A Scott McClellan flashback

Here's what Cintra Wilson saw when she passed for a White House correspondent in July 2005.


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Joan Walsh
May 30, 2008 1:19AM (UTC)

I shouldn't be surprised by the nasty smearing of Scott McClellan over his book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception." That said, I am, a little bit. Particularly by the purported "friends" who try to sheath their sharp knives in statements of concern: This doesn't sound like Scott! (Maybe he's had an emotional breakdown ...) I also love the "friends" who "defend" him by saying, Well, Scotty was never that smart; he was only chosen for his loyalty. But I'm most appalled by the dismissal of many journalists, best detailed by Glenn Greenwald. Jessica Yellin and Katie Couric are my heroes this week for saying McClellan was right about the press falling down on the job, in the run-up to the Iraq war, out of fear of crossing the Bush administration and seeming insufficiently unpatriotic.

Of course I wish McClellan had found his conscience and his voice a lot earlier -- maybe before the war? Watching the McClellan roast, I found myself wanting to reread the amazing piece Cintra Wilson wrote for us in August 2005 after the media finally grew a spine, temporarily, in the wake of the obvious lies about the Valerie Plame affair. I often think Hurricane Katrina was the beginning of the end of absolute media complicity with the administration, but it's worth being reminded that, presented with evidence they'd been lied to, some reporters woke up a few months earlier. I vividly remember Cintra's portrait of David Gregory's courage from that period, which is why I was a little disappointed that he seemed to join the pile-on against McClellan Wednesday. Jessica Yellin makes an appearance, too.

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Anyway, take the time to read Cintra's whole piece; I had a crazy busy day but I reread it, and laughed out loud more than once. We'll get Ms. Wilson back in our pages soon. I hope this little snippet pulls you in.

Scott McClellan is difficult to hate when you are in the room with him. He's robotic, but somehow also warm and disarming, in the way that TV newscasters can be. He often pronounces "nuclear" correctly (at least until he says "denukularization"); he is astonishingly good at his job and too genuinely nice to be detestable. The people of the corps unequivocally like McClellan personally. It is the usual game of Washington grab-ass that happens in the off hours; the "We're a big special club doing our crazy jobs all together here, in the nation's capital" attitude that is very seductive when you're half-drunk, like everyone is after 6 p.m., except for the pristine Mormons of the CIA. I think, however, that such fraternity between naturally opposing professional roles has given many journalists an ill-placed sense of inclusion and gratitude.

On the 13th of July, the work-a-day friction between the press secretary and the corps was, by all accounts, still a lot more aggressive than usual. The reporters were openly jeering at McClellan over his refusal to discuss anything remotely connected to the Rove/Plame mess, and it was exciting -- there was a palpable sense that abusing McClellan was worth something, and that a constant hail of Refusing to Swallow His Absurd Line of Bilge might earn results, eventually. To me, it had a thrilling college sit-in feel. If we join hands and sing this protest song together, the administration might cave in from the weight of its own moral shame!

Scott walked into the room, preceded by his usual gaggle of young "Gattaca"-style GOP-bots who sit in seats off to the left and handsomely say nothing. There is always a zircon gleam in McClellan's eye, a tight little smile pressed into his face, and a cloisonné flag on his lapel.

It gets even more exciting after that. Go on, read the whole thing!


Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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