The Right Coast

March 30, 2004
A Book to Sell, An Axe to Grind
By Mike Rappaport

I watched much of the Richard Clarke interview on Meet the Press. A couple of reactions.

First, Clarke is an articulate and polished spokesmen for his point of view. He comes across very well in these settings.

While some of the force of what he says comes from his ability to point out, after the fact, mistakes or oversights by the Bush Administration, much of his impact come from rhetorical skills. He has several different maneuvers that he uses. As one might expect, media expert Cori Dauber identifies his main tactics.

A couple of these tactics:

Its not about me. The problem is that when his criticism of the Bush Administration depends on his credibility, it is in part about him.

Its for the families. As Dauber says, “He's draping himself in the families like a cloak. He's only doing this because the families have a right to know. I find this especially annoying. It's a form of political armor, a way of demonstrating that his motives are pure: if he's doing it for the families, then to question him must mean you are trying to keep something from the families, right?” Dauber finds this annoying. I find it despicable.

What the White House did and what Clarke did. As Dauber says, “Listen to Clarke talk about the Bush administration pre-9/11. They did nothing. He did X, Y, Z. He's totally dissociated himself so that even though he worked for them, whatever actions he took are not actions that count in the administration's column as steps taken pre-9/11.”

The problem is that it takes some thought and expertise to recognize that he is employing these tactics.

In the end, it is a bit sad that Clarke has chosen to make his allegations in a heavily promoted book, during a political campaign. Had he presented these ideas at another time, in a less politically strident manner, it would be easier to listen to these criticisms. Now, unfortunately, it is all about defending his reputation and promoting his book.