The Real News from Scott McClellan’s “What Happened”

June 1, 2008 at 11:26 am

To learn the most from Scott McClellan’s new book What Happened you don’t even need to buy the book. All you have to do is look at the coverage from the administration, the mainstream media, and the blogosphere.

The blogosphere

The general reaction from the blogosphere could be summed up as: there is nothing new here. Arianna Huffington questions why he is doing this now and his motives. Writers at the DailyKos also seem less than impressed with McClellan’s motives. General consensus is that the blogosphere has a hard time believing that Scott didn’t know he was being lied to then.

What is interesting, however, as many such as John Nichols of The Nation have pointed out, is the level to which the “liberal” press has been complicit with the administration.

The mainstream media

So how has the mainstream media reacted to these criticisms?

Katie Couric agreed that McClellan’s assessment of the press corps was “fairly accurate” and Jessica Yellin, a former MSNBC correspondent, said that the press was under enormous pressure from corporate executives to “to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation.” Couric went on to say that officials threatened to deny access to war reports if interviews were not deferential to the war cause.

The important point about McClellan’s book is that it shed some light in the mainstream media on the media itself and allowed reporters to speak freely because of the attention drawn by the book.

Many, however, remained scared to speak out and kept up the denial. Charlie Gibson said “it is not our job to debate them; it’s our job to ask the questions.” Glenn Greenwald points out some of the super-tough questions Gibson asked administration officials about Colin Powell’s claims of weapons of mass destruction:

  • Specifically, of all the biological and chemical weapons that he outlined, and the means of delivery, what’s the most frightening? Should be the most frightening?
  • How compromised are the inspectors there? Are they totally infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence?

The problem with questions like these is that they simply take the administration at their word: there are biologicial and chemical weapons and the inspectors are compromised. Charlie Gibson is doing nothing more in this interview than letting administration officials get their message out. Brian Williams has a very similar story.
Watch Couric, Williams, and Gibson in this amazing interview that shows the different perspectives on MSNBC.

The administration

Not surprisingly, the stance of the administration can be summed up by Karl Rove appearing on Hannity and Colmes: “It sounds like a left-wing blogger.” Rove, in weird agreement with the blogosphere above, then said, “If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them.”

Current press secretary Dana Perino painted McClellan as a disgruntled employee and echoed Rove’s line about this not sounding like Scott.

“Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House,” said Perino, a former deputy to McClellan. “We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.”

Interestingly enough, the White House has remained relatively silent on the actual claims of the book with the exception of Condoleezza Rice dismissing the claims.

What to make of all this?

I find this 3-ringed circus fascinating. The underlying dynamic that “the truth will set us free,” however, is what is most interesting to me. I think many progressives believe that somehow pointing out the truth will change people’s minds about the Iraq War.

Many progressives believe that Republicans don’t understand the “truth” about the war. The belief goes something like this: if Republicans understood the truth, they would act “rationally” and not support the war. Having spoken with many Republicans about this issue, I believe that there is a different explanation.

I’m going to assume that Republicans acted rationally and intelligently based on what they believed.

I think Republicans saw the war as a chance to take out a dictator that we didn’t like and, as Alan Greenspan put it, the Iraq War was “largely about oil.”

What many Republicans believed and may still believe was that the end was just and in our best interests and therefore the means leading up to this event didn’t really matter. Using this “end justifies the means” logic, it is ok to convince the country any way possible to go to war and do what is “right.”

Why is this important? Because as long as a person has this belief and has been sold on the end goal being the most important issue, the truth from Scott McClellan or Richard Clarke or whoever else becomes largely irrelevant.

What progressives should be working to do instead of getting into a we said / they said battle is trying to make the case for why the war is not in our country’s best interests.

For example:

  • It is bankrupting our country and running up the deficit
  • We have lost our leadership role in the world (no one believes us about anything anymore)
  • We could better use the money for our own national priorities
  • It is not lowering the price of gas
  • It is not achieving Democracy in the Middle East

I believe that the current administration has effectively sold the war based on establishing Democracy in the Middle East (as McClellan says is Bush’s belief) and the hidden rationale of trying to secure our country’s oil future.

Progressives need to stop assuming that somehow conservatives don’t know the truth. Every conservative I’ve talked to has been much smarter than this. It’s not that they don’t know the truth, it’s more that they believe the end justifies the means.

In the face of this belief, the way to get buy-in for an end to the war is to make the case that a) the end is not in our best interests and, b) is actually hurting our country more than helping it.

In addition, but I will leave it as the subject for a later post, progressives should continue to make the case for the value of the truth based on the confidence and trust this inspires in other people and other countries. That is to say, progressives should make the case for an alternative to the “end justifies the means” philosophy and demonstrate the benefits of this approach.