George W. Bush is Not Kaavya Viswanathan

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 12 2010 2:51 PM

George W. Bush is Not Kaavya Viswanathan

I'm not sure if Ryan Grim has the goods here . Well; he has the goods for a fairly mundane claim, but not for an explosive claim.

Crown got a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial "decision points" of his presidency, the clip job illuminates something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir.

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The mundane claim is that Bush did not actually turn out a bunch of fresh stories, scoops, and anecdotes, things that no one knew about his presidency. And that's largely true. The only revelation from Decision Points has been the claim -- first noticed by Justin Elliott -- that Mitch McConnell asked Bush if it was possible to start drawing down troops in Iraq in advance of the 2006 midterm elections.

The explosive claim is that Bush lifted sections of reported stories and passed them off as his own experiences.

Bush writes of a comment made by his rival John McCain as if it was said to him directly. "The surge gave [McCain] a chance to create distance between us, but he didn't take it. He had been a longtime advocate of more troops in Iraq, and he supported the new strategy wholeheartedly. "I cannot guarantee success," he said, "But I can guarantee failure if we don't adopt this new strategy." A dramatic and untold coming-together of longtime rivals? Well, not so much. It comes straight from a Washington Post story. McCain was talking to reporters, not to Bush.

But Bush isn't claiming to have directly experienced everything in the book! He does a lot of scene-setting -- boring, I agree! -- and delivers the occasional revelation about how he reacted to events that were thoroughly reported at the time. Lazy, yes, not fun to read, but the "lifting" claim is a bit much. The book is a bad mash-up of previously-reported facts, but so are lots of books.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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