In football, the timing play is a thing of beauty. The quarterback takes the snap and drops back in the pocket counting seconds in his head, looking anywhere except the direction he plans to throw.
At about the count of three he aims at a spot downfield and throws. If it works, the receiver gets there exactly when the ball does. In politics, the timing play is less beautiful but just as important, as the media proved in 2000 and 2004.
Just a few days before the 2000 presidential election, the media gifted us with the Bush drunk driving story, dredged up from 1976. That didn't damage Mr. Bush sufficiently, so in the 2004 campaign the 527 Media first tried and failed with the forged Texas Air National Guard documents and then, in the last week, jumped on the phony U.N. story about hundreds of tons of missing explosives in Iraq.
That one might have sunk President Bush but for the fact that the Pentagon got lucky, both finding the people who knew the truth and getting them in front of a tv camera before Election Day.
This year, polls show Democrats aren't doing as well as they'd thought on key issues such as winning in Iraq, homeland vulnerability to terrorist attack and the need to keep the economic boom going. To counter their structural weaknesses, as I predicted in this space since August, the 527 Media - the NYT, WaPo, CBS, NBC, ABC — are producing "October surprises" at a tremendous pace.
So far we've seen them make a major story of the Senate Democrats' attempt to revive the discredited "revolt of the generals" followed quickly by the leaked National Intelligence Estimate and then the new Bob Woodward book, "State of Denial."
Before this year, the media would take the trouble to deny that they timed their stories to do damage to a Republican candidate. Even that pretense has been abandoned this year. The timing of the Revolting Generals, Part III was obvious: it was a foundation for Woodward's book release. But Woodward's book itself? The proof that the book's purpose, and the timing of the release, is to influence the 2006 election comes from Woodward's own words.
As reported in the October 2 Editor and Publisher, NBC's Matt Lauer asked Woodward why he held such an important story — i.e., his alleged proofs that the Bush administration was lying to the American people about the Iraq war — instead of taking the WaPo front page with it?
E&P reports: "Woodward replied that he had not waited "to make a splash, but to assemble the whole story," and then go to the White House and Pentagon and CIA and ask, "What did you do?"
He added: "Simon & Schuster and my bosses at The Washington Post said the only real obligation here is to tell it before the election." (emphasis added). At least Woodward is honest about his motivation. If only his editors, and those of the other 527 Media were as forthright.
Now we have the carefully-timed "breaking news" of Rep. Mark Foley's salacious e-mails and "instant messages" with a House page. The St. Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald received the e-mails between Foley and the page, in the case of the Times as early as last November. Neither published the story until ABC did. How long did ABC have them, as well as the actually incriminating "instant messages"? The media are not conspiring to hold the stories. Never forget: it's a media culture, not a conspiracy.
The Republicans should realize two things. First, as ABC's political director Mark Halperin wrote a few days ago, Republican strengths are real. If Republicans start filtering the media-generated noise out of the election conversation, they will beat Democrats on issues. Second, the Democrats are spinning the issues not answering them.
The Foley matter is serious, but should only have been a small story. It's made big only by media inflation and continued revelations about Speaker Dennis Hastert's actions and inactions. According to several reports they have warned Hastert to resolve the problem this week or resign. Now everyone is wondering what comes next? What else does the 527 Media have up its sleeve to hammer Republicans before the election? The Republicans are in a state of near panic, worried that they're being out-maneuvered by the Clintons' war room machinery. They sound like the Civil War staff officer who famously got Ulysses S. Grant to blow his top.
After a fight near the Rapidan River during the Wilderness campaign, a staff general approached Grant proclaiming a crisis, bewailing the Union's inability to guess what Robert E. Lee would do next.
Grant scolded him: "Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do. Some of you always seem to think he is suddenly going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command, and try to think what are we going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do."
That's what Ronald Reagan would do this week. Close your eyes and think: in your mind's ear you can probably hear him laughing off the idea of panicking. So should the Republican leadership. Karl Rove may not be the Lone Ranger, but he has six silver bullets in his campaign pistol.
First, the whole liberal culture of the media is a glass house waiting for the Republicans to toss a funny bone or two to shatter. As I prescribed last August, the Republicans could generate a huge response from their base — and corresponding turnout in November — by taking on the media. Not just those involved in the Foley matter (who, as my pal Hugh Hewitt wrote, Hastert should take on directly) but all the politically-activist media.
Second, why are all the Washington liberals cheering and raising money for so-called Democrat moderates? Because they know these "moderates" will, like they always do, vote liberal in the Senate and House.
Republicans like Sens. Rick Santorum and Mike DeWine always want to see their race as a competition of resumes and their consultants reinforce that by telling them what they want to hear. They'd do better by ignoring the consultants and battling their opponents ideologically.
The Republicans should deploy the ultimate weapon — the "L" word — forthwith. You want to see Jon Tester's numbers to drop in Montana or Claire McCaskill's in Missouri? Tie them to Sen. Schumer's refusal to describe what the Dems will do if they get control of the Senate.
Will Tester or McCaskill vote to make Pat Leahy chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and thus prevent confirmation of any conservative judge to the Supreme Court? How many of these so-called moderates will break their campaign promises as soon as they get to Washington? These are the questions the media should be asking. Because they won't, Republicans have to.
Third, flag burning, gay marriage, the Patriot Act, the NSA terrorist surveillance program, ballistic missile defense and a host of other issues can be used to nationalize the election and turn the tide against the Dems. The nation is for them, the Dems are opposed.
Fourth, there are all those Blue State would-be Reagan Democrats waiting for an appeal to their best nature. All Republicans need to do is direct campaign energy to them on issues that count: the economy, personal freedom, national security. The Reagan legacy is still there, if Republicans are smart enough to recognize it.
Fifth, the only important media event of this campaign to date was Bill Clinton's narcissistic outburst on FOX News. Clinton jumped the shark and reminded America that the Democrats' politics are only a means to achieve and maintain power. The important truth, coming in the words of former CIA bin Laden desk chief Michael Scheuer last Sunday, was that Bill Clinton's most important legacy was leaving Usama bin Laden alive to commit 9/11. Reminding America of this now and for the next two years is enormously important.
Sixth, and not least, is the economy. The Democrats can't afford to talk about it, but even the most profligate Republican earmarker can. The Republicans can connect the dots: security abroad and at home and economic success. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Bush Boom and why Republican control of Congress is essential to continuing it were the issue of the last week of this campaign?