"Some Bush defenders, including former press secretary Ari Fleischer, [suggested] that McClellan may have had a ghostwriter or undergone heavy-handed editing." Washington Post, May 30
"McCellan's publisher, Peter Osnos, denies that a ghostwriter worked over McClellan's draft." Slate, May 28
Now that Scott McClellan has come clean in his book about the real nature of the Bush White House, I'll confess my own secret: Scott McClellan was a ghostwriter for my 2006 book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush.
But let's be honest, prior to McClellan's new turncoat book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, where the formerly loyal aide confirms so many liberal critiques of the White House, as well as chastises the complacent media for rolling over for Bush, how many people would have even believed my unlikely tale of collaboration? Talk about a possible career-killer for McClellan.
And trust me, he understood the risk of colluding with a liberal media critic, especially while he was on the White House clock. I remember back when he was secretly helping me with the book, I'd say, Mac (that's what I called him), are you crazy? What would Republicans say if they found out you were being disloyal to Bush, as well as aiding to puncture the long-running myth about the "liberal media"? I warned him that party elders like Bob Dole would open a can of whupass on him if they found out.
But McClellan was committed to my project and insisted on helping me craft my critique of how the press adopted a flagrant double standard when covering the Bush administration. He was especially angry about the media's lapdog performance during the run-up to the Iraq war.
That's why I wasn't surprised by the revelations in his new book last week. In fact, they sounded a little bit too much like Lapdogs, if you know what I mean. (But Mac and I are buds, so it's all good.)
This passage from his new book certainly had a Lapdogs ring to it:
And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it. ... [T]he media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. [Page 125]
So did this blast:
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. ... In this case, the "liberal media" didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served. [Pages 156-157]
And, man, did the press act shocked last week, or what? Tim Russert on NBC was stunned that McClellan was using "MoveOn.org" language to describe the Bush White House, and the Politico's Mike Allen likened it to rhetoric used by the "left-wing haters." (C'mon, Mike, don't be a hater hata.)
Me? I knew years ago that McClellan was privately fuming over the press' lapdog performance. Oh sure, he stood stoically at the press briefing podium day after day robotically repeating administration talking points and amplifying the White House's contempt for the press. But inside, he was actually eager for the press to challenge the administration. To show some backbone.
I must say McClellan was indefatigable in his Lapdog research, ducking out of White House meetings to call me and emailing at all hours of the night with new media outrages, examples of the press' complicity in leading the nation to war. (One annoying point: Mac kept badgering me to call the book Complicit Enablers, but my publisher thought Lapdogs packed more of a punch.)
Lapdogs just wouldn't have been the same -- wouldn't have been as complete -- if it weren't for the sharp media critique eye of my pal Scott McClellan. And maybe NBC's David Gregory and his Beltway pals should give it another close read if they really think they did nothing wrong with their war coverage, that they asked all the right questions and refrained from cheerleading.
Mac and I disagree with Gregory on that one.
After all, it was McClellan who fired up the White House Nexis account and tallied up the number of times the "liberal" Washington Post editorialized in favor of the war from September 2002 to February 2003: 26.
He smartly tipped me off to a study conducted by the McCormick Tribune Foundation that found a majority of Americans thought the news media could have done a better job informing the public about Iraq and the stakes involved in going to war.
He flagged a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting that focused on the first two weeks of February 2003, when the debate about the war should have been raging on the public airwaves, and found that of 393 people interviewed on camera for network news reports about the war, just 6 percent were people who expressed skepticism about the looming invasion.
And yes, it was McClellan who turned me onto research compiled by analyst Andrew Tyndall, who found that almost all the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS from September 2002 until February 2003 could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, or the State Department. Only 34 stories, or just 8 percent, were of independent origin.
Mac was livid when he discovered that an ABC affiliate in Utah owned by Clear Channel Communications informed backers of an anti-war ad that it was an "inappropriate commercial advertisement for Salt Lake City." And Mac couldn't believe it when a CBS affiliate in Boise, Idaho, also refused to air the ad, insisting its claim that Bush lied about Iraq's WMDs was not provable.
In 2004, when Seth Mnookin's book Hard News was published, Mac immediately told me to dog-ear the page where The New York Times' former investigative editor, Doug Frantz, recalled how Times editor "Howell Raines was eager to have articles that supported the war-mongering out of Washington." And how Raines "discouraged pieces that were at odds with the administration's position on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and alleged links to Al Qaeda."
McClellan just shook his head in 2005 when he read Newsweek's Baghdad bureau chief Rod Nordland admit that when he arrived in Iraq two years earlier he had been "an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein." Can you imagine, I remember McClellan asking me, Newsweek in 2003 assigning as Baghdad bureau chief somebody who was an "unabashed" opponent of the war? We both scoffed at the notion.
Mac and I are no longer in touch (that was a prerequisite of our strict ghostwriting pact), but I'm sure he was fuming last week when CNN's Wolf Blitzer, responding to Mac's allegation that the press was too timid prior to the war, noted how often CNN had hosted war skeptic and former weapons inspector Scott Ritter to discuss the war.
Scott Ritter! Oh, that was rich. See, it was McClellan who dug up this quote (via the Daily Howler) from Ritter when he appeared on a C-SPAN call-in show in January 2004. Mac insisted that Ritter's response to a question about why he was rarely seen on television anymore discussing the war perfectly captured the media's complicity and he urged me to include Ritter's quote in Lapdogs in full, which I did:
Unfortunately, I don't believe the mainstream media acted responsibly in regard to Iraq. Back in the fall of 2002, I was belittled, I was called a traitor, I was called crazy -- Paula Zahn of CNN accused me of drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid for making accurate statements in response to aluminum tubes and uranium allegedly coming from Niger. I think we have a problem here in that the media is culpable for the misleading of the American public. They bought into the Bush administration's rhetoric and war fervor, they sold the war to the American public, and now they have to deal with the fact that they're the ones that were out there beating the war drums and you have this guy, Scott Ritter, who was saying something different and -- maybe they just don't know how to deal with me. [Page 273]
With What Happened, McClellan has become a big media star and revealed himself as a left-leaning media critic. His ghostwriting days are over.
But at least Mac can blurb my next book.