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Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's Book Raises Serious Questions

At times, says Begala, now a CNN commentator, there is "a duty to speak out" for history. "What Ridge is alleging is really important to know," he says. But if Ridge felt so strongly, "you resign and you tell people" rather than waiting for the book contract.

David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter who took some heat for a book that was largely a positive portrayal of his former boss, says Ridge used strikingly cautious wording on the terror-alert clash. Ridge declared himself "incredulous" at the discussion, adding: "I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' "

"That is the most tentative possible way of advancing an accusation," Frum says. As for the spate of other critical books by former Bush staffers, he says: "There's a difference between people who want to settle scores based on principled disagreements, and people who have more personal disagreements with colleagues and other people. The line between these things is often blurry, but it's real."

Ridge drew flak on Friday from some conservatives. "What a weasel," blogger Michelle Malkin wrote. Liberal commentators declared that their criticism of the terror alerts had been vindicated.

Ridge has been unavailable for comment this week, but in the preface, the former Pennsylvania governor laments the " 'get-even' quality" of books by former administration officials that "became exercises in self-aggrandizement while evading responsibility. My ego is as healthy as anyone's inside the Beltway, but using a book to promote my own ambitions had limited appeal." But Ridge eventually concluded he had an obligation to publish so people would know why, for instance, he once said all was well while Ashcroft was warning of an imminent threat of attack.

In the wake of so many tell-all tomes, the concept of confidential discussions now seems outmoded. "I wonder how presidents deal with their staff aides," Sabato says, "knowing that anything they say could end up in a book making money for the aide."

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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