BOOKS: ‘Not My Fault’ Scott McClellan

They reviewed it a couple weeks ago but the NY Times Book Review had an interesting piece about Scott McClellan’s memoir today:

**‘Not My Fault’ **

. . . The book’s impact is all the more remarkable given how familiar its revelations are, whether it’s McClellan’s crushingly obvious remarks about the administration’s selling of the Iraq war, Bush’s contempt for the press or Vice President **** Cheney’s penchant for secrecy. As Joshua Green wrote in The New York Observer, “For all the hype on cable news shows and blogs, ‘What Happened’ adds almost nothing of value to the historical record.”

. . . The eulogistic memoirs of an earlier time were consequential, partly because their authors drew on their own notes and diaries, which very few officials dare to keep in the scandal- and subpoena-driven Washington of our time. Raw material of this kind enabled officials to wait before telling stories that still arrived with a sense of immediacy. Henry L. Stimson’s 1948 doorstop, “On Active Service in Peace and War,” published several years after he ended his tenure as secretary of war, drew copiously on Stimson’s personal papers. “A Thousand Days,” Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s retrospective account of the Kennedy White House, relied heavily on Schlesinger’s diaries. Dean Acheson’s masterly “Present at the Creation” was published in 1969, almost two decades after he left office. And the first volume of Henry Kissinger’s invaluable memoirs, “The White House Years,” did not appear until 1979, when he was well out of government.

How did we go from these cigar-and-brandy tomes — often intended to burnish the reputations of their authors and also those of the presidents they served — to sensationalistic trifles like “What Happened”?

One answer lies in a less well-known but equally important countertradition, the dyslogistic school of memoir written by former officials who present themselves as disillusioned innocents. A classic instance is Raymond Moley’s “After Seven Years,” published in 1939. Moley had been a charter member of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s brain trust but grew disenchanted with what he saw as the president’s sharp turn to the left. Presaging Scott McClellan, Moley brooded histrionically about his employer’s failings: “To say that I was sick at heart over what was happening would be the epitome of understatement. I was also completely baffled. Was Roosevelt really ignorant of the implications of what he was doing?”

Or (my take) the economics of publishing nowadays are such that former White House whatevers can’t wait because in a couple years nobody will remember them. So, quick! call in the ghost writer – um, research assistant – and dish all the dirt you can. Nobody’s going to buy an “insider” memoir to read nice stuff about the President (any president) so if you always got along & he treated you right you’ll just have to wing it.

I heard somebody on the radio say that a bumbler like him was selected as press secretary because he made Pres. Bush look almost literate. Pretty funny remark.

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