Opinion: The Fox News story that nearly sank a Bush presidency before it began

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One of the overlooked details of the forever-fight over the widely-debated conservative leanings of the Fox News Channel (besides the fact that a third of its viewers are Democrats) is that it was Fox that broke the then-shocking story in 2000 of candidate George W. Bush’s 24-year-old DUI charges.

Why, you wonder, would an old Maine story matter, regardless of the source?

The breaking story of Bush’s unrevealed 1976 DUI charges in Maine came just four days before the 2000 election. The Bush-Cheney ticket was tied then in national polls with the Democrats’ Gore-Lieberman ticket and was, in fact, ahead in Maine.


Bush ended up losing Maine to the Democrats the next Tuesday and several other states by narrow margins. Had the Republicans won those electoral votes, there never would have been any Florida recount, hanging chad controversy or Supreme Court case. Florida’s electoral votes wouldn’t have changed anything.

Mike Allen over at Politico reported Thursday night that in an upcoming memoir -- ‘Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight’ -- Bush’s chief strategist Karl Rove writes that getting that bad news out earlier in that political season is the single biggest thing he would do differently about that controversial campaign.

No kidding. Controlling the timing of bad news is campaign strategy rule No. 1A. Knowledge of the old arrest was so closely held among a few senior Bush aides that campaign spokesmen had no idea what to reply when the initial Fox News call came in. The story knocked the Bush and Cheney team off-message for days, much as the Rev. Jerremiah Wright revelations did to the Obama crew during the Democratic primaries of 2008..

In the new book, due out next week, Rove speculates that the Fox News story prompted enough changed votes or disappointed social conservatives to not vote that it cost the GOP ticket other states like New Mexico and Iowa.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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