Monday, June 02, 2008

Scott McClellan on The Daily Show

Former White House Press Secretary [2003–2006] Scott McClellan has been all over the airwaves the last few days, since the release of his book What Happened, in which he asserts that President George W. Bush engaged in propaganda to "sell" the American people on the idea of going to war in Iraq. Tonight, he was the guest on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; video links and a full transcript follow below the fold, along with links to video, audio, and/or transcripts of some of his other recent appearances.

Video links (©2008, Comedy Central):


Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, he served as White House Press Secretary from 2003 to 2006, his new book is called What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception; please welcome back to the program, Scott McClellan. Sir!

How are you?

Scott McClellan: I'm doin' great! I don't know that I can top Fred [Schneider of the B-52's], but I'm doin' well.

Stewart: Welcome. Fred is all right. He really should've read [the audiobook version of] your book. Nothing against you, but your book, with you reading it, zzzzzz. It's actually a very good book, and I read it over the weekend, What Happened. You're takin' a lot of heat for this; you talked about "fight club," and now they've come out, and they've hit you with —

McClellan: A little puzzling to 'em.

Stewart: — he was "disgruntled"; what else have they said? He was "out of the loop." These are all the [Bush] Administration officials. Are they destroying you in the way that you thought they would? Does this miss "the McClellan touch"? You know, you were there when Richard Clarke did his book, you had some tough things to say about him.

McClellan: I actually saw him the other night, Richard Clarke.

Stewart: Did you really?

McClellan: Yes, and I apologized to him. I hadn't even read his book —

Stewart: Really?

McClellan: — and I was ascribing these motivations to him based on the talking points we use at the White House.

Stewart: On his, because you had said, "Richard Clarke, he doesn't know anything, he was gone for a year and a half"; how would you destroy you? What would you use on you?

McClellan: Well, I think the White House has probably been a little bit more personal than I expected; it was a little surprising how personal some of it got, but I think I would've stayed away from that. I think when people see the book and get a chance to read it, they see my sincerity in it. What I'm saying in there is my views.

Stewart: The criticism is mild and, especially compared to so many other books previously that have said similar things —

McClellan: Yeah, they're kind of turning this into "gotcha" points, and there's really a larger message in here that I think is one that a lot of us really want to see happen, which is end the partisan warfare in Washington, D.C. Let's move beyond, bring some civility.

Stewart: Here's my favorite one they've been using on you; roll the tape that they got here.
Dan Bartlett (on CNN): This is not the Scott we knew.

Fran Townsend (on CNN): It's just inconsistent with the individual that we knew as Scott McClellan, the Press Secretary.

Dan Bartlett (on CNN): Maybe this is a new Scott.

Trent Duffy (on Fox News): The voice that comes out of this book is certainly not Scott McClellan's.

Ari Fleischer (on CNN): Scott has said things that really don't, one, sound like Scott, frankly.

Karl Rove (on Fox News): This doesn't sound like Scottie.
Stewart: This is amazing: their argument here is, you're not you.

McClellan: I'm finally speaking for myself, but I'm "not me"; if they look at the book, and can get a chance to read it, they'll see who I am. That's who I am. I grew up as an idealistic guy who wanted to get involved in politics, joined the governor's staff, thinking we could change Washington — like he had done in Texas, where he was a very popular, bipartisan guy — and got there, and things didn't turn out quite the way we hoped.

Stewart: How does this happen? The "this is not Scott." Take me into the meeting where they brainstorm the terrible things they're going to say about you. Who's in that meeting?

McClellan: Sure. I'm sure there was a discussion. Probably the Counselor's Office, oversees communications —

Stewart: Who's in that?

McClellan: That'd be Ed Gillespie, the Communications Director —

Stewart: All right. Is the Press Secretary in there?

McClellan: Dana Perino, yes, she would be in there. They probably talked about —

Stewart: — and they say things like, "His brain was eaten by bats! That'll never work."

McClellan: No, no — body snatchers! They think it's an out-of-body experience. That's what they used early on, too. He's having an out-of-body experience.

Stewart: Really? They put these up on a blackboard and —

McClellan: Well, it's more talking amongst themselves and then coming up with those points.

Stewart: — and will they say, like, "This will be a great point, because it will make him look foolish"? How explicit is the conversation?

