Spinning the Spinmeister

Even the spin doctors sometimes get spun.

It's not just the American people who were deceived by the Bush administration, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan asserts in his new tell-all memoir -- he says he was deceived, too.

As the mouthpiece of the administration, presenting the president's policies to the public, the White House press secretary serves at the pleasure of the president. But he is also a public servant, and as such, has a responsibility to be as honest as possible about what is really going on behind the closed doors of the Oval Office.

"As press secretary," he writes in his new memoir "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," "I spent countless hours defending the administration from the podium in the White House briefing room. Although the things I said were sincere, I have since come to realize that some of them were badly misguided."

McClellan accuses President Bush and administration officials of being "evasive" and "shading the truth" about the war in Iraq, Bush's rumored cocaine use and a White House leak that outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.

He chastises the president for his "decision to turn away from candor and honesty when these qualities were most needed."

Getting spun by White House officials, and parsing out what is true enough to share with the public is all part of the job, former President Clinton's press secretary Dee Dee Meyers said.

"It is incumbent on you, as press secretary, to talk to a lot of people and discern the truth yourself," she said. "Not everyone you work with will always tell you the truth. Sometimes they are spinning you, sometimes they have a position that is unresolved, and sometimes they're just covering their own backside."

Under the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle and regular briefs, there is "never time to be absolutely sure of all the facts. You would never be able to brief reporters if you had to be reassured of every detail," Meyers said.

Meyers said press secretaries must be skilled in telling the media just what they know without making assumptions about what they have learned.

"You stay away from situations where the truth may be evolving, and try to stick to those issues you can speak with complete confidence," she said. "Press secretaries try very hard to only answer questions they know the answers to. You listen very carefully to what people tell you and can't assume anything beyond that. You need to leave wiggle room when talking to the press."

Meyers said there were aspects of the Whitewater investigation she knew Clinton was not telling her about. Meyers explained how she knew that sometimes she was not told everything so she would not be put in the position of having to lie to the public to protect her boss.

"The press secretary is not supposed to be lied to at all. But it depends on the individual, the administration and the circumstances," she said. "Sometimes it's helpful for you to know some information and sometimes it is helpful not to know anything."

In his book, McClellan writes that he understood the rules and tried to give himself "wiggle room." When he echoed the denials of Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby regarding Valerie Plame, he said he was careful to pin the denials on them and chose his words carefully.

"There was only one problem," he writes of that strategy. "What I had said was untrue."

Many observers, both Bush insiders and critics of the administration, wonder why McClellan waited until now to voice these concerns.

"There is something about this book that just doesn't make any sense," Ari Fleischer, McClellan's former boss and predecessor, said in a statement. "For two and a half years Scott and I worked shoulder to shoulder at the White House. ... Not once did Scott approach me -- privately or publicly -- to discuss any misgivings he had about the war in Iraq or the manner in which the White House made the case for war.

"If Scott had such deep misgivings, he should not have accepted the press secretary position, as a matter of principle," Fleischer said.

McClellan writes that he was driven to write the book in an effort to tell the truth and be, metaphorically, set free.

He has, no doubt, burned bridges, but his decision to tell his truth may be what he was ultimately after, said ABC News consultant Matt Dowd, a former Bush advisor who parted with the President over Iraq.

"At some point you have to ask, what are you most loyal to? Are you loyal to a person? To the administration? To your own sense of truth?" Dowd said. "When there is a conflict between your loyalty to a person and your loyalty to the truth, you have to make a decision."