Stars, Stripes and Spin

Yes, I used the S-word. In our profession, it’s a rather dirty one. (Just ask the folks at PR Watch.)

But if there is one arena in which that term is truly applicable and where spin can be seen at its best, worst and ugliest- it is American politics.

Therefore it is kind of ironic that one of the more candid peeks behind the heavily fortified curtain of W’s administration comes from…his former press secretary.

In his new book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, Scott McClellan apparently alleges that the current administration used slick propaganda tactics to hoodwink the American public and lead them to support the war in Iraq.

According to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post

McClellan stops short of saying that Bush purposely lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, writing that he and his subordinates were not “employing out-and-out deception” to make their case for war in 2002.

But in a chapter titled “Selling the War,” he alleges that the administration repeatedly shaded the truth and that Bush “managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.”

If this is the case, if these allegations prove to be true, one would have to consider those responsible as the Sith Lords of spin- dark masters of a pitch black version of the profession of public relations.

And that is why their lackluster attempts at crisis management in reaction to the book are an additional (and much smaller) shock.

According to The Huffington Post, their response to one of the administration’s former foremost champion’s searing accusations is this:

“Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House,” said current White House press secretary Dana Perino, a former deputy to McClellan. “We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.”


True, they are trying to manage a crisis and sometimes speed is of the essence but surely someone should have considered giving this draft one more polish? This is their response to a former insider, one of their own, having made deeply troubling accusations? That’s it?

Surely they had an inkling that this book was on its way to being published and so they must have had time to plan crisis management strategy to have one ready when needed? But this is it?

As for Mr. McClellan, it could be that he’s just trying to get his take on this massive mess in first and put himself in the best possible light. (And hey, that’s human. We all try to make ourselves more attractive every day, be it to potential dates and mates or potential employers- in Mr. McClellan’s case, he also has to try to make himself more attractive to future historians who will scrutinize this period mercilessly.) But it could also be that he’s not. And that possibility is, frankly, beyond scary.


6 comments so far

  1. Oldlady on

    Don’t know whether Mr. McClellan is book-selling or job-hunting, but it would seem that he is either not bright or not reliable. Whatever the truth about his relationship with what the facts turn out to be, would you hire this man????

  2. abbymartin on


    Fair point! No, I don’t think I would hire this man as he may have proven to be both the things you mentioned. And yes, he may be in this to make money and spin (there’s that word again) his role in this for posterity. But it’s more candor than you get from anyone else currently in W’s world. That’s a plus in my book. And I love the irony that it comes from a press secretary.

  3. Mike on

    I think the administration’s best bet to bury this story is to ignore it as much as possible, so a minimalist response may not be a bad idea. If they react to it, they let the media play it up. Given the gravity of the accusations in the book, this story hasn’t gotten as much coverage as it could have so far. Of course this may also be because people just expect this sort of behaviour from the Bush admin now, so the book just reinforces a perception that’s already out there.

  4. abbymartin on


    you may be right. But to couch it like a 6th grader trying to explain why she and her BFF had a falling out- which is sort of what the “sad” and “puzzled” bit sounds like…not great crisis management. Minimalist yes, but better crafted would be- better.

    And yes, I think the book does reinforce a perception that is prevalent and only becoming more so.

  5. Michael Bekiaris on

    Um…at first I thought this was top news, but then I discovered that he wrote a book… that he’s published… for money. I think that knocks his credibility quite a bit as a whistle blower.

  6. abbymartin on

    Mike B- welcome!

    Agreed to an extent- he isn’t doing this for decency but for dollars. However, since almost nobody in that administration is admitting or even talking about mistakes…this constitutes something of a breakthrough.

    Also, I really love the irony of having a “spin master” be the first person to tell (a bit of) the truth.

    Thank you for your comments, oh person I cite as wise about Twitter in my first post.

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