As I watched the forum Saturday Night, I thought Barack Obama did all right. He held his own in front of a hostile, but polite, crowd of evangelical Christians in Southern California. Perhaps he won over a few supporters.
Then John McCain took the stage. After watching him for a few minutes I noticed it: McCain's answers were just a little too polished, a little too perfect. Then he began answering some questions before Rick Warren could finish asking them . . . or ask them at all. A little bell rang in my head: something wasn't right about McCain's performance.
Then Andrea Mitchell of NBC confirmed my suspicions:
(Videotape)There was no "cone of silence"!?!?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Defeat it. Couple of points. One, if I'm president of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do it. I will get that done.
MR. GREGORY: Andrea Mitchell, that's a pretty clear contrast.
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, there was the crisp, immediate, forceful response by John McCain, clearly in a comfort zone because he was with his base. And Barack Obama, taking a risk in going there but seeing an opportunity. And a much more nuanced approach. The Obama people must feel that he didn't do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because that -- what they're putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama.
MR. GREGORY: Right.
MS. MITCHELL: He seemed so well prepared.
Does anyone seriously believe that McCain and/or his aides didn't listen to the first half of the forum? We are talking about a Republican campaign for the presidency, a campaign being advised by the master of political dirty tricks Karl Rove, so I'll ask again, does anyone seriously believe that McCain and/or some of his aides didn't listen to the first half of the forum, didn't walk onto the stage with some foreknowledge of the questions?
This story is beginning to draw a lot of coverage:
"NBC's Andrea Mitchell Floats Idea McCain Cheated"
"McCain cheated? proof he knew the questions ahead of time. "
"Video: Pastor Rick confirms McCain NOT in "cone of silence" during Obama Q&A"
"'Cone of Silence'-Gate Makes McCain Camp Erupt"
"McCain protests NBC coverage"
"'Cross in the Dirt' story stolen from Solzhenitsyn"