Neil Cavuto's on-air quip Friday about Osama bin Laden wearing a Kerry campaign button during the terrorist's videotaped message was only the most newsworthy case of Fox New pundits and their predictable guests gleefully analyzing the tape and predicting the impact of the al-Qaida harangue.
All Friday night and throughout the weekend there was a virtual Fox News stampede to declare not only that the tape would have an enormous impact on the campaign, but that President Bush -- despite his failure to capture the man who masterminded the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans -- would obviously benefit from the unlikely October surprise.
"If Osama bin Laden injects this issue back into people's heads, then I think it benefits Bush." -- Mort Kondracke, Fox contributor
"I was wondering, completely in jest of course, whether at the end of [the tape] Bush himself might show up on the screen and say, 'I'm George Bush and I approve this message.'" -- Jeff Birnbaum, Fox political contributor
"This tape will help Bush enormously." -- Dick Morris, New York Post columnist
"This certainly isn't going to help defeat Bush. When you're talking about the war on terrorism and Iraq, that's Bush's turf." -- Fred Barnes, Fox political contributor
"All right, this Osama bin Laden video was just released late this afternoon. And I believe it will help President Bush because it's a reminder of the villain, what he's done." -- Fox host Bill O'Reilly
"I would say that overall, if it helps at all, and I think it only has a small effect, it probably helps the president." -- Mara Liasson, Fox political correspondent
Bin Laden is "losing the war on terror. That's what's most evident about this tape, and that's why it's going to help President Bush." -- Bill Kristol, Fox political contributor
By Monday, even Fox anchors had to concede the obvious: that where the bin Laden videotape did move the needle, it was clearly in Kerry's direction. Tracking polls in both Minnesota and Iowa, for instance, showed significant movement toward Kerry at the very end of last week. Nationally, at the time of Fox News' bin Laden conventional wisdom, the news channel's own poll showed Bush up 5 points. Today, he's down 2 points in the same poll -- a 7-point swing since the release of bin Laden's tape. Surprise.
Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."