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Frank Rich Reads Charles Black's Mind

By Brendan Nyhan

Frank Rich asserted Sunday that John McCain adviser Charles Black's comments to Fortune magazine (which McCain repudiated) weren't an "improvisational mishap":

Don't fault Charles Black, the John McCain adviser, for publicly stating his honest belief that a domestic terrorist attack would be "a big advantage" for their campaign and that Benazir Bhutto's assassination had "helped" Mr. McCain win the New Hampshire primary.

In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign's perspective, for this terrorist attack -- before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it "help" if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?

Unlike Hillary Clinton's rumination about the Bobby Kennedy assassination or Barack Obama's soliloquy about voters clinging to guns and faith, Mr. Black's remarks were not an improvisational mishap. He gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine. He did so without thinking twice because he was merely saying what much of Washington believes.

Even if we grant that the second paragraph is satirical hyperbole, the third paragraph makes a direct claim -- that Black's remarks "were not an improvisational mishap" because he "gave his quotes on the record to Fortune magazine." In fact, however, the remarks were almost certainly an improvisation -- Fortune, not Black, raised the issue of another terrorist attack on the US, as Bob Somerby pointed out (emphasis added):

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an "unfortunate event," says Black. "But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who's ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us." As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," says Black.

You certainly can't assert that Black intentionally raised the issue -- that is, unless you write novels about politics for a living.

Brendan blogs at