[[E X C U S E S]] * We can thank the old TV series Happy Days for inspiring the “jump the shark” metaphor. But it’s George W. Bush who has given that phrase new currency. “Jump the shark” refers to a 1977 episode of the show in which Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli (played by Henry Winkler), dressed in swim trunks and his familiar leather jacket, manages to leap over a confined shark while water skiing. Many fans of the once-popular show pegged that as a desperate bid to halt Happy Days’ downward slide. Similarly, political observers can be forgiven if they saw today’s exaggerated efforts by White House officials to excuse Dubya’s sanctioning leaks of classified information about Iraq to a reporter in 2003 as no less clear an example of jumping the shark.
The Washington Post this morning paraphrased the words of an unnamed senior member of the administration, who suggested that Bush--who in the past has railed against government leakers--“sees a distinction between leaks and what he is alleged to have done. The official said Bush authorized the release of the classified information to assure the public of his rationale for war as it was coming under increasing scrutiny.” (The most important aspect of that unattributed statement, as Kevin Drum makes clear in his Political Animal blog, is that it confirms “Bush did know about the leak, and he did authorize it.”) Later, White House spokesman “Stonewall Scotty” McClellan insisted to reporters that what Bush did was “very much in the public interest” and that it had not been motivated by “crass politics.” He was referring to persistent rumors that the prez and his minions had released the information, which appeared to back up the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction, in retaliation against former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose writing in The New York Times had questioned Bush’s rationale for attacking Iraq. (Another aspect of that retaliation is said to have been the deliberate “outing” of Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame.) But, of course, “crass politics” were very much behind Bush’s approval of the leaks--and they were, by definition, leaks, no matter what Scotty and other Bush defenders say--if by sanctioning the release of confidential information he hoped to influence public debate on the advisability of committing American lives, dollars, and military equipment to the cause of “regime change” in the Middle East.
McClellan and others in the Republican administration have necessarily become well practiced in the dark arts of semantic gymnastics. But endeavoring to protect the obsessively secretive Dubya by putting it about that he endorsed disseminating hush-hush intelligence to a New York Times reporter with only altruistic motives, that he wanted to keep Americans in the loop prior to his attacking Iraq in March 2003, is beyond ridiculous. Even more over-the-top is the black-is-white argument that Bush--who, you will remember, doesn’t do nuance--sees nuances as big as Kansas between leaking information and what he did in allowing Dick Cheney’s now former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to talk off the record with a White House-friendly Times newsie. In the words of a previously scandalized president, Richard M. Nixon, Bush believes that “when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” The White House simply wants now to confuse the electorate, to raise reasonable doubt about the prez’s duplicity in this affair. But unlike the Fonz, Bush--who is already losing favor with the U.S. public--can’t expect to jump the shark and enjoy a smooth ride on the other side.
READ MORE: “The Leaker-in-Chief,” by William Rivers Pitt (TruthOut); “Throw Scooter from the Train: Should the White House Try to Ditch Libby?” by John Dickerson (Slate); “A White House Defense Develops--But It’s Hardly Compelling,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “Scott McClellan Stonewalls on the Leak Disclosure,” by Farhad Manjoo (Salon); “Any Bush OK of Leak Is Probably Legal,” Tom Hamburger and Greg Miller (Los Angeles Times); “Farewell, Fig Leaf,” by Eleanor Clift (Newsweek); “The Bushes: A Hereditary Trait for Treason? Surely Not!” by Tony Hendra (The Huffington Post).