In trying to remember where that phrase came from, I found a blog post by Caterina "Flickr" Fake on the subject, and she found a great excerpt from Charles Baxter on the subject. Totally relevant now, and totally excellent.
What difference does it make to writers of stories if public figures are denying their responsibility for their own actions? So what if they are, in effect, refusing to tell their own stories accurately? ... Well, to make an obvious point, they create a climate in which social narratives are designed to be deliberately incoherent and misleading. Such narratives humiliate the act of storytelling. You can argue that only a coherent narrative can manage to explain public events, and you can reconstruct a story if someone says, "I made a mistake," or "We did that." You can't reconstruct a story — you can't even know what the story is— if everyone is saying, "Mistakes were made." Who made them? Everybody made them and no one did, and it's history anyway, so let's forget about it. Every story is a history, however, and when there is no comprehensible story, there is no history. The past, under these circumstances, becomes an unreadable mess.(Please don't ask me where I got a copy of LiH, since more people should be allowed to see them online! Google will reveal all.)
UPDATE: Gee those New York Times reporters know lots of stuff about mistakes.