Released yesterday, additional excerpts of the former press-secretary’s forthcoming book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (which is already #1 at Amazon) continue to elicit commentary all over the map, from former Scott McClellan haters on the left who have predictably embraced his “tell-all” as if it were the gospel truth, to righties who never were that fond of him anyway suggesting that McClellan was a wuss for sticking around the WH even after he supposedly started to believe they were feeding him lines. Commenters to this blog have been weighing in on this story here. I’m a little late writing about it, so here goes.
Defensive reporters, bristling at McClellan’s suggestion in his book that the WH press corp were “too soft” on the president prior to the start of the Iraq war, are hitting back:
An unscientific sampling of Washington journalists expressed puzzlement about McClellan’s criticism — or dissed it as downright hooey.
“It’s a stunning and unsupportable statement,” pronounced Mark Knoller, CBS Radio correspondent. “Transcripts of McClellan’s press briefings provide more than ample evidence of the intense scrutiny imposed on the White House and its policies by members of the press. Most days, McClellan left the briefing room lectern positively spent by the pounding he faced from reporters.”
ABC’s Ann Compton was perplexed: “Is Scott suggesting the White House press corps can stop, or start wars?”
David Gregory, NBC News’ chief White House correspondent, opined: “I think he’s wrong.” He added: “I think we pushed, I think we prodded. …The right questions were asked.”
While on the other hand, one CNN correspondent has weighed in and accused one of her former networks, MSNBC, of pushing its reports to (cough) portray Bush in a flattering light in the run-up to the Iraq war:
“The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings,” Yellin said.
“And my own experience at the White House was that the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president, I think over time….”
But then a shocked Cooper jumped in, asking, “You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?”
“Not in that exact…. They wouldn’t say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces,” Yellin said. “They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical, and try to put on pieces that were more positive. Yes, that was my experience.”
Methinks Ms. Yellin is so not gellin’.
What we can take from this whole drama? 1) Scott McClellan is not only a shameless opportunist in the middle of an election year whose book is of questionable veracity, but also a flaming hypocrite, unless he was lying back in 2004 with his criticisms of tell-alls coming from former administration officials, and 2) the mainstream media continues to agonize over whether or not it was “responsible” for the start of the Iraq war, showing once again their extreme arrogance in thinking that if only they had “pushed harder” and “asked more pointed questions” then they could have been the “heroes” who prevented this “unnecessary war.” In fact, some of the same accusatorial questions they dogged the Bush administration with in the run up to the Iraq war were some of the questions they should have been directing towards the Iraqi regime – when they weren’t too busy coddling its now-dead leader.
Ironically, the only “influencing” that took place in the months – and, in fact, years before – the Iraq war happened at the hands of Yellin’s current network, CNN, whose former chief news executive admitted shortly after the war started how his network ignored the Iraqi regime’s rampant attrocities in order for the network to be allowed to keep its Baghdad bureau operational. In other words, CNN intentionally misled its viewers and allowed torture and murder to continue at the hands of a brutal dictator for business purposes. Jordan resigned a little less than two years later after baseless accusations he made suggesting that US troops were deliberately targeting the news media.
Even though in reality the mainstream media had no say so in influencing the president’s decision on whether or not to go to war, as I noted earlier they are still at war amongst themselves over whether or not they are guility of “not stopping the war,” with most of them trying to “make up” for their pre-war “mistakes” by focusing all their attention on negative news coming out of Iraq (which literally hurts our troops), while ignoring the positive (h/t: ST reader NC Cop).
Oh, and with all the media salivation surrounding McClellan’s book, you might think that they always viewed tell-all books from former administration officials past and present favorably. In reality, they haven’t – it just depends on the administration in question, you see.
Related: Rich Noyes at Newsbusters writes about “What Happens When the Ex-Press Secretary [Ari Fleischer] Doesn’t Trash His Boss.”
Update 1: While we’re on the topic of former press secretaries, please keep Tony Snow, who has cancer, in your thoughts and prayers. He had to cancel a speech tonight at Ashland University in Ohio due to an “unspecified illness.”
Update 2 – 5:52 PM: Yellin “clarifies” her earlier remarks (via Karl at PW):
No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country.