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Media's 'October Surprises' Have Just Begun

By Jed Babbin

The campaign deluge has begun, and it has already breached New Orleans' levees. If you think anything will be immune to politics between now and November 7th, think about how much time was spent on New Orleans' Katrina-devastated Ninth Ward on Monday night. Not on the news, mind you: on Monday Night Football. For the next forty days and forty nights nothing will be proof from political soaking. Three weeks ago, I wrote that the clinical depression among Republicans was as unjustified as the near-unanimous predictions of an overwhelming Democrat victory in November. The media and the Democrats were giving a stampede but voters were refusing to play the role of the cattle. The good news for Republicans remains diluted, but the Dems are still overplaying their hand.

The 527 Media have begun their series of "October surprises" energetically (with another big one scheduled for this Sunday), first with a new leak story and then another contrivance trying to revive the discredited "revolt of the generals." The lede in last Sunday's front page New York Times story on a highly classified leaked National Intelligence Estimate from April said, "A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks." It quoted an unnamed intelligence official who "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse." That story created the Ned Lamontocrat theme of the week and gave it millions of dollars worth of free publicity. The president did the unexpected Tuesday, declassifying part of the report and challenging the media to see how badly slanted both the leak and the coverage were. Before he could do that, the media and the Dems - on rhythm and beat by then - contrived another story.

Monday's televised "hearing" at which retired Gens. John Batiste and Paul Eaton "testified" before a panel of Democrats was concocted as poorly as the Lebanese ambulances supposedly blown up by Israeli airstrikes. The "hearing" - promoted by AP, but not by the same AP reporters who headlined the phony ambulance scenes - wasn't news. It was a media event staged by Senate Dems. That didn't prevent the recycled gripes from being picked up by some network news shows. The Washington Post followed on Wednesday combining the two stories. It quoted Democrat Paul Hodes, who is seeking to defeat Republican House incumbent Charles Bass in New Hampshire. Hodes said, "The report underscores that the longer Bush and his enablers . . . keep us in Iraq, the more we undermine our own security." The problem for Hodes, and the Dems, was that the declassified parts of the report said something else. It said that Iraq was a "cause celebre" among jihadists, but it also said that to the extent jihadists leaving Iraq believed they were defeated or were perceived so, the jihadist movement worldwide would shrink. Today, Republicans are surging. But they are quite capable of throwing away their advantages, and their momentum can disappear quickly.

The Republicans' structural advantages - and the Dems' corresponding weaknesses -- lie in their credibility on national security. As upset as voters are over Iraq, the fact that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on America since 9-11 isn't lost on them. But the Dems, and the 527 Media, can't help themselves. They fit Churchill's definition of fanatics: people who won't change their minds and won't change the subject. The Dems and their media chorus continue to oversell their wares, just as the New York Times lead editorial did yesterday. Having been caught out by the president's unexpected declassification of parts of the April NIE, the Times's editorial shrieked that, "Mr. Bush said he wanted to release the document so voters would not be confused about terrorism or the war when they voted for Congressional candidates in November. But the three declassified pages...told us what any American with a newspaper, television or internet connection should already know. The invasion of Iraq was a cataclysmic disaster." Forget, for the moment, that the declassified parts of the report reach no such conclusion. Think carefully about the meaning of what the Times's editors are telling you: if you listened to us, as you're supposed to, you'd believe Iraq was a monumental failure no matter what facts fall in your lap. This is the 527 Media at its best and worst. And not a peep from Republicans about all this.

When ABC screened "The Path to 9-11", Democrats were hinting darkly about the future of ABC's broadcast license. What if Ken Mehlman had spoken out when some network news shows were covering the non-story of the Dems hearing on the "generals' revolt" (effectively televised campaign ads for the Dems)? What if he'd said that the news organizations that brag about their adversarial relationship with all politicians were apparently working in collusion with one party?

It's all too apparent that neither the White House nor the RNC are going to campaign against the media, so this week's "October surprise" will be followed by an unimpeded stream of others. I've written again and again that if Republicans campaigned against the 527 Media - with humor, not rancor - voters would respond enthusiastically. The problem with giving good advice is that sometimes the wrong people follow it.

Clinton's melt down on Fox News Sunday began as a gift to the Republicans. Faced with a substantive question for the first time since he left office, Clinton launched into a tirade. Clinton accused Chris Wallace of a "right-wing hit job", of inviting Clinton under false pretenses and of using the interview to "move his bones" at Fox (the correct Mafia idiom, for those who didn't grow up in New York or New Jersey is 'make his bones.') Clinton's tantrum began as a real loss of control. But somewhere in the middle of it, his natural political instincts told him he was on to something, and he insisted on continuing the finger-pointing, knee-poking assault. What Clinton realized was that the Dems can campaign against the media, too. And now they've begun.

First, it was Hillary Clinton defending her husband's response to the "attack" by Fox News. On Tuesday, terminally liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer - on with Fox anchor Jane Skinner - sneered at the Fox "fair and balanced" motto. The Dems can energize their base by running against Fox, Rush Limbaugh and every other conservative radio talk show host, writer and blogger. And they will. They will have the radio and TV ads bashing the right wing conspiracy. Pity there isn't one. And it's an even greater pity that Republicans won't take advantage of one of the great structural strengths in this campaign. People who can't be buffaloed by the media into stampeding to the left can be convinced to step to the right, away from the media they distrust. You only need the courage to ask. Republicans don't have it.

But it may not matter. The Dems seem eager to stumble, and getting Bill Clinton in the campaign is very much an impure version of good news for them. Watch this Sunday: the new volume in the Bob Woodward series, "State of Denial," is coming out, and I'm betting you'll see Woodward on Meet the Press, 60 Minutes and every other big show and in all the papers on Sunday and Monday. And it'll be linked to more media effort to rehabilitate the "revolt of the generals." What if voters see this as another campaign of the "cut and run" crowd? It may backfire.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a contributing editor to The American Spectator and author of Showdown: Why China Wants War with the United States (with Edward Timperlake, Regnery 2006) and Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think (Regnery 2004).

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