Alter Loves McClellan Now, Bashed Stephanopoulos in 1999

Scott McClellan is a truth-teller when he whacks President Bush today. George Stephanopoulos couldn't find the truth in bright lights with two hands when he attacked his boss in 1999. These are both stands taken by Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter. But on Thursday night's Verdict with Dan Abrams on MSNBC, he slapped conservatives around as the pathetic partisan position-shifters. When Abrams asked how McClellan had just performed in his interview with Keith Olbermann, Alter was impressed:

I think he did very, very well. This guy is a truth-teller. He might not have been telling the truth from the podium in the press room all of the time, but what he said rang true with a lot of the other accounts we have of what‘s gone on inside the Bush administration.

You know, the test here on whether he should have done this or not -- go back to the Clinton administration when George Stephanopoulos wrote that book. If you weren‘t against Stephanopoulos telling the truth from his perspective about the Clinton administration, you can‘t be against this. You can‘t have it both ways.

So, anybody who wants to come on this show or any other show and trash Scott McClellan, I hope that 10 years ago they were trashing George Stephanopoulos. I doubt they were, but they were excited.

But in fact, Alter played it both ways. A little Nexis searching finds a New York Observer book review of the Stephanopoulos tome by Alter in the March 22, 1999 issue, in which Alter describes how Stephanopoulos had learned to lie and deny with all the shamelessness of his master:

One evening during the fall of 1992, I took George Stephanopoulos and James Carville out for dinner in Little Rock. I had written a column in Newsweek about then-Gov. Bill Clinton's use of language, noting that when he'd complained to Ted Koppel in January about "a woman I never slept with and a draft I didn't dodge," it was another form of "I didn't inhale." Bill Clinton screwed Gennifer Flowers, I argued, but because he never actually closed his eyes and went to sleep with her, he could say he wasn't lying.

George Stephanopoulos was particularly contemptuous of my theory that night, and now I know why. "Even had I known for certain then [after Nightline] that Clinton's closing statement wasn't really true, I would have had a hard time admitting it to myself," he writes in his new political memoir, All Too Human. "I was in battle mode, and nearly anything we did, I believed, was justified by what was being done to us."

After our dinner ended, George drove back in his battered Honda, and James and I shared a cab back to the hotel. James, whose performance-art spin I always found more entertaining and less smug than George's, told me earnestly that George was the only truly indispensable person in the Clinton campaign. The reason for that, James said, was that George had learned to think exactly like Bill Clinton, which meant that the candidate could literally be in two places at once.

Alter's take on Stephanopoulos and his book wasn't as negative as his review of the New McClellan was positive. But here's the other weird part: Nexis shows Alter never wrote a column in Newsweek mentioning Ted Koppel and Gennifer Flowers. He mentioned Koppel once (April 20), and Flowers several times, but never together. Koppel was cited not on the draft dodging, but as objecting to Clinton claiming he was enjoying Jerry Brown staying in the presidential race. Generally, Alter insisted in his columns that the Flowers matter wasn't worthy of being considered by the voters. 

So who's having trouble being a truth-teller?

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