Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Brief History of Presidential Snitches

Scott McClellan has stirred a hornet's nest, not only among former Bush colleagues but journalists and political observers as well.

"Turncoat Time" is the head for Washington Post media critic's roundup of reactions including his own:

"Now he tells us? McClellan had deep qualms about Bush using propaganda to sell the Iraq war, about being misled on Valerie Plame, about the president being in denial on Hurricane Katrina, and he utters not a peep of public protest until he's ready to sell his book?...

"What's fascinating is that the conservative commentators who always sided with McClellan against the media mob are now denouncing him as a second-rate Benedict Arnold, while the liberal pundits who always ridiculed McClellan are hailing his belated truth-telling (while still ripping him as a sellout)."

Not fascinating, just predictable, but how much do we have a right to know about the inner workings of a White House and, perhaps more important, when?

In 1962, when Ike's former speech writer Emmet Hughes wrote a tell-all book about his Eisenhower days, John F. Kennedy was appalled.

According to Ted Sorensen, Kennedy thought Hughes "had betrayed the trust of Republican officials by quoting their private conversations against them" and told his White House staff, "I hope no one around here is writing that kind of book."

Sorensen didn't and was scolded by some reviewers for his reticence, but others did and made headlines. This month, almost 50 years later, in a 556-page memoir, Sorensen still isn't dishing any dirt.

No Scott McClellan, he. But Kennedy's counselor was not working for a president who consistently lied in public and took his country into an unnecessary war with those lies.

If he had been, as someone who knows Sorensen's character first-hand, I am sure he would have resigned and gone public with what he knew, as McClellan and so many others who knew more, like Colin Powell, did not.

Loyalty is a virtue in a public man, but the question McClellan raises is loyalty to whom--the occupant of the Oval Office or the people who put him there. If he had spoken out three years sooner, they might be putting up statues of Bush's former press secretary. As it is, he'll have only his reviews and royalties to warm him on the long winter nights ahead.

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