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Editorial: McClellan's Book

Inside out

Scott McClellan's new tell-all book about the failings of the Bush administration is a case of better late than never.

For years, McClellan was President Bush's loyal spokesman. He belittled critics of the Iraq war, defended the administration's indefensible response to Hurricane Katrina, and helped to hide the role of top White House aides in blowing the cover of a CIA agent.

But McClellan writes in his memoir that he had serious misgivings about Bush's leadership all along. He knew the war was a "blunder" that was sold to the public with a "propaganda campaign." He criticizes Bush as "never reflecting, never reconsidering, never compromising."


he tells us. But he's presenting a view of Bush that many Americans already held.

McClellan left the White House in 2006, reportedly forced out. Given his admitted doubts, he should have left sooner. It would have been a principled act.

Current Bush aides said if McClellan had these doubts on the job, he should have spoken up. The suggestion is just short of hilarious. Not only does this administration show the door to nay-sayers as quickly as possible, but it wasn't McClellan's role to develop policy.

Bush has always relied on a tiny, insular group of top advisers - just the sort of "bubble" that McClellan now criticizes for limiting the president's options. Bush's "iron triangle" of advisers gave McClellan the job of promoting the company line, not questioning it.

If it's too late for McClellan to speak truth to power, it isn't too late for him to speak the truth. He was a loyalist, and his observations about the administration from the inside are valuable. His critics argue that he has sold out, but his allegations of a reckless rush to war have been aired by others, including military brass. McClellan is just the first West Wing insider to level these accusations.

One of his most damning assessments is that the news media failed to challenge Bush in the prelude to war. He calls the media "complicit enablers."

"Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it," McClellan writes. "The media would neglect their watchdog role . . ."

McClellan carried out a plan to de-fang the media, and now laments that it worked. But his role as a compromised messenger doesn't invalidate his message now.

The media didn't do their job. One of the few media outlets that did challenge the administration's sketchy rationale for war in 2002 was Knight Ridder's Washington bureau. That company no longer exists.

For seven years, McClellan worked for an administration that prizes loyalty above all. Even as that administration nears its conclusion, it benefits Americans to know how it operates.