a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Bush debate cheating? Too controversial for the Times

Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 9th, 2005

Looks like Bush really might have been wired to get outside help in his debates with John Kerry — contravening ground rules for the debates and making for a pretty brutal assessment of Bush’s skills by himself and his handlers.

I say “might.” The processed photograph to the right looks pretty convincing, but I can’t be sure. Trouble is, I’ll get no help from the news media; even the New York Times killed the story because it might affect the election, while other papers wouldn’t touch it unless Kerry raised the issue himself, for fear of being labeled “conspiracy buffs.”

You can read all about it on the FAIR website in “The Emperor’s New Hump,” by David Lindorff (via digby). Lindorff published a piece in Salon — Bush’s Mystery Bulge* — on October 8 before the election, but didn’t have the benefit of a satellite photo specialist’s expertise in photo enhancement (see image on the right). I read about it, but didn’t know how to evaluate a claim that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Wrong again. Far from ignoring the story, New York Times reporters William Broad, John Schwartz, and Andrew Revkin were in close touch with Robert Nelson, a NASA/JPL scientist who used methods normally used with probe and satellite images to highlight suspicious lines and bulges under Bush’s suit.

Even if this wasn’t definitive — alternative theories included a defibrillator and a bulletproof jacket — it would have moved the story forward. The enhanced image shows wrinkles nothing like those made by merely hunching forward (one claim published at the time). But with days to go before the election, the story was spiked. Lindorff:

In fact, several sources, including a journalist at the Times, have told Extra! that the paper put a good deal of effort into this important story about presidential competence and integrity; they claim that a story was written, edited and scheduled to run on several different days, before senior editors finally axed it at the last minute on Wednesday evening, October 27. A Times journalist, who said that Times staffers were “pretty upset” about the killing of the story, claims the senior editors felt Thursday was “too close” to the election to run such a piece. Emails from the Times to the NASA scientist corroborate these sources’ accounts.

Jiminy Christmas, if they let Howard Raines go, they ought to let Bill Keller go, too, if Lindorff got this story right. What an absolute negation of everything a newspaper is for: sit around and calculate whether a story is too controversial to run. What a worthless rag. Ben Bagdikian, media observer and journalism dean at UC Berkeley, observed to Lindorff:

I cannot imagine a paper I worked for turning down a story like this before an election. This was credible photographic evidence not about breaking the rules, but of a total lack of integrity on the part of the president, evidence that he’d cheated in the debate, and also of a lack of confidence in his ability on the part of his campaign. I’m shocked to hear top management decided not to run such a story. […]

Cheating on a debate should affect an election. The decision not to let people know this story could affect the history of the United States.

Instead, the Times waited until after the election — and then still didn’t run the story. Instead, they put ace reporter Elisabeth Bumiller on the case. Result? “Cashmere and Kevlar? Bulge Affair has Tailor Miffed.

For one timeline of the “case of the bulge”, see Theories of the Bulge: The Timeline; among other sites, it links to the “Bush Wired” 11/21/2004 blog post by “icone” publishing correspondence to a reader by New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent:

Although I admire much of Mr. Lindorff’s work, without names or attributions I just don’t have enough to go on to enable me to find out whether, much less why, The Times “pulled” a piece on the subject.**

If so, what we have was Okrent basically saying “I’m too lazy to even send out a ‘To NYTeveryone’ e-mail to try to find out anything about this.”

File it under “Your Nation’s News Industry”; this is one of the most pathetic stories about the New York Times in quite a while. The only thing that comes close right now: why is Judith Miller still running her mouth as a New York Times reporter? But it’s not just the Times that looks bad; the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also punted when Nelson came to them with his findings.

Finally, memo to the White House: go ahead, use a wire — once Bush has some practice using it, maybe we’ll have fewer embarrassing moments like last Friday’s. I’m just trying to get with the program now that our national accountability moment has passed.

* The link leads to a reprint of the article in the Guardian.
** Lindorff refers to this in his “Emperor’s New Clothes” article; it took me until today to find this link to what he was talking about.

UPDATE, 2/9: A loose end tied up: the proprietor of writes to say that Okrent wrote his e-mail on 11/16/2004, replying to an 11/14/2004 e-mail by a reader who shared the response with Bushwired. He also says he “received “inside” information about the killing of the Bulge story on Oct. 29th, and immediately contacted the Times for an explanation. The Times did not respond to Bush Wired, and it wasn’t until December 19th when Okrent posted on his blog that the story was indeed killed.” He adds that by the date of the e-mail exchange Okrent had received other unspecified e-mails with details about the reporters and details of the quashed story. This is also a correction in that the Okrent post is what Lindorff refers to (see 2nd footnote above), not the bushwired e-mail reprint.

One Response to “Bush debate cheating? Too controversial for the Times”

  1. » Blog Archive » Rove quashed Bulgegate? Says:

    […] « prior: Bush debate cheating? Too controversial for the Times next: "Bushisms" and "the bulge": a possible connection » […]

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