“If al Qaeda attacks here, President Bush is re-elected in a heartbeat.” Bill O'Reilly, March 19, 2004.
On the morning of March 11, 2004, one year after American-led forces invaded Iraq, ten bombs located on four different commuter trains exploded in Spain's capital of Madrid, killing more than 190 people and wounding nearly 2,000.
An al-Qaeda terror cell claimed credit for the coordinated attack against Spain, an American ally in the Iraq War. The assault marked the deadliest terror blast in Europe since the 1980s.
The event was quickly labeled “Spain's 9/11,” just like the Paris massacre last week is being referred to as “France's 9/11.” The similarities extend beyond the death tolls and the European locations.
Both countries were seen as key American allies in the war on terror. And both deadly attacks took place against the backdrop of an American election season. In March 2004, President George W. Bush was readying his re-election campaign against Democrat John Kerry. Today, Republicans and Democrats are approaching the presidential primary season.
What's completely different, however, about the similar attacks is how Fox News and the conservative media covered the grisly events, and the blame games they did and did not try to play.
Looking back at the Fox coverage from 2004, President Bush seemed to be a minor player in the story and his name wasn't often invoked. For Fox viewers, Bush certainly wasn't targeted for much blame following the Madrid attack; he wasn't denounced for providing vacuous leadership.
What's even more startling was the contention among Fox talkers in 2004 that, politically, a terror attack on America in 2004 would be good news for Bush; that it would seal his re-election bid because voters would overwhelmingly rally around the president.
For anyone who's been watching the Fox News coverage since Friday and seen the almost non-stop smear campaign against Obama (it's been part of the larger, right-wing media freakout), it's almost unimaginable what the Fox commentary would sound like if ISIS killed hundreds in America during next year's campaign. (Calls for impeachment would come quickly, I assume.)
Fox and other right-wing outlets are already busy condemning Obama for a terror attack that happened overseas.
Fox contributor Michael Goodwin insisted Obama resign “for the good of humanity” if he “cannot rise to the challenge of leadership” after the Paris killings. Fox's Ralph Peters claimed the “only president on the American continent who has done more damage” to America than Obama, “was actually Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America.” And Bill Hemmer suggested terror victims “pay the price for the lack of security” fostered by Obama's anti-ISIS strategy.
Obviously, none of that caterwauling was prevalent following the historic Madrid attack when Bush was overseeing the war on terror. When Fox did cover the breaking story, there was little attention paid to Bush.
For instance, on the night of Madrid attack, Sean Hannity hosted former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and there was no finger-pointing about the bombing. But when Hannity recently hosted Giuliani to address the Paris attack, the former mayor not only denounced Obama's leadership, he claimed, “ISIS is an Obama creation.” (It is not.)
Later that month Sean Hannity announced he was fed up with the “shrill rhetoric” from liberals, especially ones who suggested Bush “was responsible for the attacks in Madrid.” This is the same Sean Hannity who in recent days has emptied the tank in terms of shrill rhetoric and has unequivocally claimed Obama is responsible for the Paris attack.
By the way, in March 2004, the New York Times detailed how Democrats, including primary frontrunner John Kerry, were specifically not politicizing the Madrid attack or criticizing the Bush administration:
''We're all sick to our stomachs that Al Qaeda seems to have scored a victory,'' said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. ''After a real tragedy happens, you don't want to talk about it right away.''
Meanwhile, what else is the right-wing media phony-outraging about today? Obama (and Hillary Clinton) won't use the phrase “radical Islam” when condemning the acts of terror. It's become a cardinal sin on Fox News.
Of course, following the Madrid massacre, Bush also did not condemn “radical Islam,” a move that was met with mostly silence from the conservative media. So in 2004, Bush did not do what conservatives now demand Obama must do, and in 2004 Fox News led the way in not caring.
And then there was the strange 2004 conservative spin that if America were hit by another jihadist assault, Bush would be the political benefactor. “If a terrorist group attacked the U.S. three days before an election, does anyone doubt that the American electorate would rally behind the president or at least the most aggressively antiterror party?” asked the New York Times' David Brooks in March 2004.
Eight days later, Bill O'Reilly weighed in, while interviewing historian Andrew Apostolou: [emphasis added]:
O'REILLY: If al Qaeda attacks here, President Bush is re-elected in a heartbeat, because Americans aren't...
APOSTOLOU: I agree, but they...
O'REILLY: ...won't surrender, they'll get angry.
APOSTOLOU: Yes, yes.
O'REILLLY: Unlike the Spanish. It's a different population.
APOSTOLOU: Exactly. Exactly.
O'REILLY: Yes. So if they're counting on that, Americans will come together...
O'REILLY: ...in any kind of attack on us. And we saw that after 9- 11. And I think they saw it, too, because now we're going to go to Pakistan right after Mr. Apostolou.
O'Reilly was certain: Americans will come together “in any kind of attack.” The exception being when there's a Democrat in the White House and you work for Fox News.