Cheat-Seeking Missles

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan Proves The Need For The Odd Press Secretary Model

Scott McClellan, former presidential press secretary turned turncoat with the publication of his memoir, has quite a publicity storm around him this morning. Here are the links under the lead McClellan story this morning on memorandum:
The Swamp, Attackerman,, The Corner, MSNBC, Too Sense, Daily Kos, Political Machine,, Outside The Beltway, On Deadline, Redstate, Brilliant at Breakfast, Informed Comment, Hot Air, Don Surber, THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™, Emptywheel, Washington Monthly, Pam's House Blend, Facing South, David Corn, The Raw Story, Jules Crittenden, I Am TRex, Crooks and Liars, Romenesko, The Moderate Voice, Donklephant, Oliver Willis, The Reaction, Political Byline, The Washington Note, First Draft, Liberal Values, KIKO'S HOUSE, Connecting.the.Dots, Alternate Brain, Salon, The Art of the Possible, RADAMISTO, Macsmind, Political Punch, Rising Hegemon and Taegan Goddard's …
You can certainly read them, but they boil down to this: Everyone on the left says McClellan vindicates everything they believe about President Bush, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby; everyone on the right says he's a cheap sell-out. That's not what I'm writing about, per se.

Rather, I'm writing about McClellan's job. Not his job performance, which Seth Liebsohn nails down pretty well at The Corner, but his job.

In many ways, it's like my job. I am often the public spokesperson on a project, but my job is different from McClellan's old gig in that I don't allow myself to be kept in the dark so that my comments can be limited and my deniability can be plausible. I believe the role of the communications consultant is to understand all the facts and work with the client team to determine how best to present them, both immediately and over time.

Of course, the job of White House Press Secretary also is not at all like my job. There's much more interest in his client; there are many, many more stories; the press is never avoidable, and most importantly, the stakes are exponentially higher. That's why the typical and tested White House model is to have a senior circle -- consider it too simply as President Bush and Rove -- and an junior circle that is briefed fully enough to communicate what the senior circle decides.

Would I take such a job, one that sets me up to periodically be a fog machine on the truth? I certainly wouldn't in the private sector, or for any government position short of a national security position like McClellan's. To take a press secretary job at the White House, CIA, State or Pentagon means that you understand your role as a distributor of designer information. And that means that after you leave, you don't write a book complaining that you may have misled the media. Of course you misled the media.

McClellan did more than attack Bush; he attacked the position of White House Press Secretary, making it unlikely the Press Secretary will ever be admitted into the Senior Circle, for good reason. And in the process, he underscored the unseemly character of his work.

One of the major blabs in McClellan's book has to do with the Plame Game, and the actions of Rove and Libby. Off limits. National security. McClellan can point to the legal battles and the Leftist lingo, but as a former White House official, he should see this matter is now tied up in the war debate, and since the administration is in office and the war is still going on, there is nothing at all that he should say about it.

His writing on Katrina has nothing to do with national security, but he still shouldn't be writing it because he accepted a job that entailed an understanding of his position not just while he was on the payroll, but after -- again, at least as long as the current administration is in office.

His is the worst kind of sell-out. We gather no new information from him because he is a junior level guy who (by smart design, it turns out) wasn't in the information loop at the senior levels. So we read his opinion about how the administration blundered in handling the war. McClellan has no meaningful perspective to offer there because he was on the tail end of the info-trian.

And we read that he thought the picture of Bush surveying the Katrina damage from Air Force One was a bad idea, but he was overruled. Interesting and correct -- but if the price we have to pay for it is having him undercut the administration for 30 pieces of silver ... well, let's just say that McClellan illustrates the necessity of the senior tier/junior tier model.

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