to this conclusion about Bush, just like 80% of the country. Lying us into war, running the country like it were a campaign, deception in the CIA leak case - this isn't groundbreaking stuff.
But two things about the book are revealing. Well, actually, two things about the reaction to the book.
First is that, as I expected, conservatives are throwing the mother of all hissy fits in response to this. The wingnut blogosphere is blaming the messenger as they always do, attacking McClellan as a liberal, a liar, a charlatan trying to sell books, and claiming they never liked him anyway.
The White House is perhaps even more spittle-flecked than the bloggers, calling McClellan "disgruntled" and even a traitor.
But I don't think this book release would be getting the kind of attention it has if McClellan didn't include some choice words for the media. Note to self - that's the way to get a book on the best-seller list:
If anything, the 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.
The collapse of the administration's rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise. . . . In this case, the "liberal media" didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.
Now he's pointed the finger at the almighty PRESS. He's accused them of not living up to their responsibilities. So the press, naturally, had to push back. One way is to line up a cavalcade of Bush supporters to trash McClellan and damage his credibility. But because they're sensitive about their conduct during the war, among the most shameful in history, they had to defend themselves from these charges. It was quite remarkable:
Yesterday was actually quite an extraordinary day in our political culture because Scott McClellan's revelations forced the establishment media to defend themselves against long-standing accusations of their corruption and annexation by the government -- criticisms which, until yesterday, they literally just ignored, blacked-out, and suppressed. Bizarrely enough, it took a "tell-all" Washington book from Scott McClellan, of all people, to force these issues out into the open, and he seems -- unwittingly or otherwise -- to have opened a huge flood gate that has long been held tightly shut.
Network executives obviously know that these revelations are quite threatening to their brand. Yesterday, they wheeled out their full stable of multi-millionaire corporate stars who play the role of authoritative journalists on the TV to join with their White House allies in mocking and deriding McClellan's claims. One media star after the next -- Tom Brokaw, David Gregory, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams, Tim Russert, Wolf Blitzer -- materialized in sync to insist that nothing could be more absurd than the suggestion that they are "deferential, complicit enablers" in government propaganda.
David Gregory was particularly amusing in defending the White House press corps, even though his own questions are in the public record, questions like "should we capture Saddam or just kill him?" The press was completely cowed by the Bush Administration, willing to reprint their propaganda and unwilling to challenge the most basic assumptions about the cause for war. This is in part because a lot of media figures are incredibly stupid and can't even judge praise from insult:
Potomac, MD: McClellan needs to get over himself. The nerve of blaming the media for their failures in the run-up to the War. Elisabeth Bumiller so eloquently explained how things work the night before the Iraq War started, 4,000 dead American soldiers ago: "it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.".
Anne E. Kornblut: That's a good point. (I'm a huge Bumiller fan).....
But the other part of this is much more insidious. There were massive amounts of corporate pressure to grease the skids for war with Iraq. Contrary opinions were not allowed on television, or if allowed were countered by multiple pro-war views. The corporate bosses wanted to capitalize on what they viewed as a patriotic fervor in the nation by hyping war. This is well-known. Phil Donahue was fired from MSNBC as a result of his antiwar stance despite being the most popular show on the network. And Ashleigh Banfield spoke out about this censorship in public shortly after the war began, and was instantly consigned to the scrap heap of history.
And everyone else knew their place. But yesterday, discussing the book, Jessica Yellin went off the reservation and told the truth about the media conduct during the war - and the corporate pressure.
Cooper: Jessica, McClellan took the press to task for upholding their reputation. He writes “the 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 of whether to go to war in Iraq…the ‘liberal’ media didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.” Dan Bartlett, former Bush advisor, called the allegation “total crap.” What’s your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?
Yellin: I think the press corps dropped the ball in the beginning when the lead up to war began, uh the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the President’s high approval ratings and my own experience at the White House was that the higher the President’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives, and I was not at this network at the time, but the more pressure I had from these executives to put on positive stories about the President. I think over time….
Cooper: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the President?
Yellin: Not in that exact…they wouldn’t say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive. Yes. That was my experience.
I hold very few hopes for Yellin's future at CNN. Bravo to her for telling the truth.
I'm sure that this is a one-day story, and the press will consider the matter concluded, in their favor, and move on. But people know this in their bones. The coverage did nothing to enlighten and only to heighten the frenzy over invasion. This was William Randolph Hearst getting his Spanish-American War all over again, and these blowhards can't come to terms with it because their whole world would come crashing down. They were puppets, enthusiastic puppets for an imperialist agenda. And they have to live with that forever.