On October 3rd, the Drudge Report posted a story questioning whether John Kerry cheated during the first presidential debate. Drudge wrote that a close-up analysis of the footage seemed to show Kerry pulling an unknown object from his jacket, in violation of debate rules. The story, which spread like wildfire through conservative Internet sites, was predictably scoffed at and ignored by mainstream media.
“Kerry did not cheat,” said a Kerry insider. He called the story “lies from Republicans, who are hoping for a quick change of subject away from the president’s performance, and the new polls.” When Drudge noted that even brandishing a pen from his jacket would have violated debate rules, the Kerry staffer laughed, adding, “See you at the inauguration, Drudge.”
It was a different story though, when Democratic bloggers started speculating on what they said was a rectangular shape visible underneath President Bush’s suit jacket during the first debate. The unsubstantiated story leapt from the blogosphere to Salon.com and then to newspapers across the world. The British press reported that a blundering Bush may have had a secret radio transmitter allowing aides to give him better retorts to quick-fire Kerry. Details became more elaborate. Some reported viewers saw a wire trailing down the president’s neck, and that he took suspiciously long pauses several times. It was reported that he had an odd expression as if he was listening to someone giving him a response.
“Mystery hangs over bulge in Bush’s jacket” noted the Oakland Tribune. “MYSTERY BULGE: WAS BUSH WIRED?” asked London’s Mirror. Media outlets that covered the bulge included the Winston-Salem Journal, New York Daily News, The New York Times, The London Guardian, Editor & Publisher, San Jose Mercury News, The BBC, Bangor Daily News, The Australian, Toronto Star, Carolina Morning News, and the Washington Post. Some of the news agencies covered the fact that other news agencies were covering the bulge. And on and on it went.
Jesse Jackson, who never met a microphone he didn’t like, breathed new life into the Internet-bred rumor, saying, “We need to know what the object was. It could be nothing. But it looks like something.” Jackson’s comments became yet another story. Bush’s campaign director Mark McKinnon denied his boss was wearing a wire. He said: “The president has never been assisted by any audio.”
So what was the bulge? Tailor George de Paris, who made the suit, said: “It must have been a pucker along the back seam, accentuated when he crossed his arms and leaned forward.” Just a pucker, eh? Given the rising cost of newsprint, and the freeze put on news employees’ salaries due to those costs, one would think media would not be so quick to waste their column-inches on a “mystery bulge” and on the blurring of news into useless and banal infotainment. While preoccupied with the phony “bulge” story, the media ignored the ongoing story of why Kerry failed to sign a government Standard Form 180 to authorize the release of the rest of his personnel or medical records from Navy files. What was Kerry trying to hide? This was the real mystery.