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US Papers Thu: McClellan "Sad," Disgruntled?
White House slaps back at ex-aide's tell-all; Iraqi optimism on the rise
By CHRIS ALLBRITTON 05/29/2008 01:49 AM ET
It's day two of the Great Betrayal, and all the papers have pulled up seats for the Scott McClellan-Bush White House smack down. Meanwhile, only the Christian Science Monitor decides covering, you know, the actual war instead of some meta aspect of it is worth some space today.

Memoir meltdown
David Jackson and Richard Wolf of USA Today report that the White House finds McClellan's harsh depiction of President George W. Bush as a disengaged almost-liar "sad." Awww. Finally, though, someone thinks to ask why McClellan didn't air his charges earlier. Former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta said the time to air differences was when policy was being implemented, not months after you've been shown the door.

After covering the story of McClellan's book yesterday, The New York Times turns loose Sheryl Gay Stolberg, who covers the reaction of the White House. As you would guess -- and as everyone else is reporting -- they ain't happy. This time, Stolberg writes that as press secretary, McClellan was part of the "swift, efficient and highly coordinated strategy" used by the White House to take on presidential critics. Now McClellan's getting a faceful of it:

The result was a kind of public excommunication of Mr. McClellan, waged by some of the people with whom he once worked most closely, among them Karl Rove, the political strategist; Frances Fragos Townsend, the former domestic security adviser; Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush's first press secretary; and Dan Bartlett, the former counselor to the president.

Their cries of betrayal served as a stern warning to other potential turncoats that, despite some well-publicized cracks, the Bush inner circle remains tight. Their language was so similar that the collective reaction amounted to one big inside-the-Beltway echo chamber.

The line of defense seems to be that poor Scott McClellan has suffered an emotional meltdown and was snookered by liberal New York book editors.

Elisabeth Bumiller and Anahad O'Connor of the Times go into White House reaction a bit more deeply, but it's s ultimately a redundant story.

The Washington Post is more reserved in their coverage, offering only a reax story and a fact-check between press briefing transcripts and accounts in the book. Dan Eggen handles White House reaction, and the compare-and-contrast piece is unbylined. It's also by far the most interesting story in this whole McClellan feeding frenzy:

Press briefing (Nov. 14, 2002)

"The president seeks a peaceful resolution. War is a last resort. But the choice is Saddam Hussein's. And we don't want any game-playing, and we've made that abundantly clear."

Memoir

"Though I sensed we were on the verge of war, I didn't fully appreciate how clearly yet subtly our messages demonstrated that Bush had been set on regime change from the earliest days of his decision to confront Iraq. ... President Bush managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."

John D. McKinnon of the Wall Street Journal also has a story.

Finally, the Times wraps it all up with an editorial calling McClellan's book the most tedious kind of memoir, the "I Knew It Was a Terrible Mistake, but I Didn't Mention It Until I Got a Book Contract" kind. And the editorial does one good thing: It reminds us that the Senate Intelligence Committee under its former Republican chairman never released a report that was to compare what administration officials said about Iraq's WMD and Saddam Hussein's hyped up ties to al Qaeda with what they actually knew. The new, Democratic Chairman is expected to release it next week, and we should all be interested in seeing how McClellan comes out.

Over there
Whew. Enough book stories. And a bit of catch-up. Yesterday, Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor reported on hi return to Iraq to report on the new spirit of optimism in the streets of Baghdad. There's even a picture of boys playing pool outside! His vignettes or normalcy are heartening. Apologies for missing this story.

Karen DeYoung of the Post writes that Iraq is looking for development partners, not handouts as it plans to exploit its water, oil and natural gas reserves in the coming years.

Sarah Abruzzese of the Times reports on the mental and spiritual stress that has fallen on military chaplains over the course of seven long years of warfare.

Political posturing
The Times's Jeff Zeleny reports that Sen. Barack Obama is considering a visit to Iraq to visit the troops. This story comes after Sen. John McCain complained that Obama had never been to Iraq so what business did he have criticizing the war. (I paraphrase.) Obama declined to go with McCain on a joint trip, saying he didn't want to be part of a political stunt, which was probably a wise call on his part.

Both the Times and the Post cover Bush's graduation speech at the Air Force Academy, in which he compared Iraq to World War II (in the Times) and said the U.S. was "learning as we go" (in the Post, by Michael Abramowitz.)

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