The IUSB Vision Weblog

The way to crush the middle class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation. – Vladimir Lenin

Lesson Learned: White House Kiss & Tell Books Are Rarely Accurate

Posted by iusbvision on September 22, 2009

Every Administration has this problem, the onligitory kiss & tell book. Usually they are written by those with slightly disfunctional personalities who make everything about them and are filled with high school level drama.

The Paul O’Neil book was filled with inaccuracies that have been well covered or were disputed by many others who were in the White House. The Richard Clarke Bush bashing book ended up having key points that contradicted Clarke’s own on the record previous statements and testimony.  I wrote about many of the contradictions myself and spelled them out in detail. Former Press Secretery Scott McLellend wrote his kiss & tell bookwhich was also shown to have its share of inaccuracies by documents and people in the White House.

While these books are the latest examples, kiss & tell books from both parties tend to be nearly equally incredible.  An exception was the book written by former CIA Bin Laden Unit Commander Dr. Michael Scheuer who was hard on both the Clinton and Bush administrations with time showing the book to be at least directionally accurate.

The latest book is By Matt Latimer is quickly showing to be nothing new. Notes and testimony of those around him are showing an all too familiar pattern.

Here is Dana Perino debunking Latimer’s claim that President Bush did not even know Sarah Palin. Considering how tight Bush always was with the Republican Governor’s Association the idea that Bush didn’t even know Palin is next to impossible to believe.

This is from Latimer’s former supervisor.

Wall Street Journal:

When Speechwriters Kiss and Tell A man I hired was not the star he thought he was.


When the sun rises over our capital city this morning, its denizens will awake to a truly novel tale: The aggrieved ex-staffer—wait for it!—disillusioned by Washington. The tome out today is by former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer, who describes the White House as “less like Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing and more like The Office.” In Mr. Latimer’s hands, it reads more like “The Princess Diaries,” full of hurt feelings and high-schoolish drama.

Like all kiss and tells, “Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor” is thick with atmospherics intended to suggest the author’s importance: a West Wing office, meetings in the Oval, rides on Air Force One, etc. Like most kiss and tells too, it’s divided between heroes (Mr. Latimer and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and idiots (pretty much everyone else). And like so many kiss and tells, the tale of failure, foolishness and vanity it reveals is not necessarily the one the author intends.

As the senior staffer who brought Matt to the White House, let me start by adding some perspective. In a memoir that takes us from Matt’s childhood in Michigan through all the morons and phonies he worked for in Washington, only Mr. Rumsfeld gets the full gush. Left unmentioned is that Matt is on Mr. Rumsfeld’s payroll, working on the former Defense Secretary’s memoirs. Not that Mr. Rumsfeld need fear. If this book is any guide, an employer will read how stupid Matt really thought he was only after he’s no longer being paid.

In the same way, Matt neglects to mention that personnel took away his West Wing cubby when they needed space for someone more important. Or that he spent the next few weeks knocking on every door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, looking for a room sufficiently grand to display his large and ever-expanding collection of framed testimonials to himself.

Ditto for Air Force One. Yes, he was on it, but not because he was important. To the contrary, I put him on it because he was failing. At one point in the book, he admits that he “never felt the connection” he was supposed to feel with the president. Bringing him into the Oval and getting him on Air Force One was a (losing) attempt on my part to get the president to warm up to him. These are distasteful things to have to say publicly about someone who once worked for you. And I would have taken them to the grave had Matt not used these props and the snippets of conversation he picked up to paint a highly distorted view of some very good people during some very tough times.

Nowhere is this clearer than in his account of putting together the address to the nation the president delivered last September during the financial crisis. Matt does capture the chaotic feel that surrounds any last-minute, high-stakes, prime-time speech. In his version most everyone—the president, economics adviser Keith Hennessey, counselor Ed Gillespie, etc.—comes across as a bumbling idiot.

I was gone by then, and had my own doubts about some of the solutions proposed. But I also knew Ed and Keith to be solid free-marketeers. And I had a better appreciation for the difficulties involved when I called Ed and he recounted a Roosevelt Room meeting that had led to the president’s speech.

In that meeting, the Fed chairman and the Treasury secretary warned the president that if he didn’t intervene, the global financial system was in danger of collapsing and America of plunging into another Great Depression. Certainly the decisions should be debated. But, Matt takes the cheap route, snarking about people struggling with those decisions while never explaining what he would have done differently.

As for how conservative President Bush was, this too is a legitimate argument that will continue for years. As conservatives debate, however, surely the hurt feelings of a speechwriter ought to be weighed against a record that includes turning around the war in Iraq, standing up for our intelligence officers, supporting our allies in Eastern Europe with missile defense, cutting taxes, concluding trade agreements, appointing good judges up and down the federal bench, and standing firm on the preciousness of human life—positions that brought down the derision and mockery of elites across our country.

In fairness, it’s not all yucks. On the day Mr. Rumsfeld resigns, Matt recounts a scene in the Defense secretary’s office. “You were my star,” (emphasis in the original) he tells Matt. “And, uh, I probably never told you that.” Right there in the secretary’s office, Matt reports, “I started to cry.'”

Right there too we see Mr. Bush’s greatest failing: Never did he look into young Matthew’s moist eyes and tell him, “You are my star.” If he only had we would have a very different book.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: