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-- THE BULGE STORY --
Is the BULGE news? Or will it simply fade away into the lore of pop-culture as a strange mystery never to be solved?
We may never get a real answer to the simple question asked well over a month ago: "What is that BULGE on President Bush's back?". It seems like a proper question to ask, especially when millions of people saw this "Mystery Bulge" in all three Presidential debates. When speculation on possible cheating during the debates arose, and with the possible use of a "coaching" device, the question seemed even more pertinent. As official, ridiculous denials were offered and more "evidence" of the Bulge, devices, and possible theories came into the spotlight, important questions were asked.
We did receive some answers, strange ones, but answers nonetheless. However, strangely absent were hard questions asked by the media. One must ask WHY? Lets retrace the steps in this mystery.
The Bulge was originally spotted during the first Presidential debate, Sept 30, 2004. It was unmistakable, millions of viewers raised their eyebrows after seeing this strange "hump" on President Bush's back. Immediately, internet blogs began to ask the question that the mainstream press would not ask, "What is it?" Theories and conjecture flowed in from around the world, rumors of coaching devices, bulletproof vests, Secret Service devices, medical devices and numerous other theories circulated freely on the "internets".
On Oct. 8th, Dave Lindorff, a writer for Salon.com, picked up the issue and wrote a story on the Bulge that received widespread attention. Suddenly, the Bulge became news... or more specifically, the rumors became news. The story was carried by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, the AP and countless other media outlets. The Bulge rumor and speculation of the President cheating broke into the mainstream.
Nobody expected the Bulge to be seen again, but in the second debate it was again easily visible, despite few shots of the candidates from the rear.
The White House initially denied the Bulge's existence as a "doctored" photo. When it was shown that the Bulge was clearly seen in the raw footage from the debate, the White House backed away from this assertion. The New York Times asked if it was a bulletproof vest ( a logical assumption at the time), and the White House went on-record stating that the President didn't wear such protection during the debates. However, trying to laugh off the topic, Bush/Cheney campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said it was all ridiculous, and mentioned something about Elvis moderating the debates. This was a great sound-bite which was also widely reported in the media, but it only fueled the debate raging on the web.
Several web-sites and blogs (including Bush Wired) were firmly established by this time and created an open forum for the discussion of the Bulge and all the theories. These sites received millions of hits from curious web-surfers. Then, a funny thing happened... the wired theory began to gain credibility as links, tips, photos and information were exchanged between people worldwide. Some other "evidence" popped up supporting theories of medical and Secret Service devices (among others). However, the wired theory continued to be the main subject of speculation.
Several wireless "prompting" devices were found that closely resembled the shape and contour of the Bulge. Numerous people reported that instances of wireless "coaching" were seen in the past, and had been taped by the media. A few Washington journalists stated that it was "widely known" that Bush used a prompting device during big speeches and press conferences. A somewhat dubious tape turned up of President Bush and Jaques Chirac at a press conference in France, where some sort of "ghost voice" was heard on the audio, apparently feeding the President lines. This video was widely circulated and the discussion of coaching expanded. (It was later reported that the Chirac tape could have been the result of an unexplained audio problem, but nobody really knows for sure.)
Dozens of Bulge photos captured during the debates, and even found on the White House website were posted online and seen by millions. Besides pictures of the telltale hump, a photo of an actual wire under the President's tie, seen during the second debate, was captured. The President's odd eye movements and speech patterns were closely analyzed, they too supported the allegation of debate prompting. The President spoke with long pauses and would speak out sentences one at at time.Bush would also stare blankly for a few seconds after being asked a question then answer with a flood of words and "talking points". These observations are consistent with prompting. At one point during the debate Bush even exclaimed, "Let me finish!" although nobody was speaking.
As serious questions were being asked and the circumstantial evidence mounted, many people refused to believe that this could happen.
Yet, the Bulge was real, and very obvious, people everywhere were still wondering what it was. The White House then stated that the Bulge was a simple wrinkle. While nobody accepted this explanation, it was the first time that the Bulge was "officially" admitted to be something.
By Oct. 12th the Bulge media coverage hit a fevered pitch. Late night talk shows devoted several nights to Bulge jokes including a hilarious Top-Ten on Letterman. Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards joked about the Bulge on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, this in itself made news. Newspapers, TV, and radio continued to discuss the bulge rumor, but strangely, nobody seriously asked what it was. Most coverage was in a humorous light, or simply discussed the internet debate... the absence of the media asking real questions about this possibly serious issue became very apparent.
