Battling a bit of temporary insomnia this morning, I laid awake listening to the radio. A news report announced that one of the President’s former Press Secretaries, Scott McClellan, had written a tell all book (pictured left) about his experiences working at the White House. The book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, is said to focus on exactly what the title suggests – the current administration’s former and continued public deception of their ability to deal with various events over the last eight years including Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, and the leaking of former CIA agent Valarie Plume’s name.
For someone such as myself who has tried to stay objective and open-minded during President Bush’s term, I think this book should prove interesting. Over the last eight years, I have heard a lot of conspiracy theories and quick judgments lamented by my fellow colleagues, friends, and Americans. Chalk it up to naivete, but I feel as though I have tried, albeit cautiously, to give the current administration the benefit of the doubt in these matters. Who honestly wants to believe that their president and his administration is intentionally involved in leaking a CIA agents name, knowingly putting Hurricane Katrina victims in trailers containing high levels of formaldehyde, and creating false reasons to invade a country halfway around the world? Also, how probable are all of these scenarios?
I also think that, when taking into consideration a myriad of sources from which one receives information, it’s imperative to not take any particular one as the singular source that has the whole entire story. That just isn’t realistic. The best we can do as observers (i.e. not members of the press) is read/watch/listen about a particular story from as many different outlets as possible and still keep in mind that we aren’t getting the whole truth, as that is a facet of the information being second, third, or sixth hand.
This brings me back to the main point – talking about McClellan’s book. Who is telling the truth? Both and neither, probably. I’m sure there are things that have been embellished and left out by both parties. That can be the name of the game in politics. The mudslinging has already begun, a full week before the book’s release date on June 2nd. The current Press Secretary, Dana Perino, has said that the White House refuses to comment as they have not yet seen the book, but there has been plenty of talk about it from inside already. According to CNN.com, “ Fox News contributor and former White House adviser Karl Rove said on that network Tuesday that the excerpts from the book he’s read sound more like they were written by a ‘left-wing blogger’ than his former colleague,” and Bush has been quoted as saying “One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas talking about the good old days of his time as the Press Secretary, and I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done.” That’s a lot of speculation for not having seen the book yet.
And two more things – being good at your job doesn’t necessarily equate with loyalty, and propaganda and war seem to go hand in hand. What’s this business about the administration using propaganda to gain support for the Iraq war? How preposterous! I just don’t see how this is shocking to anyone. Propaganda has been used during war time to gain support for all kinds of wars for all kinds of reasons by many, many different governments (including ours in the past – and the present!). Are we really expected to believe that the current American president and his cabinet are exempt from using such tactics? I would hope no one is that naive. And just for a refresher, I found two very good definitions of propaganda I thought were appropriate to share for those who have possibly forgotten its meaning. The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.) says this, “Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect.” Sounds fitting. Webster’s’ Revised Unabridged Dictionary has this to say about propaganda, “. . . any organization or plan for spreading a particular doctrine or a system of principles.” Also appropriate. Even after reviewing definitions of propaganda, I’m still not shocked that this tactic was used to promote the Iraq war. Please keep in mind that I do understand the implications of the administration’s use of propaganda – if the war was just, then there wouldn’t be the need to use any tactic to gain public support because, if the war was just everyone would be behind it anyway. Right? Please. That’s never been the case. What I think the bigger issue is, is the extent to which the public was misled and/or lied to about the reasons for going to war and continuing to fight a losing battle.
And lastly, what interests me about this book is also what might make folks hesitant to trust its author. I have seen many interviews with Scott McClellan, one in which he detailed his career working under G.W. Bush in Texas and then following him to the White House. I didn’t necessarily label him as a Bush “loyalist” but I figured that, working under the President, he was in his camp. I figured that as the White House Press Secretary, it was his duty to field any and all questions regarding the president, the White House, and everything else in between. It was his job to publicly “support” decisions made by these people and parties (i.e. those higher up on the employment chain than he). That was his job, being the primary spokesperson for the administration, and I think that if he kept his mouth shut this long and had the entire country convinced that he was loyal to Bush and the administration, he was really, really good at his job. Excellent, even. So, I’m not totally surprised that he didn’t agree with a lot of what has gone on over the last eight years, but I am definitely interested in hearing what he has to say. I’m hoping this is a true insider’s look into the two terms of the Bush presidency – what happened, what didn’t happen, and what should have happened.
I’m sure I’ll be picking this up in the near future. Will you?