On the day of the first Southern-state Republican debate on the Fox News Channel, one undeclared GOP candidate performed a media leapfrog.
With the help of one 38-second video clip and a great sense of humor, Fred Thompson, the former U.S. senator from Tennessee who is one sock away from dipping his toe into the race for the White House, remained just as relevant as the other GOP candidates.And thanks to Michael Moore, the Hollywood documentarian who just can’t help himself, Thompson delivered what, in time, could become his watershed moment.
On Tuesday morning, Mark Corallo, the undeclared Thompson’s frontman, had clicked on to the massively popular Internet news aggregator, the Drudge Report, to find that Moore had challenged Thompson to a political duel, also known as a debate.
“Within the space of about five minutes we decided to do a quick video response,” Corallo recalled from his Washington office. He called Thompson and asked if he wanted to “have some fun today” and respond to Moore with a quick video.
Thompson’s response was “pure Fred,” Corallo said:
“Give me a camera. I already know what I am going to say,” said Thompson.
Two phone calls and one camera later, Thompson was ready to go. One “take” later -- with no script, no booking time in a studio and no opposition research or talking points -- Thompson was shot into cyberspace.
Thompson scorched Moore in his witty video, dangling an unlit (Cuban?) cigar alongside a civics lesson that pointed out the perils of Moore's collaborating with the fickle dictator Fidel Castro.
“His video response was all him,” said Corallo; it was not written, prepared or massaged by anyone else. “It was literally Fred being Fred.”
Having worked with Andrew Breitbart, longtime Drudge associate and founder of the Internet news aggregator Breitbart.com and its news video component, Breitbart TV, Corallo first called Breitbart.
“After it was posted on Drudge, it took on a life of its own,” he said.
“We are in a time in which everybody is in the same boat, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in media,” said Breitbart from his office in California. “Fred Thompson just realized that running around the mainstream media in this particular instance worked.”
“I think that in 38 seconds, he says so much,” he added. “Fred Thompson knew the correct tone to take. He showed a level of sophistication that I think that people are looking for.”
Thompson has broken some new ground without the video clip being edited to fit a TV sound-bite, without pundits and columnists and the mainstream media having a chance to characterize it in their own ways.
Corallo remembers a politician once telling him that if you are not having fun, you need to get out of the game: “The business of governing is serious, but the business of campaigning should be fun.”
“I am just glad that Fred has an innate sense of humor,” he added. “Should he decide to run, people are going to see that.”
Republican strategist Kent Gates said it clearly was Thompson’s moment: “It was quick, clever and precise in the way he responded to the attack.”
Thompson has said he wants to run a different type of campaign, and the video clip proves it. It was the almost-candidate himself stepping up and doing something Americans haven't seen.
The question is not if this was a watershed. The question is, whose watershed was it -- Thompson’s, mainstream media’s or new media’s?