Did Ron Suskind Make Stuff Up About Bush's Brain?

While the networks avoid anti-Obama authors – perhaps implying to the folks at home that their facts are disputable – they honored anti-Bush author Ron Suskind with booming "bombshell" (or "gasoline on the fire") reports as he made wild claims that Team Bush forged a letter to make the case for war. In Tuesday’s Washington Post, book reviewer (and former Post reporter) Alan Cooperman praises Suskind for an engaging narrative and a reputation as a skilled reporter, but then finds the author's novelistic flair goes overboard. He suggests Suskind is making stuff up when he pretends to mind-read what President Bush is thinking:

But this novelistic literary technique gets spicier and dicier -- a lot spicier, a lot dicier -- when the narrator of "The Way of the World" goes inside the head of the president of the United States. The same morning on which Usman Khosa was detained and interrogated by the Secret Service, we are told, President Bush "flips absently through a briefing book with some talking points for the day and forces himself to focus," because:

"For him, it's always been a struggle between the analytical and the emotive -- the former, an effort; the latter, so natural, so clarifying. His feelings, his hunches, have gotten him and his nation into some tight spots. He's aware of that. So he's tried to be more attentive lately, tried to read the briefing books -- to study them, with their seasoned, prudent, boring-as-hell advice.... What no one understands, no one but Cheney, is how hard some days are. People are not bending to his rightful desires as they used to. He remembers what it felt like, in the two or three years after 9/11, to possess native authority, and he misses it."

Khosa may have revealed his innermost feelings to Suskind. But unless I miss my guess, President Bush did not. Is it even remotely plausible that Bush confided to the author that nobody but the vice president really feels his pain? Conceivably, Suskind's descriptions of Bush (a lifelong "bully" full of "bonhomie and vengefulness") may be based on reporting among the president's close associates. But Suskind gives no clue to the identity of his White House sources; he doesn't even explicitly claim to have any.

Cooperman went on to say that he trusts that Suskind has the goods on Bush, that his unnamed sources are worth trusting. But he clearly thinks Suskind’s mind-reading technique damaged the book’s credibility:

The moral of Suskind's story, in short, is that nothing succeeds like truthfulness. Yet the greatest damage to the book's credibility is inflicted by none other than the author, who chose an emotionally powerful, novelistic voice over candor with his readers.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis