May 28, 2008
Leah Yoon, NPR





May 28, 2007; Culver City, CA Ė In an interview airing today with host Alex Chadwick on NPR Newsí Day to Day, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush says he is ďheartbrokenĒ and ďstumpedĒ by what Scott McClellan has written in his new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture. Mr. Fleischer said that if McClellan held such opinions of the President and his advisors, he should never have accepted the press secretary post.

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A rushed transcript of the interview with Ari Fleischer is below.. All excerpts must be credited to NPR News Day to Day. Audio of the interview is available at

Day to Day offers a fresh take on national and world news, culture, politics and technology. Hosted by Alex Chadwick and Madeleine Brand, it offers listeners a newsmagazine airing in the schedule between NPR flagship programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Since its premiere in 2003, it is public radioís fastest-growing new program and has increased its audience in every ratings period since launch.


ALEX CHADWICK: Ari Fleischer was President Bushís first press secretary up through the early days of the Iraq war. His own book about that time is ďTaking Heat.Ē Ari Fleischer, what went through your mind when you read reports of this book?

ARI FLEISCHER: Well, thereís just something about it that doesnít make any sense to me, and Iím heartbroken about this. Scott was always a great deputy to me, very reliable, trustworthy, and never once did he come up to me and express any misgivings that he had or to anybody else that I know of about the war or the manner in which the White House prepared for the war.

MR. CHADWICK: He uses the term propaganda. Thatís quite a term. And heís talking about President Bush. I think heís talking about you as well. Heís talking about the message from the White House.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, thatís what really struck me is if Scott thought it was propaganda, then Scott should not have accepted the job as White House press secretary. If Scott viewed what the White House was saying was so irresponsible or wrong that it rose to the level of propaganda for him, itís not a job he should have accepted. He should on principle have declined it.

MR. CHADWICK: Did you have any discussions with him about this at the time about what you all were saying about the war in Iraq, about getting ready for it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I did, and Scott was 100 percent fully on-board. Scott helped me prepare for the briefings. Scott and I would talk about what I was going to say. His job should have been to report them to me. He worked for me. He should have said, I wouldnít say that if I were you, Ari. Or, Iím not sure I could say that, Ari.

MR. CHADWICK: Hereís a specific that Mike Allen quotes. And we spoke with Mike about this. Larry Lindsay, the chief economic advisor to the president, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying Ė this is before the war starts Ė as saying the war might cost 100 to $200 million. And the president gets very angry and tells Scott McClellan he shouldnít be talking about that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I remember that. And I remember it well. And I think Scott has told that accurately. The presidentís direction to the staff was if America goes to war, we go to war for moral reasons, regardless of the financial cost. And so he didnít want people talking about what dollars and cents might be. You either go to war or you donít go to war. And I remember standing at the podium, when I got asked about that; Scott helped me prepare for that briefing.

MR. CHADWICK: Well, in this recounting of it, itís part of this propaganda. Donít talk about how much itís going to cost. Indeed the administration said itís going to cost much less than that. In fact, it has cost much, much more than that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, thatís why again, the presidentís guidance was if America goes to war, we go to war whether itís a dollar or a trillion dollars because it saves lives. Itís not an economic decision; itís a moral decision.

MR. CHADWICK: Youíre speaking about the obligations of the role of the press secretary. What about someone who feels that theyíve been misled by the administration, that they have lied for the administration, and that people above them knew they were lying. Thatís a charge that Scott McClellan levels in this book, I believe Ė I havenít read the book yet, but in Mike Allenís account Ė in regards to the Valerie Plame affair, the CIA agent whose identity was revealed.

MR. FLEISCHER: Right, and I think Scott has legitimate grounds for complaint about the way the White House staff told him about that. Thereís no question about that. He does. And Scott made it clear in this book that the president was also misled by the staff. And those staff members are no longer there.

But itís the statements that he made about the war and the propaganda that I just donít understand. Those are the issues that I think rise to the level of, if thatís what you think, then donít take the job. This has happened before Ė press secretaries have resigned on principle. But if itís not in your heart, you canít do a good job from that podium.

And it always was in Scottís heart. Scott took the podium. He repeatedly defended the war and the approach to the war. Even after Scott left the White House, he went on TV shows and defended President Bush and the war. So I donít know what changed so dramatically for Scott in the last few months, several months, that led him to write a book that was so different from everything I saw about Scott personally and privately.

Something changed. And there are parts of this book that just donít sound like Scott. Scott, to me, will always be a friend and somebody who I always relied on. And I donít know what could have led him to have such a dramatic change of heart.

And I talked to Scott yesterday.

MR. CHADWICK: You did?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yeah, and Scott and I remain close. And thatís one of the reasons Iím so heartbroken about this. Scott told me that this book really did change. And he said this book ended up a lot different from the way it got started. He told me he didnít know if he could write a book like this a year ago.

MR. CHADWICK: So when this story broke, you called him and spoke with him.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, I called Scott because Scott and I frequently Ė we periodically have kept in touch ever since he left the White House. And when Scott and I, we got together Ė gosh Ėa year and a half ago for breakfast. And I remember talking to Scott about the book and he told me how good it was going to be for President Bush.

MR. CHADWICK: Well, you had a private conversation with a friend who has written this book, which you know is about to become very, very public. And in the course of that, you donít develop any greater understanding about why he says what he did over the course of a time that was critical to both your lives?

MR. FLEISCHER: He told me it was going to be a tough and honest book is how he put it to me. He said there would be things in here that the press is really going to focus on. Theyíre going to focus on the criticisms is what he told me. And he told me that he always thought the president was well intentioned, but on the big picture that the president and Scott were not in line.

At that point, the story did not appear in Politico. So I hadnít seen yet just how tough and rough this book was. And Scott didnít read to me any of the passages in it. And then I saw the Politico story.

MR. CHADWICK: Well, did you ask him in that conversation, what do you mean tough and rough? What happened? Why are you doing this?

MR. FLEISCHER: I didnít say why are you doing this. I wish I had said to him, Scott, why are you doing this? What changed? I wish I had asked him that. I think if I had seen the Politico story before my conversation with him, I surely would have.

MR. CHADWICK: Are you going to call Scott McClellan again today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yeah, I think I probably will. And I will always Ė I will always on a personal level wish Scott well. Scott was a great deputy to me. Scott was reliable. And Iíve nothing but good memories of the time we worked together. And Iím sure Scott is going to be very busy right now. And I think heís uncomfortable, too. In our conversation yesterday, you could tell he was a little bit uncomfortable because he was about to Ė but you could tell he was a little bit uncomfortable because he knew he was going to be out of sync with the people he used to work for.

MR. CHADWICK: Ari Fleischer runs Ari Fleischer Communications. Itís a consulting company in New York. Ari, any more books coming from you?

MR. FLEISCHER: (Chuckles.) I had one book in me and I think thatís probably about it.

MR. CHADWICK: It was ďTaking Heat,Ē his account of the White House years. Ari Fleischer, thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.