Thursday, February 24, 2005

Would You Trust a Traitor?

Over two decades ago I was wowed by a motivational speaker that was a Christian minister and an author. His speeches were captivating for me. He exposed me to different insights on several Old Testament stories. He talked about visiting the White House in one of his speeches. He made me feel like I could conquer the world.

I eventually moved out of the circles where I had regular opportunities to hear this man, but some of the things he said have stuck with me for years. Occasionally over the years I have wondered what became of Doug Wead. Last week I found out.

Mr. Wead (website) has continued his career in motivational speaking and has churned out numerous books, mostly on religious and/or political topics with genres ranging from opinion to fiction to history. Many are still in print (see Amazon). More importantly, he has worked as an advisor to the White House and has been a close family friend of the Bush family. He advised President Bush 41 on conservative and religious issues. During part of that time reported directly to George W. He has written celebrated books on presidential history.

It is Mr. Wead’s devotion to history that has gotten him into trouble and has cost him more dearly than he even now can know.

In 1998 Mr. Wead thought that George W. had a good chance of becoming the next president of the United States, even though, W had not yet decided on whether to run for the office. Here was an unprecedented opportunity to collect historical insights about the thinking of someone that would become the leader of the free world.

But how to accurately collect these insights? Jotting down notes and relying on personal memory simply isn’t as good as having actual footage of an event. But people tend to be less candid when they know they are being recorded. So Mr. Wead secretly taped hours of private discussions with GWB, taking great care to do so only in states where such activity is legal.

Earlier this month as Mr. Wead promoted his new book The Raising of a President, he made arrangements through his publisher to air select portions of his secret tapes for a New York Times reporter. The Times, of course, published an article last week about the tapes suggesting that they contain a few things that might be embarrassing to the President.

Mr. Wead, while seeming to enjoy the resulting attention, also seemed to be surprised to find himself under attack by many Republicans (see Linda Chavez’s article for a sample). Wead staunchly defended himself as merely preserving important American history and rankled at the suggestion that he was involved in shameless self promotion.

However, Wead now says that he regrets “recent events.” He has cancelled talk show appearances where he was to discuss the tapes. On his website he says, “I have come to realize that personal relationships are more important than history.” He says that the President owns the tapes, that the tapes will be returned to him, and that proceeds from his new book will be directed to a charity. We can only speculate on how much of a role the White House played in this rapid reversal.

As a boy I learned that the first two points of the Boy Scout Law are to be trustworthy and loyal. For an ordained minister, Mr. Wead seems strangely devoid of understanding of these two principles. He abused a position of trust as a close advisor and friend in a calculated seven-year plan to … what? Serve some altruistic god of history? Save the free world? Receive the honors of men? Certainly there are times when loyalty to a friend should be abrogated to achieve a greater good, such as when doing so might prevent the friend from harming someone, but this is hardly the case here. What other close friends has Mr. Wead secretly recorded?

Americans have a history of being quick to forgive and ready to offer a second chance. However, like people worldwide, we tend to always distrust any traitor and to regard them with wariness. I agree with Linda Chavez’s assessment of the situation when she says that Mr. Wead has sold his soul for a mess of pottage, and that he is likely to never be trusted again by anyone.

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