Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
Did I help motivate Scott McClellan to write his book blasting the Bush White House as a den of disingenuousness?
Over the weekend, Politico published McClellan's original proposal for his book. (Hat tip to Ryan Grim, who's written for Mother Jones, for snatching this scoop.) In the proposal McClellan promised, "I will look at what is behind the media hostility toward the President and his Administration, and how much of it is rooted in a liberal bias."
Yes, that ol' "liberal bias." McClellan promised to skewer the media for being run by out-of-touch left-leaning journalists:
Fairness is defined by the establishment media within the left-of-center boundaries they set. They defend their reporting as fair because both sides are covered. But, how fair can it be when it is within the context of the liberal slant of the reporting? And, while the reporting of the establishment media may be based on true statements and facts, is it an accurate picture of what is really happening? And, how much influence do the New York Times and Washington Post have in shaping the coverage? And, why does the media do such a poor job of holding itself to account, or acknowledging their own mistakes?
But, McClellan said in the proposal he would go beyond an examination of the MSMers:
In addition to covering the above issues and questions, I will get into the influence of activist liberal reporters, like Keith Olbermann, Nation editor David Corn, and Washington Post blogger Dan Froomkin, and activist liberal media personalities, like Cindy Sheehan, Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bill Maher, and Arianna Huffington.
Well, in the end, it seems that I might have had some influence on McClellan, whom I tangled with at the White House. In two books, The Lies of George W. Bush and Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (the latter co-written with Michael Isikoff on Newsweek), I documented how the Bush administration wielded false information and half-truths (at best) as part of a PR campaign to win public support for the invasion of Iraq. That is exactly what McClellan describes and criticizes in his own book. By the way, the subtitle of my first Bush book was "Mastering the Politics of Deception." What's McClellan's subtitle? "Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."
So what happened to that "liberal bias." Once outside of the White House bubble, McClellan seems to have discovered that--guess what?--it was closer to the truth than his own press briefings.
Excuse me if I'm resentful of the attention Scott McClellan, George W. Bush's onetime presidential press secretary, is receiving for finally telling the obvious truth that the Bush White House deceived the public about the Iraq war. Though McClellan's account has punch coming from an insider, he's late to the party. Some of us made the case when it counted--back in 2002 and 2003, before the war was launched, and in the following years--and we also maintained that the deceptive measures of the Bush administration extended beyond its PR campaign for war in Iraq. Yet back then McClellan was doing what he could to thwart such efforts. Now he says the media failed to confront the Bush administration forcefully enough. Which is true. But when reporters did try, McClellan put up a stonewall. So his complaint is like that of a thief who, after pulling off a caper, gripes that the incompetent police did not nab him. This is absurd. After all, before each press briefing, did McClellan go to the men's room and use a bar of soap to write on the mirror, "Stop me before I spin again"?
Let's turn to one example of McClellan's complicity--one that I know well, for it was an instance when McClellan spoke falsely to me.
McClellan's daily press briefing on September 29, 2003, was a rough one for him. The news had broken that the CIA had requested that the Justice Department investigate the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity. This meant that presidential aides could end up facing criminal charges. The reporters in the White House press room were in a justified frenzy. The CIA leak episode was now a full-force scandal. (Two months earlier, I had been the first reporter to note that the Plame leak was possibly a White House crime, but in the intervening period most of the media had ignored or neglected the story.)
Much of the press briefing that day was devoted to the CIA leak investigation. Answering questions about the Plame leak, McClellan declared, "that is not the way this White House operates." (Actually, it was.) He insisted that Bush knew that Rove was not involved in the leak. (Actually, Rove told at least two reporters about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection, which was classified information.) And McClellan said that Rove told him that he had played no role in the leak mess. (Actually, as just noted, Rove had.)
I was at the briefing, but by the time McClellan called on me, all of the leak-related queries had been asked. Even though I was keen on covering that story, I turned to another matter: the missing WMDs in Iraq and the prewar intelligence. A few days earlier, the House intelligence committee had sent then-CIA director George Tenet a letter saying that there had been "too many uncertainties" in the prewar intelligence on WMDs in Iraq. I asked,
Years before Phil Gramm was a McCain campaign adviser and a lobbyist for a Swiss bank at the center of the housing credit crisis, he pulled a sly maneuver in the Senate that helped create today's subprime meltdown.
Who's to blame for the biggest financial catastrophe of our time? There are plenty of culprits, but one candidate for lead perp is former Sen. Phil Gramm. Eight years ago, as part of a decades-long anti-regulatory crusade, Gramm pulled a sly legislative maneuver that greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown. Yet has Gramm been banished from the corridors of power? Reviled as the villain who bankrupted Middle America? Hardly. Now a well-paid executive at a Swiss bank, Gramm cochairs Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and advises the Republican candidate on economic matters. He's been mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary should McCain win. That's right: A guy who helped screw up the global financial system could end up in charge of US economic policy. Talk about a market failure.
On Sunday, Karl Rove gave students of spin a prime example of a non-denial denial. He was a guest on ABC News' This Week and after discussing the presidential campaign, he was asked by host George Stephanopoulos about the Don Siegelman controversy. Siegelman is the former Democratic Alabama governor who was convicted and imprisoned for corruption and who charges that the Justice Department prosecution against him was part of a secret campaign mounted by Rove and other Republicans. Last week, the House judiciary committee subpoenaed Rove in connection with the Siegelman case and the firings of U.S. attorneys.
One has to wonder if Siegelman has been trying to save himself by pinning his case to the U.S. attorneys scandal, but the way Rove answered (that is, did not answer) a question from Stephanopoulos about the Siegelman affair was quite suspicious. Look at the entire exchange:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As we know and our viewers probably know you were subpoenaed this week by the House Judiciary Committee to give testimony on any involvement you may have had with the prosecution of the former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman. He's claiming there was selective prosecution. He's out on bail now even though he was convicted. He said your fingerprints are all over it. Here's what the House report said.
It said, "In May 2007 a Republican attorney from Northern Alabama named Jill Simpson wrote an affidavit stating that in November 2002 she heard a prominent Alabama Republican operative named Bill Canary say that Karl Rove had contacted the Justice Department about bringing a prosecution of Don Siegelman. The question for Mr. Rove is whether he directly or indirectly discussed the possibility of prosecuting Don Siegelman with either the Justice Department or Alabama Republicans."
KARL ROVE: Let me say three things, first of all, I think it's interesting -- everybody who was supposedly on that telephone call that Miss Simpson talks about says the call never took place. I'd say...
Once John McCain had resolved on Thursday to repudiate fundamentalist preacher John Hagee (who had called the Catholic Church "the great whore" and who had said Hitler was doing God's work during the Holocaust), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee went on a roll, and in the same news cycle he also rejected the endorsement of Reverend Rod Parsley, the megachurch pastor who had said it was the United States' historic mission to see the "false religion" of Islam "destroyed."
After issuing a statement dumping Hagee, McCain told the Associated Press that he also was now refusing Parsley's support: "I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn't endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement." McCain and Parsley had campaigned together in February in Ohio, and at a rally McCain had hailed Parsley as "one of the truly great leaders in America, a moral compass, a spiritual guide."
Two weeks after that rally, on March 12, Mother Jones first reported that Parsley in a 2005 book, Silent No More, had essentially called upon Christians to wage a "war" against Islam with the aim of eradicating it. For that article and subsequent pieces, I called the McCain campaign for comment multiple times to ask if the Arizona senator would repudiate Parsley, who is a powerful political player in the critical state of Ohio. McCain's press office ducked each call.