McClellan: Well, I think it's, yeah, "How can we discredit this? I mean, this has got a powerful message, and one that, you know, is not helpful to us right now." That's not the purpose of it — the purpose of it is something bigger, like I said, which is changing the way Washington works, but —

Stewart: But, see, I'm so interested in the way Washington actually works, because —

McClellan: It's good for you.

Stewart: No! Not as a thinking, breathing sentient being.

McClellan: The show.

Stewart: Yes, but, uh... You know, what I kind of want to figure out is — because you talk a lot about how this process was applied to the Iraq War —

McClellan: Right.

Stewart: The same process that takes the What Happened book and comes up with a list of pejoratives, was applied to war and policy.

McClellan: That's right. It's this "permanent campaign" culture that I talk about, and how destructive it can become, particularly when it's used in matters of leading the nation to war, where you should be talking about the actual truths of the situation on the ground, so that expectations are known going in and we understand exactly what we're getting into, what the costs are, what the consequences are, what the risks are.

Stewart: "What the costs are" — okay, for example, Lawrence Lindsey comes out, in the run-up to the war, and somebody asks him, "How much is the war gonna cost?" He says, "I dunno, maybe $100 billion, maybe $200 billion," and you have to run, then, to the President's office and say, "Oh my god! Somebody just mentioned something that's true!"

McClellan: Actually, I was travelling with him that day, and I had to warn him before he saw the press, just in case he got asked about it. He wasn't planning on taking questions, and he was pretty steamed about it, because it wasn't part of the "message" that we were trying to get out at the moment; he was really making news that we didn't want made, and that's a big no-no in the Administration.

Stewart: Now, how is that? You mention in the book that this was not willful deception.

McClellan: Right.

Stewart: How is that not willful deception?

McClellan: Well, what happens is that this becomes part of the culture in Washington, and this is the way both parties engage in —

Stewart: But that's a meaningless "culture of Washington" —

McClellan: — they engage in spin and manipulation —

Stewart: — if somebody says to you, "This is going to cost $200 billion," and you say, "Yeah, yeah — don't tell 'em that; just tell 'em it'll pay for itself in oil" —

McClellan: We didn't tell 'em anything, that was the thing —

Stewart: Well, no, guys came out and said, "It'll pay for itself in oil revenues."

McClellan: Absolutely. Some people —

Stewart: So that's a lie, that they knew.

McClellan: Well, I don't know. Paul Wolfowitz, I think, was one of those who said that; that's the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and maybe he really believed it, or convinced himself, I don't know, but it was definitely off-base.

Stewart: Somebody made a willful decision, don't talk about the price, because that truth —

McClellan: — may make people think twice about it, and the cost that concerned me more, of course, is the human cost, the irrevocable human cost.

Stewart: But this was just the one example: the irrevocable human cost, everything.

McClellan: Right.

Stewart: Isn't that the very definition of deception?

McClellan: Well, yeah, and the question is, if we start saying, Is this deliberate? or Is this intentional? or you look at it in a different light — is this just the way everybody does it?

Stewart: If they sat in a room

McClellan: — and that's what we've gotta stop.

Stewart: If they sat in a room and said, "When we go to campaign for this war, let's not tell them how much it costs — let's not mention it," that's a sin of omission. That's a lie.

McClellan: Yeah, there's really no difference whether it's deliberate or intentional or — or —

Stewart: There is.

McClellan: — not; they're both problematic in their own way.

Stewart: Bgbgbg — they're not both problematic: one is homicide; the other is involuntary manslaughter.

McClellan: That could be criminal, for instance.

Stewart: That's what I'm saying! That's my point! In the book, you make it very clear, you go out of your way to say you don't think it's intentional —

McClellan: And I don't.

Stewart: — but I haven't seen any evidence that it's not intentional, because everything was done with aforethought. It may not have been done with malice, so it may not be first-degree murder, but it was done with aforethought.

McClellan: See, I think these are good people; they just got caught in this whole atmosphere.

Stewart: It was done with aforethought.

McClellan: I don't —

Stewart: They sat in a room with each other and said, "Don't tell them any of the bad consequences that could come of this war, because we really want to do this."

McClellan: I don't think it was just like that.