Salon.com published its second story on the Bulge Oct. 13th, the day of the third debate. It showed more unmistakable images of the Bulge and quoted a technical expert, laying out a very good case for further investigation. The possibility of Bush being wired during the debate while still speculative, became even more of a possibility.
Bulge-watchers around the world tuned in for the third debate. There was a contest offering money to the first person to send in a clear Bulge photo on Democrats.com. Nobody thought the Bulge would make a third appearance... but all eyes were on Bush's back. Again, few shots of the president's back were broadcast during the debate, but at the end, when the candidates met, the world was stunned to see the Bulge again. This time it was clear and absolutely not a wrinkle. In fact, it looked as though whatever was under Bush's jacket was still there, but padded, or covered by something thus making an even bigger bulge. Adding fuel to the fire, it appeared that John Kerry tried to give Bush an informal pat-down when the two shook hands. When Kerry's hand reached out to Bush's back, the President quickly moved away.
Internet speculation now turned into widespread demands for further investigation by the press. People wanted to know what was going on! Rev. Jesse Jackson and others publicly called for an investigation of the bulge, whatever it was. The mainstream press began to show an obvious distaste for this story, and apparently would not look into it further. Several poll results were released showing that the majority of viewers who had seen the Bulge thought it was a wireless coaching device. This fact was used by the media as a reason why the issue should NOT be covered. Their reasoning was that the story, true or not, brought out deep feelings of distrust in Americans and coverage of the story would be detrimental to the election process without solid evidence of wrongdoing. This was a somewhat flawed analysis of the situation when one keeps in mind that the media wouldn't investigate the story on its own, or find its own facts.
Farhad Manjoo wrote an exceptional article for Salon.com (Oct. 15th) on the Bulge. The theories were discussed and weighed against each other, the Bulge story was covered in detail. A professional de-bugger who had worked for the White House, stated on-record that coaching and prompting were widely used, not only by the President, but by members of the cabinet! He stated that he not only witnessed such coaching, but had recordings of such instances archived. The world waited for these tapes to be brought forward... and we're still waiting, No further statements were made by this person.
The Bush and Kerry election campaigns were in full momentum as the "evidence" and conjecture continued to snowball. Official discrediting of the Bulge story switched into high gear. While there still was no thorough investigation of the Bulge by the mainstream media, reporters continuously asked, simply, "What is it?". Ken Mehlman, the Bush/Cheney campaign manager was quoted on Meet The Press (Oct 17th), stating that the Bulge was a device used by the President to communicate with Mars, and that the President himself was an ALIEN! Another great sound-bite that received worldwide media coverage, and again only served to fuel the rumors on the internet.
This is where the story takes its first strange turn. The "official" position on the Bulge was simply, that it didn't exist, its just a wrinkle, and the issue should be laughed at. Meanwhile, the mood on the internet again turned from speculation to an outright call-to-arms. Upset because of the lack of media coverage on an issue as important as cheating during the debates, the internet community yet again called on the press to investigate, this time in a relatively organized effort. Web sites and blogs urged viewers to contact the media and provided contact information and form letters addressed to every media outlet imaginable. America demanded an answer.
The letter writing effort resulted in a few new Bulge stories being broadcast on TV, most notably by CNN's Paula Zahn. The segment lasted a few minutes and was surprisingly in-depth, but offered nothing more than continued coverage of the internet speculation, the photos, and web sites devoted to the topic. No independent investigation was offered, and it seemed that CNN did not even contact the White House or the campaign for a statement. All the media would do is ask the familiar question, "What is it?", but no plausible answer was demanded.
In a new development echoing the feelings on the web, Dave Lindorff again covered the Bulge and asked why the story was not being investigated in the media. Why were serious questions not being asked? Lindorff mentioned that the Bulge topic was being covered seriously overseas, even by CNN, but not in America. Previous overseas reports had examined Bush's speech patterns and also concluded that his odd behavior during the debates and in press conferences could be explained by coaching. Statements refuting the "wrinkle" excuse were debunked by a noted tailor. Experts in the spy-ware industry stated that the bulge indeed appeared to be a wireless device.
New information that Bush was also "wired" during his 9/11 Commission testimony came into the limelight. This assertion had been previously covered many months before the debates as the circumstances revolving the 9/11 testimony were "fishy" at best. Coincidentally, at the time it was also reported that it was widely known that Bush used a prompting device. Photos of Bush taken immediately following his press conference clearly showed the Bulge. Later, enhancement would show this Bulge to be very similar to the debate Bulge.
