Political Motive Behind Bush Bash?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report with Brit Hume", March 9, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: No sooner had the Bush campaign released its first commercials last week, all positive, then the TV ads came under sharp attack from some 9-11 families and the Firefighters Union (search).

These critics said that the brief messages of Ground Zero (search) in the ads were an attempt to exploit the terrorist attacks and their victims for political purposes. Many people undoubtedly heard the criticism before they even saw the ad. So how did that happen?

For answers on all this, we turn to Byron York, White House correspondent of "National Review," who has been looking into the matter.

Byron, what did you find out?

BYRON YORK, "NATIONAL REVIEW" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as far as the Firefighters Union is concerned, and you know they've endorsed John Kerry. They've been perhaps his biggest union supporters. The leaders of the Firefighters Union were at their meeting in Bell Harbor, Florida.

And the Bush campaign, quite helpfully, put the ads up on their campaign Web site on Wednesday night. The ads, you know, were supposed to debut Thursday.

HUME: Let's top for a second on the Firefighters Union. This is the union presided over by one Harold Schaitberger, if I'm not mistaken.

YORK: Exactly, IAFF.

HUME: IAFF. And Schaitberger, there you see this was back, I guess, in September or October when he and his union endorsed President Kerry -- Senator Kerry, excuse me, for re-electing -- for election of the presidency.

And every Kerry event I saw in Iowa or New Hampshire, Schaitberger, very vio -- very gregarious fellow, was there in the background. So they are really in the camp.

YORK: So Schaitberger told me that he watches the ads late Wednesday and says we've got to get the media thing going on this. In the space of a few hours, they had press releases out, they'd passed a resolution, and they'd spoken to a lot of reporters. So the effect of it was is that by Thursday morning when the ads were to come out, this story was not the ads, the story was the controversy about the ads.

HUME: Now, what about the families groups? I mean that was, I think, the Firefighters Union, although they've got some coverage, some of it as in "The Washington Post," that seemed to sort of soft pedal the connection between the campaign and the union.

The families seem to be another story. They seemed -- I saw them on "The Today Show." They seem to be saying the same continuing, those who were involved. But what about them? Where did they come from, spontaneous or no?

YORK: This is a very sensitive issue for the Bush campaign because obviously the family members had suffered terribly after 911. But with 3,000 people died, it stands to reason there relatives would fall all along the political spectrum. What happened is the group that was most vocal was on the farthest left of the political spectrum. For example...

HUME: What group?

YORK: ... it's a group called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. And "The Washington Post" front-page story about the controversy over the ads last week, quoted two family members.

Actually both were members of the Peaceful Tomorrows group. They've been active in antiwar demonstrations, and they not only opposed the war in Iraq, they actually opposed the war in Afghanistan.

And the two members quoted in "The Post," had actually traveled to Afghanistan in January of 2002 to express their sympathy with Afghan families, who had had people killed in the American bombing raids there. So there had been a long history of sort of anti-Bush and antiwar activism on part of that.

On the flip side of that are the families who actually supported the ads, who were heard very, very little. I spoke to...

HUME: Well, certainly later, I think, you know. By the weekend, I think some of them were beginning to be heard.

YORK: Not as much, yes. I spoke with a firefighter named Jimmy Boyle, who is actually the head -- former head of the Firefighters Union in New York. He said, you know, I was listening to the radio Thursday morning. I hear about the families being angry about all these ads and I thought I'm one of these families.

And I hadn't heard anything about this. He saw the ads, felt they were appropriate and actually wrote a letter signed by 22 other family members in support of the ads.

HUME: So in addition -- a part from this group -- what is it called, the families?

YORK: September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

HUME: All right. How big a group is this? And what do we know? Are they...

YORK: Well, about 100...

HUME: How are they funded?

YORK: They are funded, it's a 501-C3 charitable organization, and they have what's called a fiscal sponsor relationship with something called the Tides Foundation, which is a very large foundation that funds a whole variety of left wing causes.

HUME: Where does The Tides Foundation get its money?

YORK: The Tides Foundation, actually you've probably seen some reports, they've gotten a significant amount of repor -- money from foundations associated with Teresa Heinz Kerry and with the Heinz family.

HUME: Well, no. Wait a minute. Let me see if I have this right. So a foundation supported by Teresa Heinz's foundations or structure of charities that she has created supports this charity. Which in turn, supports the founda -- The Tides Found -- the families group.

YORK: Right. The Tides Foundation has only given about $5,000 in 2002, at least, to the Families for Peaceful Tomorrows group. It's not a huge amount of money, but yes, it is support.

HUME: So is there any sign -- any evidence here that the money influences the behavior?

YORK: Well, the families told me, the members of the Peaceful Tomorrows told me no. They saw these ads and they were upset. They didn't feel that this was appropriate, and so they spoke out on their own.

HUME: Byron, thanks a lot.

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