Matt Latimer’s book about working as a speechwriter in the Bush administration comes out today. I read an excerpt of the book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor, in GQ magazine, and it looks good.
That has several former Bush staffers worried. According to several accounts, the book includes embarrassing anecdotes about the administration. The excerpt I read in GQ actually portrays the President in a sympathetic, if not flattering light.
But that hasn’t stopped former Bush staffers — the ones Latimer describes in his book as fiercely loyal — from launching a PR counter-attack on behalf of their former boss. In a story that ran on Politico last week, several former Bush communicators posed the snarky question, “Who is Matt Latimer?”
"A lot of people just didn't know who Matt Latimer is. A lot of us are going 'who is this guy again? Who is this writing a book?'" Ed Gillespie, a former counselor to the president and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told Politico’s Andy Barr. Gillespie later added, “Matt Latimer did not spend a lot of time with [the] president when there was anything of substance going on. He was there for speechwriting meetings, but in those meetings we weren't talking over policy decisions.”
Nothing of substance going on? Ouch. Doesn’t say much about speechwriters.
Turns out, as Barr puts it, Latimer “wasn’t exactly a nobody.” His tenure at the Bush White House lasted from May 2007 to October 2008, where he was promoted to deputy director of speechwriting. Prior to writing speeches for Bush, Latimer served as chief speechwriter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Tony Fratto, former deputy press secretary for President Bush, maintains that Latimer was nothing more than a junior- or mid-level staffer. What do former White House speechwriters think about Fratto’s assertion? I asked a few of them.
“I would disagree with that,” Ken Askew, a former speechwriter for the first President Bush, said in an e-mail. “In my experience, the deputy chief of speechwriting (Dan McGroarty, when I was there) certainly was not, in my view, ‘a junior-level staffer.’ I guess it's all in your perspective, though. As I recall, Dan traveled on Air Force One, attended meetings that included the President, etc.”
Hal Gordon, a former speechwriter in the Reagan administration, wrote, “First of all, I think we need to ask how important was speechwriting generally to the George W. Bush White House?” According to Gordon, speechwriters were very important in the Reagan administration. “They had White House mess privileges,” he said, “among other marks of high status.”
A former White House speechwriter, who did not work in the Bush administration, had a different take. (This speechwriter requested anonymity.)
“Deputy directors can be the people who make the trains run on time,” the speechwriter said. In that case, they determine who writes what speech and if that speechwriter is meeting his or her deadline. “So it's probably true that he didn't get much face time.”
However, this speechwriter also noted that it might not matter how much face time Latimer had with the President. “People who get the face time love to come back and recount every detail of a meeting to show how important they are,” the speechwriter wrote. “So it's perfectly plausible that he heard stuff from others right afterwards and wrote it down.”
Either way, only an excerpt from the book has been published, so the final verdict on Latimer’s portrayal of the administration will come once the book is read. On that note, Mike Long, a member of the White House Writers Group and former speechwriter to then Sen. Fred Thompson, defended Latimer, who he counts as an acquaintance.
“My guess, and it's only a guess, is that people who were around Bush are so accustomed to having their man blasted that they defend him instinctively — as they should,” Long said. “But Matt's on their side. … At least I know Matt, and I know he's honest and he's loyal. If the book portrays Bush in a flattering light (and I imagine it will to a great extent), those who today venomously say ‘Matt Who?’ will tomorrow be saying ‘My ol' buddy Matt!’”
And even though people will criticize Latimer for talking out of school and throwing former co-workers under the bus, as one speechwriter I spoke to suggested: Why not write a book about working in the White House?
If you have a window seat on history, who can resist telling people about it?