President Bush's campaign yesterday rolled out an upbeat, soft-focus ad using the Olympics as a backdrop. But, within hours, the focus shifted to an attack ad, assailing John F. Kerry's record on intelligence, that was supposed to remain under wraps until Monday.
The negative ad leaked out after it was mistakenly played on the Fox News Channel, giving Kerry strategists an opportunity to change the debate and challenge the president's charges three days before the spot receives widespread airing.
An Aug. 14 article reported that Fox News Channel mistakenly aired a campaign ad for President Bush. A spokesman for the cable network says it was following directions provided on behalf of the Bush campaign. The campaign, which initially blamed Fox, does not dispute the network's explanation.
Noting the Democratic nominee's promise to reform the intelligence system, a narrator says: "Oh, really? As a member of the intelligence committee, Senator Kerry was absent for 76 percent of the committee's hearings. In the year after the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Kerry was absent for every single one.
"That same year," the ad says, "he proposed slashing America's intelligence budget by $6 billion. There's what Kerry says, and then there's what Kerry does."
Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton accused the president of practicing "the politics of fear and distortion," adding: "Within weeks of saying he had too much good to say to be negative, George Bush has resumed his misleading negative campaign."
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt countered that Kerry had "insulted" the intelligence community by saying that the country had better information in Paul Revere's day. "This ad focuses on the disconnect between John Kerry's rhetoric and his record," he said.
The Kerry camp disputed the charge of high absenteeism as "fuzzy math," saying the Bush team was counting only open hearings while ignoring hundreds of other meetings. Bush aides said records show Kerry was not present at 38 of 49 public hearings.
The Massachusetts senator would have cut just $1 billion in intelligence funding in 1994 as part of a deficit-reduction plan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been absorbing more than half the intelligence budget, Kerry staffers said. But Bush aides noted that Kerry would have cut an additional $1 billion for each of the next five years and that 75 senators, including Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), voted against Kerry's amendment.
The dispute over Monday's planned release of the intelligence ad, which will air on cable television networks and in 18 battleground states, overshadowed the unorthodox approach of the Olympics spot. In a novel attempt to reach sports buffs, the ad will be shown not only on cable but also in 250 fitness centers through a company called ClubCom.
Using a stirring "Morning in America" style, the ad uses swelling orchestral music and colorful footage of a female swimmer winning a race. A female narrator notes that the number of democracies in the world has increased from 40 during the 1972 Olympics to 120 now.
"Freedom is spreading throughout the world like a sunrise," the narrator says. The flags of Afghanistan and Iraq are shown as she says that at "this Olympics, there will be two more free nations, and two fewer terrorist regimes. With strength, resolve and courage, democracy will triumph over terror. And hope will defeat hatred."
The use of the Summer Games is an unusual way of claiming credit for toppling the Taliban and Saddam Hussein -- by focusing on Afghan and Iraqi athletes -- without addressing the continuing violence in Iraq.
Matthew Dowd, Bush's chief campaign strategist, said the use of the health club network is an experiment aimed at "busy" voters who, he noted, tend to be undecided. "You can deliver information to them that they may not see during the day," he said. "They may catch an article here or a news broadcast there."
This is the second Bush ad this week that trumpets the war on terrorism without offering specifics. The earlier spot shows the president talking about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and vowing "to bring an enemy to justice before they hurt us again."