A Good Question for Peter Osnos

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Bob Fertik of Democrats.com has a very good question for Peter Osnos. Osnos is the widely-respected head of Public Affairs, the publisher of the book by former White House spokesman Scott McClellan coming out next year.

Last week, Public Affairs put a section of McClellan’s book-to-be online. It included this, regarding the outing of Valerie Plame:

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice-President, the President’s chief of staff and the President himself.

A brief media firestorm ensued: had McClellan directly accused the President of lying? No, said Osnos:

…the founder and editor-in-chief of Public Affairs Books, which is publishing McClellan’s book in April, tells NBC from his Connecticut home that McCLellan, “Did not intend to suggest Bush lied to him.”

Osnos says when McClellan went before the White House press corps in 2003 to publicly exonerate Libby and Rove, the problem was that his statement was not true. Osnos said the president told McClellan what “he thought to be the case.” But, he says, McClellan believes, “the president didn’t know it was not true.”

This week Osnos expanded on this in his weekly column:

[W]hat was amazing about the response was that it became a huge story before anyone pursued its context. McClellan is still at work on his book…The chapter cited in the catalog has been drafted. It is a meticulous account of the period at the start of McClellan’s tenure, when he had to handle the flap over the disclosure that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA operative….

McClellan defended the White House then because, aside from that being his job, he believed what he was told by senior officials, two of whom we now know were lying. What Happened is McClellan’s forthright telling of what, on reflection, took place in that period…Before taking on his book, my colleagues and I talked to White House correspondents and reporters in Texas and were assured that if McClellan said he would write a book without fear or favor, he would. And he is…I can assure you, as anyone familiar with PublicAffairs will attest, that lucre is not McClellan’s incentive to work with us…The full story must await publication.

It’s understandable any author and publisher would feel the important news in their book “must await publication.” But as Bob Fertik asks, don’t these unusual circumstances change the normal equation?

(Disclosure: I sometimes do research for AfterDowningStreet.org, a coalition in which Democrats.com participates.)

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