Scott McClellan's new confessional that's pointed the finger at Bush administration figures in the Valerie Plame scandal reminds me of something my husband got in the mail, in the autumn of 1983. We called it the "I Didn't Do It" letter.
It arrived unexpectedly one afternoon from the offices of gold trader Alan Saxon, the CEO of Bullion Reserve of North America. The letter notified all interested parties and investors (thank heavens that didn't include us) that the strange smell that was starting to emanate from his company was nothing to worry about. In effect - "everything's mellow. No problems. Nothing to see here. Move along. And whatever it was, rest assured, it wasn't my fault anyway, and I didn't do it." My husband puzzled over the curious letter and then set it aside. At the time, he said - "hmmm... sounds like somebody's writing an 'I didn't do it' letter." Almost immediately afterwards, news broke of Saxon's sudden suicide, amidst a growing scandal surrounding his company. Seems some 30 to 35-thousand customers were about to find out they'd been fleeced, after having invested in approximately 60-million dollars worth of alleged precious metal assets that never existed.
I suspect we're going to see a mountain of "I didn't do it" letters, speeches, interviews, and books from any number of Bush-era refugees, penitents, former apologists, and various other cover-up artists and former cheerleaders, and probably a few Democrats who now feel it's safe to grow a spine - in the months and years ahead.
It's already underway. We've already had a rather incredible one from Iraq War architect Douglas Feith, "War and Decision," in which he points the finger at everybody else around him for botching his fabulous, altruistic, high-minded plans for a new century American empire that delivers democracy at all costs, including at gunpoint if necessary.
"It wasn't me! I'm not to blame! I didn't do it (well, okay, maybe not that much of it)! Go look at those guys OVER THERE!"
Hilarious indeed, if it weren't so damned infuriating.
But the guy General Tommy Franks condemned as "the f***ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth" is hardly alone.
The escape artists are already assembling in the wings, awaiting their turns on center stage. They can't distance themselves from George W. Bush and his White House corruption/incompetence/increasingly likely criminality fast enough. Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee's "Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President," conservative economist Bruce Bartlett's "Impostor: How George W Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," and the first public speech-making by now-retired Iraq war General Ricardo Sanchez are just a few.
They're the ones speaking up NOW. Early administration escapees including former terror czar Richard Clarke ("Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror") and ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill ("The Price of Loyalty") tried to get everyone's attention about the deceit and media manipulation, and were sneered at, shouted down, and frozen out. Clarke now comes back on cable news with a reminder of that defiant if unstylish truth-telling "...when the war was popular, and WE were not popular for saying what we said."
So it begins in earnest, with McClellan's controversial new tell-all. I knew this would happen. And there WILL be more, especially as previously intimidated figures might now feel emboldened to come forward with their own tales of woe, assuming that the roaring war dragon that bullied them into the dirt is itself now on life support and no longer a threat.
Watch and see. There will be truckloads of these sniveling, pathetic mea culpa/pass the buck books (and speeches, and letters) - written by a cavalcade of sniveling, pathetic former Bush apologists, insiders, "loyal opposition" Democrats, and media people either hoping to assuage their guilty consciences or perhaps trying to cover their behinds against possible future prosecution. Truckloads. There will be the "I didn't do it" books, the "they made me do it" books, the "it wasn't my fault" books, the "I wuz framed" books, the "I didn't mean to do it" books, the "I had nothing to do with it" books, the "they bullied me into doing it" books, the "I was used" books, the "I was lied to" books, the "I couldn't help it" books, the "I was just following orders" books, the "I tried to stop it but nobody would listen to me" books, and more. They'll all plead poverty, ignorance, or good intentions while desperately trying to distance themselves from what they enabled, ignored, or otherwise helped make possible. There will also be numerous volumes either fingering Dubya directly or indirectly, or offering lame cover for him - the "Bush was lied to, TOO!" books, and many versions of "everybody around Bush did it except for me" books.
I watched the night before this column was written as the hapless White House correspondent Ed Henry of CNN took great pains to point out how HE was NOT covering the White House "at the time", when Anderson Cooper asked him about the Scott McClellan assertions. We've seen others, like MSNBC's Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews, breathlessly insist that they were never for this war - "never" in their case meaning a convenient change of heart maybe in the last year or two. NBC's David Gregory insists he always asked probing questions about the war and other Bush/Cheney outrages, but I don't remember noticing any backbone from him until early 2004 when Bush's Texas Air National Guard duty came under momentary scrutiny (ultimately ending Dan Rather's career, fouling it on a technicality). And even now, Katie "Navy SEALS ROCK" Couric, newly chastened, converted, and openly doing penance, is confessing the sins of a news media willingly steered horribly and tragically wrong:
"I think it's a very legitimate allegation," said CBS News' Katie Couric. "I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism.
"And I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it," Couric added. "I think it was extremely subtle but very, very effective."
In the same panel, ABC's Charles Gibson incredulously defended the media, insisting they did, too, ask questions. And NBC's Brian Williams protested that it couldn't be helped, considering "the mood of the country" at the time. Couric, boldly and surprisingly, disagreed: "Our responsibility is to sometimes go against the mood of the country," she said, "and ask the hard questions."
NOW she gets religion.
Several years ago I attended an event featuring Michael Moore, on the heels of his greatly successful and controversial "Fahrenheit 9/11." He recounted an episode with Couric, who had interviewed him about the film on the "Today" show while she was still its cohost. He made the charge, back then, that the media was being used by the White House warrior wannabes. They cut to commercial and started removing their microphones, whereupon she leaned over to him and quietly admitted - "you're SO RIGHT!" Moore said Couric then told him about a stern memo she'd received from "upstairs," scolding her for an interview she'd conducted with some White House operative. She said the memo followed a complaining phone call to the NBC brass from the Vice President's office - taking issue with her "tone of voice" during the interview, and made it clear that she better back off, PRONTO. Moore recalled that he was stunned by this revelation, and urged her to blow the whistle: "WHY don't you say something??? Why don't you write an op/ed piece in the 'New York Times' or someplace? You're Katie Couric! You're one of three people in the entire country who can't be fired!" Her response, Moore recounted, was "Someday, I will."
Evidently Couric's "someday" has now arrived, at least in part. She'll have plenty of company in the months and years ahead. The book by Dubya's second of four press secretaries is just the appetizer. Am I being harsh, as a retired anchor/reporter, with this critique of my former industry, and many of its figures by name? Yes, I am. Because they've earned it. Rachel Maddow recently asserted that some public shaming may well be in order, calling out individual reporters, anchors, and pundits for their misdeeds, misstatements, and misleadings - by name - to get their attention and perhaps force some rehabilitative soul-searching, particularly in regard to their coverage of this White House. I'd say the same to Scott McClellan and everyone else who apparently believes the coast is clear to come clean - at this late date. Even if I don't do so, many of them will, in effect, "out" themselves with their own published attempts at atonement.
The saddest truth remains, whether it will have been written in 2001 or 2021. History will eventually regard these authors as collaborators and appeasers beyond anything Neville Chamberlain could have rationalized. Their failure to defy this White House and try to get to the truth, even back when it was "unpopular," is directly responsible for the death, destruction, waste, carnage, and bankruptcy that's resulted from Bush's war and multiple other scandals. Whether in the mainstream media or inside the corridors of power (in either party for that matter), they were uniquely positioned to stop this runaway train, or at least slow it way down. They "didn't do it," alright. They're nothing but a bunch of latter-day Lady MacBeths. And all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten their little (blood-covered) hands.