David Frum’s “Axis of Evil”

Authorial vanity strikes the Bush White House.

One of the occupational frustrations for established writers who become speechwriters is the absence of a byline. Apparently it’s a frustration for their wives, too. Today Chatterbox was forwarded an e-mail apparently sent to family and friends by Danielle Crittenden, wife to White House speechwriter David Frum. Like her husband, Crittenden is a reasonably well-known Washington writer. Here’s the e-mail:

Dear all,I realize this is very “Washington” of me to mention but my husband is responsible for the “Axis of Evil” segment of Tuesday’s State of the Union address. It’s not often a phrase one writes gains national notice—unless you’re in advertising of course (“The Pause that refreshes”)—so I’ll hope you’ll indulge my wifely pride in seeing this one repeated in headlines everywhere!!D

Chatterbox e-mailed Crittenden to confirm that she wrote the e-mail. She asked why Chatterbox wanted to know. Chatterbox explained that he was writing about it. Crittenden asked why Chatterbox was writing about it. Chatterbox explained that it was newsworthy. “I don’t see why it is newsworthy,” she replied. “You are asking about personal correspondence with friends and family. I’m disturbed that anyone would forward personal correspondence to you, and frankly, I think it’s wrong of you to write about it.”

Sounds like a confirmation!

[Update, Feb. 6: Apparently a Toronto Sun editorial identified Frum as authoring “axis of evil” on Feb. 1. Christopher Hitchens repeated this on MSNBC’s Hardball on Feb. 4. In both instances, though, Frum’s authorship was merely asserted, not attributed to any source, so it was hard to know whether it was true. The Feb. 11 Time attributes the phrase to both Frum and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson.]

[Update, Feb. 7: Peter Worthington suggests, bafflingly, in his Feb. 6 Toronto Sun column that the Sun learned of David Frum’s authoring “axis of evil” by reading Time. This is baffling not only because the Feb. 1 Sun editorial made no mention of Time (or any source), but also because, as noted above, Time credited Frum and Gerson with coining the phrase. The mystery only deepens when one realizes that the Feb. 11 issue of Time couldn’t have been seen by anyone prior to Feb. 4, the day it hit the newsstands. The fog begins to lift when Worthington acknowledges in the column that David Frum happens to be his son-in-law. Here’s Chatterbox’s best guess about how Frum’s authorship first came to light: 1) Danielle Crittenden told her father, Peter Worthington, that Frum coined “axis of evil.” 2) Worthington told somebody on the Sun’s editorial board, which published it. 3) Either Frum or Crittenden informed Worthington that the leak was too traceable to the Frum-Crittenden household, and perhaps chided him for the indiscretion. 4) Worthington tried to cover his tracks by pretending that the Sun got its Frum scoop from Time. Chatterbox has no hypothesis about when it was during this likely sequence that Crittenden sent out her fateful e-mail. Rather endearingly, Crittenden tells Lloyd Grove  in the Feb. 7 Washington Post that the whole affair makes her feel “like Lucy Ricardo.”]