« Analogy of the Day | Main | Hardballin' »

August 09, 2007

Inventing Michael Gerson

Matthew Scully's long, bitter takedown of Michael Gerson, his former boss in the White House speechwriting shop, is a great read. The portrait of Gerson as a credit-hogging, manipulative climber is fun enough, but the article is more interesting for providing such an extended tour of the craft of speechwriting is carried out. Bureaucracy is fascinating, dammit!

But where Scully is furious with Gerson's constant attempts to court glory and befriend reporters, I think Scully gets closer to the truth towards the article's end, when he writes:

Harder to explain than one man’s foolish vanity is the gullibility of those who indulged him. Mike had the benefit, I suppose, of presenting an easy positive story to reporters generally hostile to President Bush. If only to keep up appearances or reward a faithful source, reporters had to find a happier angle on the administration. They needed something nice to say, and some color to go with it, and why not start with the bookish evangelical?

If Michel Gerson did not exist, the White House press corps would have had to invent him. Gerson appeared to possess the qualities that the Bush White House laid claim to, but jarringly lacked. He is genuinely devout. Heart-on-his-sleeve compassionate. Eloquent. Thoughtful. And reporters who wanted to construct a narrative of decency at the core of this administration had to search beyond Rove's role as the cynical tactician, or Cheney's profile as a malevolent alarmist, or even Bush's role as a disengaged idealist. They needed Gerson, whispering in the president's ear, and demonstrating the character values that, for so long, the press corps let stand in for good governance. Gerson may have been a climber, and he may have courted the press, but his campaign only succeeded because his profile was so perfectly suited to the media's needs.

Why they were so desperate to invent this Michael Gerson character to justify the actions of a bad administration is, sadly, an article that has yet to be written.

August 9, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

There's a disconnect here somewhere. 98% of the public has no clue who Gerson is or was. I don't see how he could have been all that useful a "creation" to the press.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 9, 2007 3:23:15 PM

"And reporters who wanted to construct a narrative of decency at the core of this administration had to search beyond Rove's role as the cynical tactician, or Cheney's profile as a malevolent alarmist, or even Bush's role as a disengaged idealist."

Nice sentence.

Posted by: Joseph Hovsep | Aug 9, 2007 3:38:44 PM

There's a portion of the press that talks to the public and a portion that talks to political elites. And they all know who Gerson is.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 9, 2007 3:40:43 PM

Without epistemology, how would you know your senses are not misleading you? How could you be certain of anything?No argument against epistemology per se. Just an appreciation for its limits and pitfalls. If I can define the terms, I can determine the logical outcome.I think Ezra's point is that Gerson's imagined virtues allowed the press to conceive a spurious balance to the influence of Rove and Cheney when assessing the current Administration. Said imagined balance having a direct effect on the coverage they presented to the public.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 9, 2007 3:41:43 PM

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 9, 2007 3:43:05 PM

I'm not much of an elite, so I may have missed most of the pieces about Gerson directed to elites. I recall one, and there were no doubt others, but Gerson was never that big a deal as far as I could tell. I don't recall anyone ever suggesting anything that implied Gerson's influence was remotely comparable to Rove's or Cheney's. As a minor character he provided some color and possibly a bit of cover, but not very much.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 9, 2007 4:01:59 PM

Could someone point me to a few examples of reporters using gerson as a bedrock on which to lay "a narrative of decency at the core of this administration"?

Posted by: iron pimp hand | Aug 10, 2007 3:31:12 AM

but Gerson was never that big a deal as far as I could tell.

Gerson was responsible for a large number of leaks to journalists and helped them form their narrative of the stories they were writing about the White House. He was a confidant of many of the journalists who thought they were getting the "inside track" for what was going on in the White House. To a large degree, this allowed journalists to assure themselves that despite the public radicalism of Cheney and Rove, the White House, "was really pretty moderate."

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 10, 2007 9:50:32 AM

I realize, Sanpete, that none of this sort of inside baseball means much to you, because the narrative of the administration and the Republicans as a moderate, reasonable group of people who only want good things for government isn't one that you apply any skepticism towards. And, in fact, this was the very narrative that Gerson was feeding to the press, because it was a narrative that they (and you) wanted to believe.

The white house administration was not perceived as radical and off-the-rails almost until Hurricane Katrina when it became too obvious to ignore. One of the reasons for this was people like Gerson who assured the press that regardless of what the president said or did, they were actually all good, moderate people.

Your statements are much like claiming that PR agencies were "never that big a deal" because you rarely read about them getting quoted in the news.

Posted by: Tyro | Aug 10, 2007 9:55:30 AM

Yikes. My previous post should have read:

I think Ezra's point is that Gerson's imagined virtues allowed the press to conceive a spurious balance to the influence of Rove and Cheney when assessing the current Administration. Said imagined balance having a direct effect on the coverage they presented to the public.

I'm going on vacation for a while.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Aug 10, 2007 10:34:27 AM

Tyro, besides being wrong in your efforts to read my mind (are you hearing voices too?), you missed the point at issue. Was Gerson a character "created" by the press to fit their needs, a character presented to the readers as the moderate, genuine voice of the Administration? Not much. He may have been feeding stuff to the press, as many, many others, including Rove and Cheney's office were, but that isn't the same thing.

Posted by: Sanpete | Aug 10, 2007 12:23:29 PM

I just read the article by Scully--what he describes happens to many people with bosses who are full of themselves. As I understand it, this is foremost a case of a guy who relentlessly promoted himself at the expense of his colleagues and, if Scully is right, even at the expense of the president.
In the big picture, though, this is not a problem contrary to the administration pushing for and enough Democrats in Congress voting for the so-called "Protect America Act" that expands the surveillance powers of controversial attorney-general Gonzales.
http://www.reflectivepundit.com/reflectivepundit/

Posted by: Brigitte N. | Aug 10, 2007 7:49:08 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.