With Bulge speculation still running rampant everywhere, the Bush/Cheney campaign was continually asked about the bulge, but never gave any sort of realistic answer. They were also wasting valuable press conference time rebutting the Bulge, and it appeared that their humorous assertions were not working well. It was time for serious Bulge "spin control". Further explanations of the Bulge being a simple wrinkle were offered. It could be said that the Bulge was now officially recognized as a pesky campaign side-issue. White House Chief of Staff Andrew card told the New York Times that the Bulge was a "poorly tailored suit". Does the President really wear expensive but poorly tailored suits?
Enter the Presidential tailor, Georges de Paris, who worked for every President since Lyndon Johnson. As the Bulge was now being laughed off as a wrinkle, Mr. de Paris was repeatedly asked about his handiwork. On October 20th, The Hill (a newspaper for and about Congress) ran a story quoting Mr. de Paris saying the White House had previously asked him not to comment on the issue. The hapless tailor, perhaps bravely, decided to "take the fall", at the behest of the administration. Mr. de Paris then demonstrated that the Bulge was a wrinkle, or more specifically, a "pucker". Oddly, the photo only proved that the Bulge was NOT a such a wrinkle... the picture could not have looked more different from the 'real' bulge.
The tailor's assertion was immediately debunked on the internet which was again going crazy over the Bulge topic. People wondered if they were supposed to be so gullible as to accept this explanation. Was there a cover-up? Why was this story so strange? Nothing seemed to add up. Meanwhile, the media widely carried the Tailor's story but seemed to accept the ridiculous "pucker" explanation.
In the following week, editorial columnists continued to remark on the story but little fresh Bulge news came forward. Rumors of the Bulge being an "October Surprise" circulated. Online, the main Bulge issue (Bush cheating during the debate) seemed to be drowned out by criticism of the media's non-coverage.
The "internets" continued to be a lively forum for the Bulge. People were still digging deep for answers, more web sites were founded, and all continued to receive amazing hit counts. The story was being ignored by the media but it was absolutely not dead. The comic strip Doonesbury ran several strips about the Bulge, and helped popular interest increase again.
October 26th, the Bulge story takes its second strange twist. With previous explanations of the Bulge as a jacket wrinkle debunked and flatly dismissed online, President Bush himself went on-record. During an interview on Good Morning America, Bush told Charles Gibson that the Bulge was NOT a jacket wrinkle, but a poorly tailored SHIRT! Again, eyebrows were raised and people everywhere scratched their heads in disbelief. The story was carried worldwide in hundreds of newspapers as well as the televised media, the mystery was deemed "solved". On the internet, people asked why Bush would wear the same badly tailored shirt in all 3 debates, especially since it created so much controversy and trouble for his campaign. (For the record, Bush wears expensive, hand sewn shirts that have been personally fitted by Georges de Paris.)
While media criticism hit an all-time high online, nobody knew that the New York Times was working on a big story about the Bulge, written by William Broad and John Schwartz. Tips to Bush Wired stated that this story was serious, thorough, and properly fact-checked, also bringing forward some new information on the matter. The story was set to run six days before the election but was "killed" at the last moment. (Reportedly by Times executive editor Bill Keller.) Apparently, the story was not run because the Times did not want to influence the election. It could also be argued that the Times influenced the election by NOT running the story. People asked, When did the news media begin to dictate to the public what was, and was not, NEWS? Are viewers so easily influenced that they cannot make their own opinions on an issue? What is the Bulge?
The next strange twist in this meandering story came as both Salon.com and Mother Jones published a story a few days before the election offering irrefutable evidence that the Bulge was not a wrinkle. While this news came too late for widespread pre-election coverage, the amazing truth is that the media did not cover this important development at all.
Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a senior researcher and respected photo analyst for NASA and JPL in Pasadena, Ca, applied his expertise on the bulge photos. Dr. Nelson is an international authority on image analysis. His enhanced photos were stunning, but not a big surprise to anyone following the Bulge. What his analysis proved was that the Bulge was absolutely not a question of ill-fitting clothing, but rather, a clearly seen object with a long wire strapped onto the President's back. If this was the smoking gun, someone must have used a silencer.
