Truth or Spin?

by Dr. David Gruder

Is Scott McClellan an opportunist, a spin doctor with ulterior motives, or someone who feels too guilty about having been part of a White House culture of deception and propaganda to remain silent? Listen to this sample of videos. Then read my comments that follow them.

The first pair of videos are from CNN and provide a range of perspectives about McClellan and his book prior to when McClellan started giving interviews about it. The second is McClellan in his own words with Tim Russert. The third is Russert stating his own perspective about McClellan. The fourth is Keith Olberman interviewing McClellan. The final one is of Pat Buchannan commenting on McClellan.

Check this two-part video from CNN aired before Scott McClellan began to give interviews about his book:

Check this video of Scott McClellan being interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press:

Check this video of Tim Russert responding to Matt Lauer’s questions concerning Russert’s opinions about Scott McClellan:

Check this video of Keith Olberman interviewing McClellan:

Check this video of Pat Buchannan being interviewed on Fox News:

My impression is that more people who don’t like what McClellan wrote are refuting him by questioning his motives and assassinating his character rather than through providing objective data that refute his allegations.

Questioning motives and character assassination is a propaganda-oriented response strategy. As such, It is an anti-democracy strategy because it emphasizes spin and de-emphasizes facts.

In order to function properly democracy requires that a full range of objective facts be disclosed and that the strengths and weaknesses of a range of possible conclusions based on those facts be explored. The McClellan firestorm is yet another example of how sloppy the Americans culture has become in their willingness to tolerate the co-mingling of facts and spin.

So far, McClellan appears to have many of the facts accurate. The timing for the release of this book, however, seems to have ulterior motives. But, this is where it is important to understand the book business more than the business of politics. Publishing is a high-stakes business. Publishers need to, and deserve to, make money on books they publish. That is basic capitalism.

Before deciding whether to believe that the timing of this book’s release has to do with McClellan having ulterior motives, consider first the possibility that when he signed his book contract he may have signed away control over when his book would be released. Consider first that a publisher wants to release book at times when they have the greatest chance of generating the greatest profit. Consider first that a publisher’s motives are more likely to be profit-driven than politically driven because their first responsibility is to stay in business.

Keep this in mind when you are deciding whether to believe allegations that McClellan must be lying in what he says in his book simply because the book was released at a time when it might generate the greatest amount of attention.

As of today, in light of this, my inclination is in the direction of McClellan having spoken up largely out of a combination of a guilty conscience and a profit motive. No one who believes in capitalism is entitled to disparage a profit motive. The ethics question is whether McClellan significantly turned facts into spin in order to generate profits. The practical question is whether the facts themselves are compelling enough so that the book would sell about as many copies without spin-doctoring as it would if it were spin-doctored.

My own perspective is that the facts are powerful enough on their own merit to make this book a bestseller. It would therefore be a real shame if McClellan or his publishers chose to cheapen the value of his book by turning facts into spin — and if this happened it wouldn’t be the first time this occurred.

But, as of the moment, I am inclined to believe McClellan’s main points for one main reason: he has been smeared mostly through impugning his motives and character rather than concretely disproving the points themselves.

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