Dick Ahles: 'The battle of the (Bush) bulge'
Monday, February 21 @ 10:02:41 EST
By Dick Ahles, The Day
Remember the mysterious bulge on President George W. Bush's back that was spotted by some keen-eyed observers of the Bush-Kerry debates?
Was it an optical illusion or was it one of the three explanations offered at various times by the Bush campaign? Was it, as the campaign said, the result of the deliberate doctoring of the photo to embarrass Bush and cost him votes or was it, as the campaign also said, the consequence of the president wearing a poorly tailored jacket or, as Bush himself said, a poorly-tailored shirt?
It turns out it was none of the above but there was some serious, mostly unreported evidence Bush was wired and getting a little electronic help from his friends during the debates.
When stories about the bulge first appeared on the Internet and then in the press in early October, the White House huffed that the photo was doctored and called it a deliberate distortion. But that denial died quickly because the photo had been taken directly from the broadcast and the pool crew manning the cameras was from the Bush-friendly Fox News.
Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an online media watchdog, is now reporting that all the White House theories became inoperative in late October when the photo was enhancedby a NASA scientist to better examine the bulge . Robert Nelson has spent 30 years as an astronomer with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech and is part of a photo enhancement team for the Saturn space probe. He concluded the bulge wasn't doctored or the result of a sartorial mishap, but looked for all the world like a device for receiving electronically transmitted material. The photo is available by going to www.fair.org and clicking on a story entitled “The Emperor's New Hump.”
FAIR says Nelson failed to interest newspapers in California and Pittsburgh before offering his photo and findings to The New York Times, which assigned three reporters to the story. On Oct. 26, reporter John Schwartz e-mailed Nelson that the story was “shaping up very nicely, but my editors have asked me to hold off for one day while they push through a few other stories that are ahead of us in line,” according to FAIR.
The next day, Oct. 27 and just six days before the Nov. 2 election, the story failed to appear and Nelson was told it had been killed. The Kerry campaign, as was its habit, blew an opportunity. If Kerry had commented,the media would have given the bulge question the attention it deserved.
For The Times, it was a tough call. No news organization wants to run a last-minute, questionable story that could influence an election but this one certainly looked far more legitimate than, say, the widely reported Swift boat accusations against Kerry.
Bob Woodward of Watergate fame thought so. The Washington Post assistant managing editor called Nelson after hearing The Times had killed the story and asked to see what he had.
The scientist obliged, telling Woodward he had also offered it to Salon. The next day, Woodward told Nelson he was going “through hoops” to get the story published and suggested he work with Salon, which ran its little-noticed story five days before the election.
Ben Bagdikian, a highly-regarded journalist who held Woodward's job when the Post published the Pentagon papers, told FAIR: “I can't imagine a paper I worked for turning down a story like this before an election.”
Dick Ahles is a retired television news executive. He lives in Riverton.
© 2005 The Day Publishing Co.
Reprinted from The Day: