Monday, August 3, 2009
On Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008, the New York Times published a front-page article about Barack Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers, a 1960s antiwar radical who had been a founder of the Weather Underground, a group that bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon.
Ayers and Obama had served on the board of an educational foundation, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, with other notable Chicagoans. Ayers once hosted a coffee for Obama during his first political campaign. The Times article described meetings between Ayers and Obama over the years, concluding, "The two men do not appear to have been close."
John McCain's campaign already had been planning to go after Obama because of his relationship with Ayers and had prepared a television ad that was to begin about a week later. The Times account accelerated the timetable for the attack.
At 11:45 a.m. that Saturday, McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace sent an e-mail to Sarah Palin's traveling party, a copy of which was later given to us. It read, "Goveror [sic] and Team: rick [Davis, the campaign manager], steve [Schmidt, McCain's senior adviser] and I suggest the following attack from the new york times. If you are comfortable, please deliver the attack as written. Please do not make any changes to the below with out approval from steve or myself because precision is crucial in our ability to introduce this."
Included was a 164-word script that blasted Obama for his relationship with Ayers. The line that attracted the headlines said of Obama: "This is not a man who sees America as you and I do -- as the greatest force for good in the world. This is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country."
Some detractors inside the campaign later accused Palin of "going rogue," but in this case, her attack on Ayers was initiated by McCain's high command. Still, when she read the message, Palin was enthusiastic about the assignment. "Yes yes yes," she replied in an e-mail response. "Pls let me say this!!!" Palin delivered those "pal around with terrorists" lines almost exactly as scripted at a Colorado fundraiser. When she finished, she sent another e-mail to McCain's high command: "It was awesome."
-- Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson