My Salon magazine story Friday about the mysterious rectangular bulge in Bush's suit jacket during the first debate ( What's that Bulge?(Oct. 16, 2003) ), which had been rocketing around the Internet on blogsites in the days after the debate, has crossed over into at least some of the corporate media now, with articles appearing Saturday in both the New York Times (The Mysterious Bulge, Oct. 9, 2004) ) and the Washington Post ( Bulge Under President's Coat in First Debate Stirs Speculation, Oct. 9, 2004) ).
While the White House and the Bush campaign both repeatedly blew me off over several days of calls when I tried to elicit some explanation from them for the obvious object under his jacket between his shoulder blades, the Times and Post had better luck. According to the Times, the campaign first tried to claim that the photo run in Salon and on the web was "doctored."
When they were forced to admit that the image of the object was clear in the video feeds available direct for C-Span and other broadcasters of the original videotape of the debate, they changed their story, according to the paper, suggesting that it was a wrinkle. Even the Times itself noted that they failed to explain why the wrinkle had a rectangular shape.
The most important piece of information obtained by the Times reporter was a statement by the Bush campaign that the president was not wearing a bullet-proof vest during the debate appearance--one of the most widely offered alternative explanations for the bulge in the jacket.
The Post quoted administration spokespeople as trying to disparage the story by making fun of it, suggesting that people who thought the president was getting tips via a hidden receiver in his ear duct were like Kennedy conspiracy theorists.
That said, the best evidence that something untoward was under the president's jacket last week is that it had disappeared by Friday night at the second debate.
The president was wearing a different, olive-colored jacket, which some people noted was not particularly well fitted (the sleeves appeared a little long and the back was a bit wrinkled--both odd for a president in one of the key appearances of his presidency).
So was the president wired for debate number two? Many observers suspect he was not, both because, if he was wired last week and suspicions were raised, it would have been dangerous to attempt the strategy again this time, when everyone would be watching, and because his performance was so poor. Recall that the president on at least two occasions ran out of things to say, that he repeated himself several times and even fell back on his "hard work" theme, which had been mocked so badly after the first debate, and that he was completely stumped when Kerry embarrassed him with information drawn from his 2001 tax return, showing he had claimed to be the owner of a timber farm on the basis of dollars in profits from some tax dodge.
At this point, the story seems unlikely to go away. Speculation that the president is getting secret help via an electronic transmission will not be squelched by feeble White House and Bush campaign denials, unless the president is willing to be searched before his third and last debate appearance next Wednesday (don’t bet on it).
Meanwhile, as my 20-year-old daughter points out to me, the matter of whether or not Bush is channeling Karl Rove is really not the issue, and in fact may be a diversion. The real issue, as she correctly argues, is what the Bush administration is doing and will do if he is re-elected.
For the rest of this column, please go (at no charge) to This Can't Be Happening! .