Dr. Nelson was willing to risk his prestigious scientific reputation on his analysis saying that not only is the bulge an object but it is also consistent with a coaching device. The scientist's story is interesting. Dr. Nelson approached several major news outlets with his photos since early October, nobody would agree to cover the story. The press wasn't about to take a chance on this story, despite ample (though circumstantial) evidence, including the new enhanced photos. Bob Woodward of the Washington Post called Nelson personally, suggesting that he bring the photos to Salon.com because he would have a hard time clearing them with his editors. Reports have surfaced of pressure being applied to Dr. Nelson's higher-ups at JPL forcing Dr. Nelson to keep quiet. The scientist has not made further statements elaborating on the issue, or offered any additional photos.
It was obvious that something wasn't right about the Bulge and the media, and the official bad shirt story.
So, with definitive proof of an OBJECT under Bush's jacket, and the President going on-record and lying about its existence, the press continued to ignore this story. A source told Bush Wired that there were numerous reporters at the Times aghast over the killing of the Bulge story. It was obvious that the Bulge mystery would not be solved before the election. Rumors of a huge story to break after the election made the rounds on the internet.
After the election, despite the rumors of a breaking story, everyone figured the Bulge had died with Bush's re-election. Hits to internet sites dropped steeply, but there was still significant interest in the Bulge. Karl Rove mocked the Bulge by pretending to speak to the President remotely. An occasional mention of the "Mystery of the Bulge" popped up in the press. While the story seemed to stall, it didn't fade away.
And then we have the latest weird twist in the story. Nov. 4th, The Hill published another article on the Bulge. This time they refuted their own wrinkle story, citing Dr. Nelson's analysis. ( I have yet to see anyone question Nelson's results.) However, citing anonymous sources, The Hill claimed that the Bulge was now the strap of a bulletproof vest.
The bulletproof vest theory was dissected in detail in the early days of the Bulge. This latest excuse for the Bulge is almost as laughable as their story on the wrinkle. Nobody has been able to show any bulletproof vest that would create a hump or object as it was detailed in Dr. Nelsons photos. The long WIRE also observed doesn't help for a good match with vests. Further, President Bush only appeared to wear this "vest" at debates, testimony, important press conferences, and speeches. He didn't appear to wear this certain bulletproof vest in public or while campaigning. There was no bulge seen when Bush took his jacket off during campaign stumping.
The New York Times again covered the Bulge on Nov. 8th. They proclaimed that the tailor was "off the hook" for the Bulge. Georges de Paris, apparently devastated by criticism of his life's work, decided that HE THOUGHT the Bulge was a bulletproof vest as well, and... so it was. Back to the bulletproof vest, except for one problem, the White House sticks to its original story that the President did not wear a vest at the debates. Meanwhile, Karl Rove has recently been quoted as saying that the Bulge doesn't exist at all.
Still no investigation by the media, and the press has yet to ask any serious questions about the Bulge.
And so the Bulge story stands, after doing a complete circle, the Bulge now fades away, back into the depths of the internet. Rumors still persist of "big news, breaking at any moment". Some have said that this story is bigger than Watergate, others wonder why anyone still cares. Most Bulge sites have shut down or no longer post regularly. The story again seems to have died and replaced by debate raging on the web over election results.
This story has spoken volumes about how the media operates in America. It raises questions about about the debates, the election, and the President. The Bulge speaks about the power of the internet and it's new role in our culture. But in the end, all we are left with is the original question, "What is that BULGE on President Bush's back?"
Perhaps we'll never know.
Recent news posts 11/14/04:
• -->NEW BULGE ARTICLE: An excellent, in-depth, discussion of the Bulge. From FREEZERBOX.COM
• --> THE NEW YORK TIMES
covers this story again, and proclaims that the tailor, Georges de Paris, is "off the hook" and not responsible for the pesky bulge. It was nice that the hapless tailor tried to take the fall, but his theory didn't hold water. Mr. de Paris is "devastated" by all the fuss. The above artricle also refutes the recent story by THE HILL that the bulge was simply a bulletproof vest, but makes no mention of the NASA analysis.
• --> "Nothing was under his jacket,".
This statement comes from none other than Karl Rove, in a new AP story.
• --> Karl Rove
shows his love for mocking the Bulge (from Newsweek).
• --> Elisabeth Bumiller's
story in the International Herald Tribune
• --> Dan Froomkin's BULGE WATCH
Section in the White House Briefing column (Washington Post). Discusses recent bulge news (all the way at the bottom).
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