Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's memoirs attacking the Bush White House, "What Happened," has given the liberal press quite a thrillduring a slow summer week.
The headline to White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg's "White House Memo," "Ex-Aide Turns Critic; Chorus Strikes Back," hammered home the idea, already picked up by CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric and MSNBC host Chris Matthews, that the White House is coordinating a massresponse to McClellan's accusations (as if that was improper). If you were as conspiracy-minded as the liberal media, you might think the media's reaction was coordinated as well.
As President Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan was a dutiful practitioner of the swift, efficient and highly coordinated strategy the White House typically employs to take on Mr. Bush's critics.
On Wednesday, Mr. McClellan got a taste of life on the other side.
As news of Mr. McClellan's new tell-all book - in which he calls the war in Iraq a "strategic blunder" and accuses Mr. Bush of engaging in "self-deception" - dominated the airwaves, the White House and a tight-knit group of former aides pushed back. They sought to paint the former press secretary as a disgruntled man trying to redeem his own reputation after long remaining silent about concerns he is suddenly taking public.
The result was a kind of public excommunication of Mr. McClellan, waged by some of the people with whom he once worked most closely, among them Karl Rove, the political strategist; Frances Fragos Townsend, the former domestic security adviser; Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush's first press secretary; and Dan Bartlett, the former counselor to the president.
Stolberg became melodramatic, and pressed the theme of a one-note Bush chorus operating on talking points, not genuine feelings of betrayal:
Their cries of betrayal served as a stern warning to other potential turncoats that, despite some well-publicized cracks, the Bush inner circle remains tight. Their language was so similar that the collective reaction amounted to one big inside-the-Beltway echo chamber.
All seemed to take their cues from Dana Perino, the current press secretary. Ms. Perino used the words "sad" and "puzzled" to describe the White House response, as if Mr. McClellan had undergone some kind of emotional breakdown, while making the case that if Mr. McClellan had problems with Mr. Bush, he should have raised them while in the president's employ.
And all seemed to suggest that maybe Mr. McClellan had been hijacked by liberal New York book editors who prodded him to turn out a memoir that did not reflect his own beliefs.
"This doesn't sound like Scott; it really doesn't," Mr. Rove said on the Fox News Channel. (In the book, Mr. McClellan accuses Mr. Rove of being untruthful with him about the administration's involvement in leaking the identity of a C.I.A. operative, Valerie Wilson.)
"You've heard the way Scott briefed - it doesn't sound like him," Mr. Fleischer said. He said he could not wait to hear Mr. McClellan talk about the book on television, "to see if there's a written Scott and an oral Scott."
Instead of sniffing at the idea of McClellan being "highjacked by liberal New York book editors," Stolberg could have done some rudimentary digging and discovered the liberal bona fides of his publisher, Peter Osnos of PublicAffairs. As MRC's Brent Baker learned, Osnos told Rachel Sklar on the Huffington Post blog that he "worked very closely" with Scott McClellan on the book. He also writes a liberal column for The Century Foundation in which he's called conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh "bombastic, aggressive, and mean."