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McClellan Memoir a Scathing Critique of Media, Too

GUY RAZ, host:

It's not just Democrats fighting one another but Republicans as well. This week, past and present White House officials went on the attack against former spokesman Scott McClellan. McClellan, of course, released his tell-all book, a scathing critique of the president.

McClellan's book didn't just shock the White House; it also took a lot of reporters by surprise, in part because he blasts the media to failing to ask tougher questions in the run-up to the Iraq war; questions that people like McClellan himself refused to answer.

Well, we thought we'd turn to Jonathan Landay. He's the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Landay was among the few reporters who questioned the administration's claims about the war before it happened. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN LANDAY (National Security Correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers): My pleasure.

RAZ: Why do you take this book so personally?

Mr. LANDAY: What this book has done is sort of revived the whole debate over what the administration did to sell the war to the American people and indeed the world. And it has rejuvenated the debate also on the rule that the news media played.

RAZ: When somebody like Scott McClellan comes out and in a sense reverses course, does it surprise you or does it anger you?

Mr. LANDAY: I have to be absolutely perfectly honest, I'm somewhat angered. What they were putting out rises way beyond the level of propaganda. I've become convinced that what they were doing, what they were running, was a military-style disinformation campaign.

RAZ: You're talking about the White House press secretary.

Mr. LANDAY: Absolutely.

RAZ: Under Scott McClellan.

Mr. LANDAY: That he was complicit. And to come out now and try and do this mea culpa, for me, just doesn't wash.

RAZ: I mean, doesn't Scott McClellan have a point in a sense when he argues that the media didn't do its job in questioning the administration hard enough?

Mr. LANDAY: Oh, he's absolutely right about that. Some of the news organizations that helped sell the administration's case for war are still not willing to take responsibility for what they did.

RAZ: Do you see anything positive maybe coming out of this book?

Mr. LANDAY: I think it's a good thing whenever someone like Scott McClellan decides to come out and be honest. But as the media itself having an opportunity to reexamine the role that it played in helping to sell the war, I haven't seen any indication of that. Indeed, I've seen leading media figures who seem to be trying to exonerate themselves for a failure every bit as egregious as the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to do its job in assessing properly the threat that Iraq posed.

RAZ: Jonathan Landay is the senior national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers. Jonathan, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. LANDAY: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.