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The Treason of the Speechwriter

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Ever want to really stick it to a glory hound colleague who you feel is robbing you and others on the team of the proper share of limelight–perhaps, say, in a national magazine of great reputation for intellectual and policy heft?

Alas, it appears you have to work in the White House to get the chance, which may or may not be worth it. Matthew Scully is livin' the dream for you. See his extended flaying of his dear old friend and colleague (who is also, just so ya know, a lyin' sack of crap, except when he was telling Scully how he just couldn't do it without him when begging him not to quit), Bush superspeechwriter Michael Gerson, in the new Atlantic.

Sample here, need to be a subscriber to get access to all the evenly expressed comic bile. It's a masterpiece of resentment, as well as educational about how playing the press makes reputations in D.C., and well worth seeking out in full.

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  1. I read the article yesterday, and I found it fascinating. Scully completely skewers Gerson for the latter’s rampant dishonesty (which seems to border on the pathological), but manages to achieve a tone of humility and fairness at the same time (which makes the skewering even more powerful). Scully seems to be relying not merely on his own memory of events; as he says, his account can be verified as everything was archived.

    One quibble: I don’t think that Scully is upset that he was robbed of his “proper share of the limelight.” He seems to be of the view that presidential speechwriters should not occupy the limelight at all. He seems more concerned that productive and fulfilling collaborative effort was sullied and betrayed by the desire for glory.

  2. I know that’s the attitude Scully is trying to sell, Ethan, but to my reading resentment drips off every line of this, espec. the part quoting Gerson’s begging Scully not to leave him. I’m not sure it’s a proper response to defend the lack of limelight for speechwriters with a long Atlantic feature filled with details about who wrote what and contributed which and when and where–and it sure as heck wasn’t Mike “the press wuuuvs him” Gerson….

  3. I think you are right that he is resentful. (Who among us wouldn’t be?) But he might have been perfectly happy had none of the team member’s names ever seen the light of day.

    So perhaps it’s this: he didn’t care about the limelight, but if there has to be limelight it should be based on what really happened.

    Perhaps I am being too gullible here. I suppose there is no reason to think that Scully isn’t very much a part of the Washingtonian scene he critiques and is with his article holding up his end of the game.

  4. Sorry about the double negative in that last sentence. I think what I meant sort of comes through.

  5. I read the scully piece this weekend too.

    Both of you are right. Its definitely a hack job dressed in morally superior tones. But I think it’s also tinged with some resentment about the failures of the Admin in general with policy… often due to this kind of ‘political’ infighting and credit-claiming where it was unwarranted. But I think Brian characterizes it correctly. In the end, it seemed like 1 jerk undermining an even bigger jerk, and neither come off well for the effort.

    I was sort of miffed with the space they gave the piece in the atlantic. I’d rather have read something substansive about like, war, or china or something… instead, most of the magazine was the Rove eulogy, fallows taking a cruise in a B2 for no reason, and this scully guy bad mouthing his former buddy. You’d think there were more important things to publish

  6. I actually wonder whether the Rove piece was a spark for his bowing out this week. Whereas the previous Atlantic piece nailed Rove as being a mean SOB, this argued that his central intellectual conceit — bringing on the new McKinley era — actually led to the Bush collapse.

  7. What amazes me is people fighting over who gets credit for Bush’s terrible speeches. It ain’t just bad diction…

    Stuff like this always brings to mind what it must have been like watching court eunuchs fight over influence in the Ottoman Sultanate.

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