Stewart: Bgbgbg — bgbgbg. Tell me what wasn't like that.

McClellan: Well, I think it was more talking about what's the strongest possible case we can make, it was talking about what we do put in there.

Stewart: We really want to do this. Well, it could cost $200 billion — don't mention that.

McClellan: Were you in there?

Stewart: Thousands of people may die — yeah, you might not want to bring that up. What if they call me in front of Congress to testify about it? Just fuckin' say somethin'. Isn't that — all right, we're going to take a commercial break. We'll be right back with Scott McClellan. Don't you think [trails off to inaudible]

[commercial break]

Stewart: Hey, welcome back! We're talking to Scott McClellan; the book is called What Happened. Actually, I actually enjoyed the book. Here's what I find so fascinating, and this has to do with the media's role in all this —

McClellan: Right.

Stewart: — and the way that — you say that they were "complicit." Ari Fleischer, who was your predecessor, and Karl Rove, who — whether you believe he has good intentions or not — clearly is the strategic head of the propaganda in the Bush White House —

McClellan: That's true, that's true.

Stewart: — were hired by news organizations. Literally spent their entire careers over the past few years lying to them, or to put it more pleasantly, obfuscating, and the people that they did that to went, "You guys are great!" and they hired them. How is that not — I don't know, from low self-esteem? Why would they do that? Why would they continue to aid these people?

McClellan: It's the whole relationship in D.C.: you know, they view them as the brilliant strategist that operates under these game rules and does a great job, so we value what he has to say.

Stewart: Is it now, like a bad movie, where they get a jewel thief and go, "Now you work for the cops!"? You know, is it that kind of thing? Like, what the hell is going on here?

McClellan: Well, yeah, it's just — they're complicit in creating this whole environment that exists in D.C., and I think we need to re-evaluate that.

Stewart: But can we re-evaluate it before we get candor? On the situation — you talk about —

McClellan: No. You're right — you need that first.

Stewart: You talk about them veering off course.

McClellan: Right.

Stewart: From my perspective, they've been on the same course all along. From the Day One that they started, when the President says, "I trust the American people's judgment," was bullshit, because, backstage, they were creating secrecy and rearranging the rules. From Day One, they were creating a façade.

McClellan: Here's the difference, just in my view. I was there, I still have personal affection for the President, but you've gotta separate your personal affection from his actions and deeds, and that's what I was able to do, once I stepped out of that whole White House "bubble."

Stewart: I don't know him personally, so all I have are actions and deeds.

McClellan: You haven't had him on yet?

Stewart: He hasn't been here yet. But, but, what do you say about that? The entire Presidency was a façade of public manipulation.

McClellan: I don't agree the entire Presidency, but there's certainly a lot of it. There's certainly —

Stewart: Name a part that wasn't.

McClellan: I think he is very sincere in his beliefs, but he takes it — like many other politicians do — and engages in that way. That's the problem.

Stewart: Doesn't he say, "I know what's best for the country, and your job is to help me sell that to the American people, without them realizing what we're really doing"?

McClellan: Well, he didn't say it that way to me, but he did say, "Your job is to" —

Stewart: Isn't that the gist of how Washington works now?

McClellan: That's one way to look at it.

Stewart: If we make the arguments on the basis of the actual argument, we lose; let's not make it on that basis.

McClellan: There is, absolutely, there's some of that. You can't win by being as open and forthright as you should be, and that's the big problem. One of the things I talk about in the end, about how we need to start with that, and then go to some other ways to solve this.

Stewart: When they leave, does this end?

McClellan: No, it started before us. It's been goin' on for 15 years, how bad this is, and, you know, both candidates are talking about ending it.

Stewart: Here's my last thing. On your last day — [to off-screen crew] can you play the clip of his last day with the President?
President Bush: One o' these days, he and I're gonna be rockin' on chairs in Texas, talkin' about the good ol' days [of his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, job well done.] — 2006-04-19
Stewart: Okay. [sets figures on the desk] I want you to show me somethin'. All right, so here are the chairs; I'll be the President, you can be you. How close, if this is the porch, how close are you sitting, and where's Cheney with the gun? [laughter] I appreciate what you're trying to do now, and I think candor is the only way to get past this, and I hope that other people take that lead. What Happened is on the bookshelves now; Scott McClellan!

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