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  Battle of the Bush Bulge
    (Oct. 19, 2004)

   If President Bush showed up at Debate # 1 with a red feather behind his
ear, here is how the mainstream press in America would have covered the story:
        They would have written nothing, and waited to see what "liberal bloggers" made of the feather, giving it a week or so to see if the Internet buzz had legs. Then they would have grudgingly phoned the White House to politely ask for an official explanation.
        The White House would have first denied there was a red feather behind Bush's ear, then, if pressed, offered a sneering juvenile remark like "this is little green men on a grassy knoll." If pressed further, a Bush spokesman would have acknowledged the presence of the feather, explaining that it must have been accidentally dropped by a passing red-tail hawk.
        The mainstream American press would have reported the White House comments, then promptly dropped the story.
        This is exactly what has happened with the "Is Bush Bugged?" matter. Reporters shirked rule number one of any journalism school or self-respecting city room: follow up.
        Freelancer Dave Lindorff didn't.
        When Lindorff saw the Internet photo from Debate # 1 with a perfectly rectangular bulge protruding an inch or two from Bush's mid-back, and read the accounts about the Prez's long pauses before answering questions (in unusually disjointed fashion, even for him), and his blurting out "Let me finish" when no one had interrupted him, Lindorff. . .followed up. Just like any old-fashioned reporter would have. Just like any contemporary reporter should have.
        He asked himself common-sense questions: Did Kerry have the same bulge? Was the picture altered? Is there communication gear that would produce a rectangular protruberance, mid-back, with a wireless earpiece? What does the White House say about it?
        Then he acted, phoning the Kerry people, who said the candidate was not wired for sound for any purpose. He obtained the C-SPAN feed of the debate and isolated frames that very clearly revealed the rectangular bulge on Bush---proving that the Internet image had not been Photoshopped. He spoke to an audio expert and determined that yes, there is equipment that would have produced such a lump, and it comes with a wireless earpiece that is all but invisible. Finally, he phoned the White House, and. . .the White House did not return the call.
        This is a news story, folks. realized it, thankfully, and after Lindorff's article was posted, the New York Times and Washington Post did one follow-up story each. This prompted the goofball explanation from Bush spokespersons about a "wrinkle" in his suit, and the snide "little green men on a grassy knoll" remark. (Thought I made that one up, did you?)
        The Bush shrug-off came despite the fact that Lindorff had also came across another photo---this time, of Bush driving around the Crawford ranch, with exactly the same protruberance on his back, clearly visible. Where did this shot come from? Why, only the White House website, that's all. Along with several other shots of the Prez with a wire leading up to his ear---which were quickly removed after many "liberal bloggers" started   writing about them. That's all.
        So what, some have said. So what if Bush wore an earpiece. This wasn't Herbert Stempel vs. Charles Van Doren, after all. There was no $64,000 at stake here.
        Right. Nothing at stake but the future of the United States.
        It's true that the potential scandal here is nothing---nothing---compared with, say, planning the invasion of Iraq long before 9/11 happened, then using 9/11 as justification to whip up national support for invading Iraq. Nothing compared to secret meetings with oil companies to plan the nation's energy policies. Nothing compared to the corporate infiltration of the United States government. Nothing compared to the familial bonds between the Bushes and the Saudis. Nothing compared to soldiers refusing to serve missions in Iraq because they are not adequately protected by their own government.
        But it is not a nothing story.
        If Bush secretly wore a wire, people deserve to know this about their president. It could prompt some of the undecideds to decide. If the president had to cheat in the debate; if he was being coached and prompted surruptitiously via James Bond audio equipment, this is important. It doesn't break any laws, but it is deceitful, sneaky, and it suggests that the president doesn't really know what he's talking about, or how to express himself, or how to effectively counter a point in a debate. That he is being told what to do and what to say by others.
        Of course, a lot of people figured that out long ago.
        That the mainstream press is letting the story die not only smacks of lousy fundamental reporting skills, it ignores journalism's raison d'etre (pardon my French): to get at the facts of a matter. The biggest bulge in the "Bush Bulge" is not in the frontal lobes of the reporters covering it---or rather, not covering it.
        But this is not surprising, given that the mainstream press's general idea of journalism is to simply report official statements by opposing camps, and have done with it. Probe more deeply? That runs the risk of prompting Bush to call another reporter a "major league asshole," or earning the dreaded "liberal press" dismissal by Fox, Limbaugh, Hannity, and the rest. Back of the pressroom, Helen Thomas!
        It is also not surprising, given the astounding intimidation of media by the Bush administration---something that far out-Nixons Nixon." Consider: Liberal Democrat" Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, home of Janet Jackson's nipple and Howard Stern's mouth, now supports Bush for re-election because "I vote for what's good for Viacom." Disney refused to distribute "Farenheit 9/11." Cable TV broke its contract with Michael Moore to air "Farenheit" prior to the election. Ashcroft is threatening to jail reporters for not revealing sources in the Plame scandal. Warner Brothers refused to add an anti-war documentary to the DVD of the anti-war film, "Three Kings." The FCC is not likely to stop Sinclair Network from forcing its 62 stations to broadcast an anti-Kerry film prior to the election---and it is not likely to grant "equal time" to the Kerry side, either.
        As long as this continues, and the press cowers, one thing is certain: there are plenty more red feathers to come.

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