Monday, March 29, 2004

Proof Reading

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo goes into great detail about a question that one of his readers raised and one I’ve been asking ever since the Clarke book came out: If the White House is supposed to clear all books being written by former White House staffers, who the hell let this one get by without raising the alert level?

Josh does a fine job with his own insider knowledge of what happens in the process, but what gets me curious is why the White House was so surprised by Clarke’s accusations and why they waited until after he published the book to raise such a stink. If, as Clarke told Tim Russert on Meet The Press, he gave the manuscript to the White House in October for vetting, why didn’t they start the leaking and whispering campaign that they’re so famous for until after Clarke was on 60 Minutes? Were they afraid that advance publicity would boost sales and give him creds for having a story that would open a can of whup-ass on the White House, or were they so smugly confident that they could carpet-bomb him from all angles – TV, the Senate floor, the internet – that they hid in the tall grass and waited for him?

I actually think that’s giving the White House more credit than they deserve. These are people who have no connection with reality. They live by the mantra of If You’re Not With Us, etc., and they believe they have the media bent to their will. The fact that Richard Clarke could go out and actually write a book that is critical of their performance and call their judgment into question does not compute. So whoever read the manuscript before signing off on it gave it the “Washington Read,” as Richard Armitage called it: they checked the index to see if their name was in it and read the relevant passages before passing it on to the next drone. Someone gave it a cursory glance for security purposes and okayed it (which means they’re on the hook if something got out that shouldn’t have, not Clarke), and then they released it. I’m willing to bet that no one at the White House read the manuscript from cover to cover. “Just another book, guys – let’s lower some more taxes for the rich.”

And another point that occurs to me; who the hell is running the HR department over at the White House? As Al Hunt noted on Capital Gang, “This is the third high-level Bush appointee who has left and said, basically — or implied the president was in over his head — Paul O’Neill, the treasury secretary, John DiUlio, head of faith-based initiative, and now Dick Clarke. And the White House response is that they’re all liars, prevaricators or unstable, which raises the question, why does George Bush appoint people to such important posts who are so unqualified, if you take them at their word?” So far the only high-profile people who have left the Bush White House on good terms are Karen Hughes (and she’s back) and Mary Matalin, who decided she could make more money as a free-lance media whore. Both of them can be counted on to write gushing reports on their lives in the White House. Hughes already has, with the somewhat off-beat title of Ten Minutes From Normal. The review I read of it makes it sound like Clinton wasn’t the only president to a blowjob from a female assistant; Bush’s, though, is purely literary.

Which makes me wonder if the Hughes and Clarke books passed through the proof reader’s office at the same time and somehow they got mixed up. After all, Karen’s role in the 2000 election could certainly be described as “Against All Enemies,” and Clarke’s insight into Bush’s take on the role of Iraq in 9/11 is really well beyond “Ten Minutes From Normal.”