Entry from June 10, 2008

One example of the informational land rush that I wrote of last week is the ignominious rush of the former Bush administration spokesman, Scott McClellan, to stake his claim to the lucrative patch of media bottom-land that goes to the guy who can plausibly represent himself as the one-time insider who has turned whistle-blower and finally told what he can plausibly represent as “the truth” about the administration.

So how’s that working out for him then? It can’t be the best of signs that The New York Times editorial about Mr McClellan’s memoir, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, was headed: “I Knew It All Along.” I thought when I saw this that it was a hilarious self-parody, conscious or (more likely) unconscious, of the Times’s own editorial style, but it turned out on closer inspection to be the words the editorialist imagined in Scott McClellan’s mouth. More elaborately, this anonymous personage characterized the import of the turncoat’s message as, “I Knew It Was a Terrible Mistake, but I Didn’t Mention It Until I Got a Book Contract.”

Just so. How odd is it, then, that, this acknowledgment of Mr McClellan’s material interest in pushing his latest version of the truth should not suggest to the Times’s editorialist so much as a scintilla of doubt that that version is the truth. The Truth tout court. Not that this curious and unwarranted assumption of version two’s veracity as being quite as perspicuous as version one’s falsehood makes our oracle respectful of that truth. Far from it! Mr McClellan’s belated recognition of the sins of his former friend and employer is dismissed as nothing more than “his far-too-late admissions.”

In other words: “I Knew It All Along”!

The Times has grown so accustomed to regarding every piece of news that comes into the newsroom — or at least every piece that is “fit to print” — as a mere confirmation of what it already knew that the paper’s great and good hardly know they are doing it anymore, let alone recognize the irony of the fact that in doing it they are guilty of precisely what they endlessly accuse President Bush of doing, which is “cherry-picking” intelligence. To some extent, of course, we all do this, since intelligence is not self-interpreting, and we have to pick out the bits that we think are most significant and distinguish them from that which is irrelevant or disinformation or mere background noise. We will all of us be often wrong in making these choices — even Barack Obama, who is running on a platform that boils down to “I Knew It All Along and I Always Will.”

In other words, nobody knows it all along.

But the intellectual vanity, self-importance and arrogance of those who pretend to be able to see everything in advance is a big part of what makes the Gray Lady so insufferable to large numbers of people, including even some of those who share her prejudices. Lately, she has been at it again, hyping a partisan Senate report that takes a McClellanish view of the origins of the Iraq conflict as “The Truth About the War” The one truth we can be sure of is that no one, not even President Bush himself, will ever know “the truth about the war.” A little of the humility it would require to admit as much would not come amiss, either among the Times’s editorial writers or in the political arena which so often seems to take its lead from them. We may get closer to or farther away from the truth, but thinking that we knew it all along is the sure way to miss it completely.

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