Here's what President Bush's press secretary had to say about the latest former administration official to write a book that is sharply critical of the Bush White House:
"Ask yourself why, one and a half years later, after he left the administration, he's all of a sudden, coming forward with these grave concerns?" the press secretary said. "If he had such grave concerns, why didn't he come out with them sooner?"
No, that was not Bush's current press secretary, Dana Perino, talking about former press secretary Scott McClellan's new tell-all book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."
No, the press secretary quoted above is McClellan in a March 2004 news conference. He was responding to another book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," by Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser.
History repeats itself in ironic ways in Washington. Clarke's book charged that the Bush administration failed to take timely action against Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It criticizes the war in Iraq as a hindrance and distraction from the real war against terror. It sounds, in short, a lot like McClellan's book.
And McClellan's reaction to Clarke's book sounded a lot like Perino's recent reaction to McClellan's work.
"Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House," said Perino, oozing sympathy as one would for an addled uncle locked in the attic.
"Disgruntled?" When, one might wonder did that happen? Keep wondering. The crafty press secretary avoids addressing specifics. The press secretaries, spin doctors, power trippers and snow jobbers in the Bush administration's communications wing essentially have two jobs: One is to make sure that the media do not receive straight answers to questions. The other is to discredit critics of the administration.
That's why Karl Rove, Bush's former chief political adviser, thought he was actually insulting McClellan when the political guru said the president's mouthpiece "sounds like a left-wing blogger." In Rove's mind, that's tantamount to a member of the church choir running off with a heathen.
"This doesn't sound like Scott. It really doesn't," said Rove.
No, I'm sure it doesn't. The old Scott had learned to stand up, keep the secrets and spread the bull jive as well as the rest of the gang. The old Scott was the administration's media face from mid-2003 to early 2006. He often appeared to be in over his head.
Yet, as the Iraq war turned more sour and the questions came raining in with new ferocity, he stood dutifully like a captain who would not budge from the deck of his sinking ship.
On C-SPAN, after watching a tape of himself attacking Clarke, the new McClellan described his old self as "caught up in the bubble" of "the permanent campaign" where "you lose perspective" and strategy becomes more important than uncomfortable facts or accountability to the public.
Those are the major themes in his book. It also describes how Bush and his senior aides abandoned "candor and honesty" to wage a "political propaganda campaign" that led the nation into an "unnecessary war." And he writes that Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Rove "had at best misled" him about their roles in the leak that disclosed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson. McClellan also admits that he presented information to the White House press corps that was "badly misguided."
After these and other revelations in the book were reported, McClellan happened to run into Clarke at a New York hotel and, according to both parties, McClellan apologized for his earlier denunciations of Clarke's book. Clarke accepted his apology. That's good for starters. But McClellan has a lot more people to whom he should say "I'm sorry."
"Where's the apology?" asks David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine. Corn first broke the significance of Plame's outing, among other administration deceptions. Corn took a lot of criticism from the right, as every other journalist who questioned the Bush propaganda line.
Now Corn writes in his blog that if McClellan were "truly contrite about his involvement in a deceptive, propaganda-wielding administration," he would show it by pledging his book's profits to "charities that support the families of American soldiers killed or injured in Iraq." That's good advice-and it comes from a left-wing blogger.