Network Problems. Please Stand By.


George W. Bush’s riposte to John Kerry’s NYU Iraq speech was swift and had nothing to do with the platitudes offered up at the U.N. General Assembly earlier today.

The headline is Dan Rather, not the U.N. Bush’s team began with Dan Rather’s “I’m sorry” for falling for the Bush National Guard story, and that was quickly followed up by suggestions that the Kerry campaign had a hand in an attempted smear. Next, according to Matt Drudge, may be a move by the Bush team to oust CBS’s respected newsman Bob Schieffer from his announced appointment as moderator of the October 13 Bush-Kerry debate at Arizona State University in Tempe.

“Considering the circumstances, we should definitely ask that Schieffer be replaced, a top Bush adviser told the president on Monday,” Drudge wrote, pinning it to a source.

The Bush campaign may have a field day with one nugget from this controversy: Kerry’s new spokesman, Joe Lockhart, has told reporters that he talked with Bill Burkett, the man who gave the suspect documents to CBS, before Burkett gave the network the documents.

Lockhart told Newsday that he called Burkett at the suggestion of CBS producer Mary Mapes. This was before Lockhart officially became Kerry’s spokesman. “Lockhart said he thanked Burkett, after a three- to four-minute call, for his advice on handling charges on Kerry’s Vietnam record,” Newsday wrote, adding that Lockhart told the paper that he doesn’t recall talking to Burkett about Bush’s records. “It’s baseless to say the Kerry campaign had anything to do with this,” Lockhart told Newsday.

To CNN, Lockhart said, “I can say two things: This campaign had nothing to do with these documents, nothing to do with this story, and, two, you have to question the motives of the people who are asking these questions. The White House is raising questions about this because they don’t want to answer questions.”

Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett was quoted earlier in the day as saying, “The fact that CBS News would coordinate with the most senior levels of Senator Kerry’s campaign . . . raises serious questions.”

Lockhart, Bill Clinton’s former White House spokesman, is part of a team brought in to rescue Kerry from what after the GOP convention began to look like a freefall in the polls.

Meanwhile, Bush’s words at the U.N. were the same old, same old: “Today the Afghan and Iraqi people are on the path to democracy and freedom. . . . The governments that arise will pose no threat to others. Instead of harboring terrorists, they are fighting terrorist groups.” Sure.

As for the man everyone agrees not to trust, Bush said, “The U.N. and its member nations must respond to Prime Minister Allawi’s request and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal, and free. . . . We can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections. . . . The future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. ”

The Republican blitzkrieg continues apace, its machinery swift and so far deadly. Bush and Dick Cheney are always on message, saying the same things over and over again, while Kerry’s team flounders along.