The People of the United States vs. McClellan

06/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What if we took Scott McClellan's new book, What Happened, for what it is: a confession of treason?

What if, instead of salivating all over the rear end of this lowest of toadies, we understood his memoir -- otherwise a grave crime against many trees -- as a plea? As in plea bargain: I will name names, I will give up my higher ups, in exchange for leniency in the eventual legal proceedings that I hereby admit I so richly deserve?

In other words, instead of welcoming him on Countdown and Fresh Air and Meet the Press, what if we treated Scott McClellan as a weak-willed, deceitful felon who aided and abetted an enormous crime that resulted in the deaths of four thousand American soldiers and half a million Iraqis, the displacement of several million civilians, and the theft of several trillion dollars? What if we treated him as someone who deliberately deceived the public in order to advance an agenda which he knew to be against the will of the people and which has resulted in the weakening of national security, the degradation of our military, the crippling of our economy, and the international demonization of our country?

They convicted and executed the Rosenbergs for far less.

Of course, none of that will happen. No, Scott McClellan's disgusting gravy train of a book is too good a story, the equivalent of political crack. Rather than treating the former Bush enabler as what he has admitted he is -- a criminal -- the media is rolling out the red carpet, treating him like a chastened hero trying to make up for past misdeeds. Even when they're beating him up, they validate the idea that Scott McClellan is newsworthy, that he belongs in their comfortable armchairs, rather than in a six-by-eight cell.

Call it George Tenet Syndrome -- there's no one sexier, no one whose word carries more weight, no one more deserving of a seven-figure book deal, than a repentant sinner.

(Thought of in those terms, let's just go ahead and call it George W. Bush Syndrome. Just think how much damage could have been avoided if the press hadn't been besotted by a spoiled ex-drunk who came up with cute nicknames for the reporters?)

It might be too much to ask that the publishing industry refuse to publish the crap written by people like McClellan, Tenet, David Frum, et. al., all of whom seem to be under the impression that they shouldn't be held accountable for their crimes because they were too stupid to realize they were committing them at the time. (And it's true, the U.S. Supreme Court has lately gone a bit soft on executions of the mentally incompetent -- so how about we settle for life in prison? May I suggest Abu Ghraib?) It might be too much to ask that PublicAffairs, McClellan's publisher, recognize that "I was just doing my job" is no more a valid defense now than it was at Nuremberg -- and I don't remember anyone there being sentenced to a lucrative book deal.

But I don't think it's too much to ask that Keith Olbermann and Terry Gross not waste their airtime, not pretend this man has some kind of authority or insight that your average parakeet couldn't muster. We've heard it all before -- how the intelligence was cherry-picked, how Bush always knew he was going to war, how mean old Karl and Scooter lied to poor li'l Scottie... There is nothing new here, no smoking gun, only testimony by someone who we all knew at the time was lying to us anyway. And as testimony, the proper place for it to be heard is in a courtroom, preferably while Scottso is wearing an orange jumpsuit with a big number stenciled across the front. It certainly doesn't belong on my television.

But of course the media's interest in repentance is more than mere voyeurism. The media have a vested interest in the rehabilitation of war criminals, and in the idea that those who took this country into an unprovoked and disastrous war can find forgiveness simply by mumbling some mea culpas and wearing a hairshirt -- and they can even get rich in the process.

What a country!

As McClellan lucidly -- if unoriginally -- points out, he and the rest of the traitors could not have done what they did without the complicity of the press. And we're not talking about the Washington Times and Fox News here, we're talking about the so-called intelligent press, the so-called liberals like Thomas Friedman and George Packer, neither of whom, to my knowledge, have gotten down on their knees and begged forgiveness for helping Scottie beat the drums. We're talking about Judith Miller, who managed to turn the New York Times into the NeoCon Newsletter and who will undoubtedly one day publish her own memoir of her terrible "ordeal" in which she admits to her "indiscretions" and offers juicy insider details about Scooter Libby's boxer shorts. And she'll once again be the talk of the town, just like McClellan and Tenet, treated as celebrities rather than as the power/money/attention whores they truly are.

It would be a small down payment on restoring this country's dignity if we pulped these books, locked up their authors, and sent every last penny of their royalties to the widows and orphans of our dead soldiers, and to the organizations that are going to have to rebuild Iraq and protect its people.

And it would be a further installment if we could at last tell ourselves the truth -- that what Scott McClellan has done is nothing less than betray our country, by knowingly helping his superiors betray our country. If you can find a better definition of treason, let me know -- or better yet, write a book about it.