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A not-so-sacred, not-so-lonely process

An English professor at Dartmouth used to say, “I don’t really know what I think until I write it.” He was referring to the fact that thoughts crystallize when subjected to the rigors of the English language and its rules of usage and grammar. And he was paying homage to the magic of the lonely, and in his mind sacred, encounter between author and (in those days) paper.

Scott McClellan seems to be relying on the same point. He claims that he did not set out to write a memoir sharply critical of the administration but that in the process of actually writing the book, the scales dropped from eyes. This would explain, I suppose, why McClellan’s book so flatly contradicts many of his public (and to colleagues, private) pronouncements. He never really knew what he thought until he wrote it.

There are a few problems with this defense, however. First. my English professor wasn’t making the absurd claim that facts change when you write them. Second, McClellan’s book is not the product of a lonely encounter with his keyboard; he had help. The help came from, among others, Peter Osnos, a former Washington Post writer. Osnos is the head of the liberal publishing company that published McClellan’s book. It is he who helped transform McClellan’s early concept — a “not very interesting , typical press secretary book” — into a vitriolic attack on the Bush White House.

Osnos denies that he ghost-wrote or heavily edited McClellan’s book. However, he does take credit for making sure that the book “pass[ed] our test for independence, integrity, and candor.”

The question then becomes, what would that test look like as applied by Osnos. Here, we encounter the fact that, according to Brett Baker of Newsbusters, Osnos’ publishing house is affiliated with the far-left The Nation magazine and is the publisher of books by George Soros. It also published The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder. Since that book apparently passed Osnos’ test for integrity and candor, one can infer that McClellan’s original account of his time in the Bush administration did not, and that a major shift in tone and content was required of him before the book could see the light of day. In this regard, Osnos admits to having worked very closely with McClellan and the book’s official editor, Lisa Kaufman.

Based on this information, and perhaps on his time at the White House too, one might truly say that Scott McClellan never really knows what he thinks until someone else tells him what that ought to be.

UPDATE: Some may wonder whether bloggers know what they think before they write it. Bloggers actually rely on a different sort of magical process: we not only know what we think before we write it, we know what we think before it happens.

Seriously, though, as a blogger and writer of legal briefs, I’ve learned to think in complete paragraphs. But the paragraphs often do change, or lead to additional paragraphs, when it comes time to write them.

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