Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Bulgegate story that never was

Dave Lindorff of Extra! and Salon reports on the then-potentially explosive pre-election story that was so effectively smothered: "Bulgegate". The story of President Bush's mysterious bulge under his jacket during the first Presidential debate was a serious and worthwhile story - complete with photographic evidence that he might have been "wired" - that deserved serious consideration in the media, but never got it. As Lindorff notes:
    The so-called Bulgegate story had been getting tremendous attention on the Internet. Stories about it had also run in many mainstream papers, including the New York Times (10/9/04, 10/18/04) and Washington Post (10/9/04), but most of these had been light-hearted. Indeed, the issue had even made it into the comedy circuit, including the monologues of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and a set of strips by cartoonist Garry Trudeau.

    That the story hadn't gotten more serious treatment in the mainstream press was largely thanks to a well-organized media effort by the Bush White House and the Bush/Cheney campaign to label those who attempted to investigate the bulge as "conspiracy buffs" (Washington Post, 10/9/04). In an era of pinched budgets and an equally pinched notion of the role of the Fourth Estate, the fact that the Kerry camp was offering no comment on the matter - perhaps for fear of earning a "conspiracy buff" label for the candidate himself - may also have made reporters skittish. Jeffrey Klein, a founding editor of Mother Jones magazine, told Mother Jones (online edition, 10/30/04) he had called a number of contacts at leading news organizations across the country, and was told that unless the Kerry campaign raised the issue, they couldn't pursue it.

This is a pretty good single example of what Lance Bennett, in broader terms, would call "indexing" in the media. But Lindorff's more immediate and damning point is the New York Times's desire not only to spike the story, but also to deny it had even pursued it seriously (which it apparently had, as Times public editor Daniel Okrent has now admitted). took up the cudgels, but Salon can't drive the news agenda like the New York Times can. Well, chalk up another glorious moment in the history of the valiant "liberal" press. Of course it is inconceivable that the press would have been as reticent if there had been evidence of John Kerry being wired. And if the Swift Boat Vets' campaign against Kerry deserved to to be treated as a serious news story, so did this! I don't think that's a controversial sentiment. Obviously the Times thinks otherwise. And remember that the "Swift Boat Vets" were bankrolled and heavily promoted by Bush-related forces, while those same forces railed against the Bulgegate story. And the media, faced with a well-disciplined, professional, and intense Republican media campaign, fell into line, as they always do. I am thoroughly disheartened to conclude that the mainstream media dropped the ball intentionally on this one.


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