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Context of 'October 29, 2004: CIA and Other Analysts Conclude Bin Laden’s Speech Favors Bush’s Reelection Chances'

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CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen.CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. [Source: Department of Energy]The CIA analyzes bin Laden’s new speech, which was released four days before the US presidential election (see October 29, 2004), and concludes that it improves George Bush’s reelection chances. According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA, which has “spent years… parsing each word of the al-Qaeda leader,” knows that “bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons—and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership.” The analysts conclude that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.” Deputy Director John McLaughlin says in a meeting analyzing the speech, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president.” CIA deputy associate director Jami Miscik similarly comments, “Certainly, he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.” However, the CIA does not discuss why bin Laden wants Bush to stay. Suskind will write, “But an ocean of hard truths before them—such as what did it say about US policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected—remained untouched.” CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will later say: “It was sad. We just sat there. We were dispirited.” Several National Security Council members have already reached the conclusion that bin Laden’s presence on the international stage helps Bush (see October 29, 2004). Both presidential candidates condemn bin Laden. John Kerry says, “As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden.” George Bush says, “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 335-6] Several commentators believe the intervention will help Bush, for example:
bullet Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite says, “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” [CNN, 10/29/2004]
bullet Roger Simon of US News and World Report says, “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.” [CNN, 10/29/2004]
bullet MSNBC host Chris Matthews says, “The big thing in politics, of course, is picking the right topic… This creates a terrible situation for the challenger, because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
bullet MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell says, “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
bullet CNBC co-host Lawrence Kudlow says, “It will play into Bush’s hands.… it falls into Bush’s lap. And unlike 2000, I think it’s the kind of thing that will cause the remaining undecided voters in the next 72 hours or so to break for Bush.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
bullet Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen Hayes says, “I think that, as most people have indicated, that is likely to help President Bush.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
Other commentators from across the political spectrum who suggest the speech will help Bush include Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty, former plumber G. Gordon Liddy, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, the Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook, Washington Post journalist Jeffery Birnhaum, and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke. [Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; CNN, 10/29/2004; MSNBC, 10/29/2004; MSNBC, 10/29/2004] Some right wing commentators suggest that the tape will help Kerry, including Fox News political commentator Dick Morris, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and author Peggy Noonan. [Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004] A Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s lead increases after the tape is released and, after the election, John Kerry, the losing Democratic candidate, will attribute his failure to bin Laden’s intervention: “We were rising in the polls until the last day the tape appeared. We flat-lined the day the tape appeared, and went down on Monday.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2004; MSNBC, 1/30/2005] George Bush will also agree that the tape helped, saying, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.” [Reuters, 3/1/2006]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Lawrence Kudlow, Karen Tumulty, Joseph Scarborough, Michael Barnicle, John E. McLaughlin, Walter Cronkite, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Stephen Hayes, Morton Kondrake, Sean Hannity, Patrick Buchanan, Jeff Birnbaum, Peggy Noonan, Jami Miscik, Roger Simon, G. Gordon Liddy, George W. Bush, Bill Gertz, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Fred Barnes, Dick Morris, Charles Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says, “[Osama] bin Laden may have just given us a little boost. Amazing, huh?” He is referring to the videotape of bin Laden giving a speech that was released just four days before the 2004 US presidential elections (see October 29, 2004), and two days prior to his comment. McCain clarifies, “[The video] is helpful to President Bush because it puts the focus on the war on terrorism.” The CIA and other intelligence agency analysts also agree that the video helps Bush win reelection, and that that was bin Laden’s intention (see October 29, 2004). [The Hour, 10/31/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, John McCain, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” [New York Times, 11/1/2004] Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, CBS News, Bruce Hoffman, George W. Bush, John Kerry, United Nations, William Safire, Mohamed ElBaradei, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections

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