By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Rosen on McClellan’s self-awareness

For several years now, Jay Rosen has been advancing the theory that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan was not just unusually inept and uninformed; rather, he was part of a deliberate strategy on the part of the Bush administration to “de-certify” the press. Forcing journalists to rely on someone as buffoonish and out of the loop as McClellan, Rosen argued, was a way of underscoring the media’s unimportance in the Bush-Cheney worldview.

In the end, it didn’t work, and the White House was eventually compelled to hire a more conventional press secretary, Tony Snow, and grant him the kind of access and influence that press secretaries traditionally have. But when President Bush was at the height of his political powers, the McClellan strategy worked just fine.

Now Rosen — like McClellan — is back. And what Rosen finds stunning is that McClellan himself seems to have adopted Rosen’s analysis. That is, McClellan now understands that he was a mere pawn in a much larger game. And despite his still-evident shortcomings, he has come to realize that he doesn’t like it one damn bit. After all, it was he who was transformed into a fool, along with the media. Journalists still don’t understand that (or maybe they do, given their hostile response to Stephen Colbert’s epic performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006). McClellan, though, understands it all too well. Rosen writes:

I never expected McClellan to write a book about being the jerk at the podium for Bush, or to make connections between his experience and the larger wreckage of the Bush presidency. He’s not only done that; he’s clearly ready to hit the circuit and explain himself.

Watching Keith Olbermann interview McClellan last night about McClellan’s book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” it was striking to see McClellan’s self-awareness, something you never would have imagined when he was working for Bush. He is clearly in the midst of a sea change in his political thinking, as he told Olbermann he may even support Barack Obama for president this fall.

I wish I’d caught all of Olbermann’s interview, but I’m not going to miss McClellan’s appearance on “Meet the Press” this Sunday. Memo to Tim: Ditch the slides showing he said one thing then and another thing now. We already know that. The man’s got a story to tell. Let him tell it.

Photo (cc) by Dave Winer and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Anonymous

    Watch Russert spew the party line by dissecting McClellan, showing that he was just that disgruntled worker looking for a buck. “You said this…”….”If it was so bad why didn’t you quit?” I guarantee.

  2. Peter Porcupine

    DK – I have a theory about this called, “You’ll never eat lunch in this town again”.McLellan is a media professional, at the end of the day, rather than a political operative. I cannot help wondering if he isn’t merely trying to transition to what he thinks will be the winning side with some well chosen displays of angst and remorse.I have no opinion on how disgruntled he may be and I’m not sure he’s even trying to make big bucks. I just cannot help wondering if this isn’t something he thinks he has to do to continue making any living, unless he wants to move to Canada like Susan Sarandon, or move like Alec Baldwin did….Full disclosure – like everybody else commenting, I haven’t actually read the book yet.

  3. Don, American

    McClellan is a disloyal, back-stabbing opportunist, and as Bob Dole said, a weasel.

  4. Anonymous

    Peter Porcupine – We haven’t read the book, but we’ve already seen the movie . . .

  5. Anonymous

    Dan, great comments, and thanks for linking to the excellent piece by Jay Rosen.But I have to take issue with your 2nd paragraph – what do you mean, it didn’t work? They wanted their war, they got their war, and now here we sit. And, was Snow really that conventional? I suppose every White House press secretary is comabative in her/his own way. But the combativeness that has followed McClellan at that podium has been marked by a particular kind of “maybe I know, maybe I don’t, but I’ll never admit it to you,”defiance that perhaps differs from McClellan’s style in form, but not necessarily in substance.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Don: So what? Is the book factual or isn’t it?

  7. Marc Larocque

    This is all a trap. McClellan isn’t the disgruntled worker the White House says he is. He’s still hand in hand with these criminals. It’s an inside job. They get McClellan to write a book intentionally rife with errors to somehow gain sympathy for the White House from those on the right. When people identify all the inconsistencies and falsehoods in McClellan’s book, it’ll give the impression that those prominent fellas and high brow liberals who point out the this administration’s deception are just taking cheap shots — as if the White House were just trying their best to make America safe — when in fact the Bush buddies (and the elites that pull the strings) are actually Satanists who are bloodthirsty for power.That’s just a crazy conspiracy theory I cooked up. But consider it … ya know, our leaders are liars.

  8. man who loathes white house press secretaries

    I dunno, I heard McClellan on NPR the other day and I was dismayed at how he near-universally avoided giving a straight answer to anything he was asked. Admittedly, I do think he showed marginally more verbal adroitness in the interview than his usual stumblebum approach while press secretary, but it was disappointing nonetheless.I also agree with those who demand an answer for why McClellan didn’t show this supposed “candor” three years ago when it could’ve meant something, instead of waiting until it was “safe” because everyone is jumping on the Bush-Bashing Bandwagon. Sorry Scott, it’s still not enough to keep you from going to hell.

  9. Jed Leland

    McLellan became press secretary around July 2003, after “Mission Accomplished” but before people had even given up on finding WMD.I haven’t read the book yet, so I don’t know how be describes how and when it began to dawn on him what a sham it was.As to why he didn’t speak up sooner, well, you could ask Colin Powell the same question. Some stay quiet out of loyalty, some out of uncertainty and some because they figure the ends justify the means.When you’re in it that deep, I wonder how often there’s a real eureka moment, and how often it’s a long, tortuous process.It’s amusing and rather pathetic that the Bushies just slap the lazy cliche “disgruntled former employee” label on him, as if he’s making it all up like they did.

  10. Anonymous

    Marc is so right on. The only reason it’s not true is they didn’t think of it. Bet they’re mad they didn’t.Seriously, it’s not that unlikely.

  11. curious!

    The neocons who lied us into this mess couldn’t backtrack, find better positions (Wolfowitz at World Bank) and blame Bush, et al fast enough to save their butts, including Kissinger protegee Bremer. One must wonder if McClellan is just another planned ‘event’ to bury a failed presidency.Regardless, it doesn’t seem an accident.

  12. Anonymous

    don, american, One must wonder how much credibility Bob Dole has.After all the ED commercials, did I need to know that? Someone should takes away his computer! Or maybe he didn’t send the email.

  13. Bill Baar

    Peter Porcupine got it right. It worked for George Stephanopolis.

  14. Don, American

    Dear anon 6:06 am: Do you have to have a stiffy to be credible?

  15. Bill Weye

    Photo (cc) by Dave Winer and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.What?! That’s crazy. No need to credit Winer because he can’t put a video capture from a network program under his own creative common license. Depending on the use, and I would say the use here falls under this umbrella, your use is done under the fair use doctrine (many corporate drones would argue with this).

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