Texas Monthly’s October issue, currently on the presses, contains an excerpt from Robert Draper’s well received book about George W. Bush, “Dead Certain.” It actually got a good review from the New York Times, which is rare for a Texas author not named Cormac McCarthy or Lawrence Wright. Draper is a former colleague and a continuing contributor to the magazine, so I’m prejudiced on his behalf. I bought the book yesterday and I immediately skipped ahead to the part about Election Day 2004, when the first reports were that Bush would lose the election. It’s riveting. But NewsMax, a conservative Web site, sent out an article today quoting former White House chief of staff Andy Card and another former staffer, Brad Blakeman, making critical comments about the book in interviews with Ron Kessler, a writer for NewsMax. Here is Kessler’s report:
Former White House aides have been reacting with anger and dismay to Robert Draper’s book “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush,” and the fact that former counselor Dan Bartlett asked them to cooperate with the author.
“Draper calls me a ‘Maine native,’” former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card tells me. “I have a place in Maine, but I’m from Massachusetts. I was a Massachusetts state legislator and ran for the Republican nomination for governor of Massachusetts, for crissakes. He had my wife’s name spelled wrong. He had my previous titles wrong. These are things that are easy to check on the Internet.”
Card said it was his understanding that, as Draper writes, John Roberts recommended Harriet Miers to President Bush as a Supreme Court nominee. Chief Justice Roberts’s spokesman has issued a statement saying that account is “not true.” But Card said he did not have first-hand knowledge and therefore does not know if Draper is correct.
Card said the book was wrong when it quoted him as saying to Sen. Chuck Hagel, just before Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont switched from being a Republican to an independent, that Jeffords “doesn’t deserve” to meet with Bush and to be shown respect.
Card denied that he felt “hurt” because Bush had already decided on Josh Bolten as his replacement before the president accepted Card’s resignation as chief of staff, as Draper claimed.
“It’s not true that I was hurt,” Card said. He said he kept a list of possible successors for every major job in the administration.
“At the top of the list, if I got hit by a bus, was Josh Bolten,” Card said.
Basic items such as his morning meetings were mixed up, Card said. He noted that Brad Blakeman, who was deputy assistant to the president and director of scheduling, was listed in Draper’s book as staff secretary.
“When there are obvious facts wrong, the whole tome loses credibility to me,” Card said. “Nor was the book very insightful. The Texas crowd [including Dan Bartlett] knew him. I didn’t know him. I suspect it [the decision to give Draper access] was the Texas crowd hanging around the Texas crowd.”
Brad Blakeman said former White House aides have been exchanging phone calls about what he called the “embarrassment” that the White House chose to cooperate with such an author.
“Any cub reporter would have gotten the facts down cold because they are a matter of public record,” said Blakeman of Draper, who is a national correspondent for GQ magazine and previously was senior editor at Texas Monthly. “It’s ridiculous to cooperate with somebody who obviously is not thorough. He had no track record writing books. The only previous books he wrote by himself were a novel and a minor book on Rolling Stone magazine.”
In TV appearances, Draper has called the administration “disingenuous” and has agreed with Chris Matthews of MSNBC that military officers have been afraid to express their honest opinions to Bush.
“Draper looks disheveled on TV, and he is critical because the media expects it, and it sells books,” said Blakeman, who is president and CEO of Freedom’s Watch, a new conservative group. “They gave this guy access when he clearly was not qualified.”
Blakeman, who was interviewed for the book by Draper, said Draper tape recorded interviews and yet still got basic facts wrong. He said Draper kissed off the No Child Left Behind Act as a sop to the left without explaining, as any journalist would, what the law does. After the war on terror, no issue has been more important to Bush than getting kids to read.
“There have been a lot of phone calls going back and forth among former White House aides saying they can’t believe this book is so sloppy and that we were asked to cooperate with thus guy,” Blakeman said. “’Dead Certain’ is dead wrong.”
Noting that Bartlett also recommended that the White House cooperate with Bob Woodward, who wrote a scathing book about the president, Blakeman said, “Any company or agency knows that you don’t reward people with access if they are ether incompetent or have a predisposition to trash you, yet this author was given access to the president.”
Card said he doubted the book would have much impact. Despite the access Draper enjoyed, a week after its release, “Dead Certain” has dropped to No. 25 on Amazon.com.
What got into these guys? It looks to me like Card’s real axe to grind, and possibly Blakeman’s as well, was not with Draper but with the Texans in the White House. It’s too bad that there wasn’t one more Texan in the Bush White House–and one less Massachusetts-ite: Joe Allbaugh as chief of staff instead of Card. And why is Blakemore mad that somebody characterized No Child Left Behind as a sop to Democrats? Has he forgotten that the bill was passed when Bush was still trying to reestablish himself as a compassionate conservative and forged an alliance with Teddy Kennedy?
I’m not trying to undercut Draper’s book by publishing these comments. Rather, I find it interesting that a conservative Web site would carry a story that is so critical of a book that tries (successfully, in my opinion) to present George W. Bush as he really is. While I do not condone any factual mistakes Draper might have made, the ones mentioned are all so de minimus that they can’t possibly account for the volume of the criticism from the two former staffers.
I do have two comments about the story: (1) Robert Draper (grandson of Leon Jaworski, by the way) is one of the least disheveled people I know. (2) I suspect that the reason that the book is not at the top of Amazon’s best-seller list has less to do with potential buyers’ attitude toward the book’s author than their attitudes toward the book’s subject.