Michael Wolff peels the onion that is Little Scottie in Vanity Fair and finds that it has very few layers.
The briefing room exists, frozen in amber, in another time. The moment is somewhere after Richard Nixon tried to accommodate—and control—the burgeoning press corps by converting F.D.R.’s pool house, sauna, rubdown rooms, and dog kennel into press offices and a small auditorium (it’s still, basically, a pool house, with a door that flaps open directly onto the White House lawn, allowing in gusts of hot or cold air). And somewhere well before the advent of personal computers and the digital age (there is no Wi-Fi in the briefing room).
A kind of daily Socratic dialogue, or at least an attempt at one, continues to take place in the briefing room in a method of inquiry initiated by Joseph Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson’s primary aide and, effectively, the nation’s first press secretary: a ritual Q&A that leads to both what the White House wants you to know and away from what it doesn’t want you to know. Only, now the dialogue is led by something of a knuckleheaded Socrates, each day struggling and failing to talk his way out of a paper bag.
It’s this verbal haplessness that has made Scott McClellan—a pleasant, low-wattage, old-before-his-time young fellow, with, at 38, a wife, no children, and “two dogs and four cats”—the living symbol of this White House’s profound and, perhaps, mortal problem with language and meaning. McClellan himself, as though having some terrible social disability, has, standing miserably in the press briefing room every day, become a kick-me archetype. He’s Piggy in Lord of the Flies: a living victim, whose reason for being is, apparently, to shoulder public ridicule and pain (or, come to think of it, he’s Squealer from Animal Farm). He’s the person nobody would ever choose to be.