Skip to comments.The Book(s) On Bush
Posted on 04/25/2004 8:11:07 AM PDT by BerkeleyRight
It is rare to have books exploring the legacy of a presidential administration still in its first term. It is rarer still to have the number of insider accounts that Americans have access to in 2004.
These books appear to be painting history before our eyes, said Charlotte Abbott, news editor of Publishers Weekly. No one in the industry of publishing can remember a time since Watergate when so many political books have come out and the public has been interested and a lot of those Watergate titles came out after.
One of the reporters who first exposed Watergate, Bob Woodward, has his latest book, Plan of Attack, in bookstores this week. It chronicles the Bush administrations march to war in Iraq.
[CBS News and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Woodward's book, are both owned by Viacom.]
Preceding Woodward, former top terrorism adviser Richard Clarkes highly critical account of President Bush's approach to the war on terror went on sale.
And earlier this year, Pulitzer Prize winning Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind began the trend of tell-all political texts with his book The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul ONeill.
Suskinds book tells the story of O'Neill, the former Bush treasury secretary who cooperated with the author and the events that led to his disenchantment with the president, alienation from his inner circle and his eventual firing.
Taken together, the three books depict a Bush administration that was intent on going to war with Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001, and only became more intent after the terrorist attacks that day. By 2003, the books contend, the administration had become so ideologically fixed on war that a culture was created that was open solely to intelligence that supported an invasion.
The books paint a picture of President Bush as both a decisive leader and an uninformed commander in chief.
Woodwards book seconds Clarkes contention that from the first days of the Bush presidency Iraq was a top-agenda issue, and that while Mr. Bush was focused on tax cuts and education reform, he largely ignored the terrorism problem prior to Sept. 11.
Woodward writes that before Mr. Bushs inauguration, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney passed a note to outgoing Defense Secretary William S. Cohen instructing Cohen that the main topic of his briefing to the incoming president should be Iraq even though the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole had occurred just months earlier.
Woodward's book also says that CIA Director George Tenet told President Bush in December of 2002 that evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a slam dunk. Suskind's book describes Tenet as having inconclusive evidence that he was pressed to frame in a conclusive light.
Where Woodward is critical of Tenets decisiveness on the WMD issue, ONeill defends the CIA chief. Suskind quotes ONeill as saying, Everything Tenet sent up to Bush and Cheney was very judicious and precisely qualified.
Woodward describes an encounter that followed a CIA presentation on what was then known about Iraqi WMDs. Mr. Bush tells Tenet to improve the case because it is not something that Joe Public would understand or would gain a lot of confidence from.
Giving a sense of the presidents preoccupation with Iraq, Clarke writes that the day after the Sept. 11 attacks Mr. Bush pressed him and other aides to see if Saddam did this, despite assurances from that all evidence pointed to al Qaeda. Clarke says he was taken back, incredulous at the presidents insistence.
Leo Ribuffo, a presidential historian at George Washington University, says, As a historian I feel two ways about these books, on the one hand it is the closest real access you can get until records are opened God knows when.
On the other hand, it's a lot of gossip and unverified quotations, he adds, referring to Woodwards reliance on mostly anonymous sources. Insider books are not new but the pace has speeded up and there is a real live war now. We may not notice it all the time, but its there. That makes us pay more attention to Clarke or ONeill.
And the insider accounts will continue. Next week, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson's book, "The Politics of Truth," goes on sale. Wilson publicly asserted that the Bush administration exaggerated its claims of Iraq's nuclear capabilities. The identity of his wife, an undercover CIA official, was then disclosed to the press an act Wilson views as retribution. Wilson's book will reveal whom he believes leaked the information about his wife. The matter is currently under investigation by federal authorities.
Woodwards book is expected to sell well beyond its first printing of 750,000. Clarkes book had such astounding sales that Sony Pictures bought the film rights. The best read of the lot, Clarkes book can seem more Tom Clancy than lifelong Washington bureaucrat.
Worth noting, the film of Clarke's book will be produced by John Calley, who worked on the 1976 adaptation of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Carl Bernsteins book All the Presidents Men.
The Woodward, Clarke and Suskind books have so far not damaged Mr. Bush in the polls. Nonetheless, they have been the impetus for weeks of news stories and have prompted repeated denials from the president and his top staff.
Clarkes book influenced the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks and led to the White House reluctantly allowing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify on Capitol Hill.
In short: the books have had great influence on Washington politicians and reporters yet it remains to be seen if they will have a lasting influence on the public perception of President Bush.
"The impact of the books is not produced by people who read it, it is by people who watch television," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on presidential politics.
"I don't think you've ever had three books coming out in sequence and moving onto the bestseller list, all of which had a focus on the current administration and had insider information in them."
I agree. Clinton sure got a pass from the media on EVERYTHING during his first term,and, except for the Rush Limbaugh show, there was no way to counter it. (I didnt get internet access untill his second term. Too little, too late).
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