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The bulge is back — because the NYT spiked the story

Would voters have tossed Chimpy out on his rear if it could have been proven that he was cheating at the debates by wearing a wire? No one knows, but our friends at the f*cking “all the news that’s fit to print” NYT spiked its own story on the investigation of it. (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting via OW):

In the weeks leading up to the November 2 election, the New York Times was abuzz with excitement. Besides the election itself, the paper’s reporters were hard at work on two hot investigative projects, each of which could have a major impact on the outcome of the tight presidential race.

One week before Election Day, the Times (10/25/04) ran a hard-hitting and controversial exposé of the Al-Qaqaa ammunition dump—identified by U.N. inspectors before the war as containing 400 tons of special high-density explosives useful for aircraft bombings and as triggers for nuclear devices, but left unguarded and available to insurgents by U.S. forces after the invasion.

On Thursday, just three days after that first exposé, the paper was set to run a second, perhaps more explosive piece, exposing how George W. Bush had worn an electronic cueing device in his ear and probably cheated during the presidential debates.

Remember that Salon piece where Dr. Robert M. Nelson, a photo imaging specialist at NASA did his own analysis of the pictures from the debate (my post is here)? He tried to get several newspapers interested, and Bob Woodward of the WP had heard the NYT killed the piece, but now he’s not talking.

In addition to the L. A. Times and the two local papers that showed no interest, Nelson says that the same day he learned that his story had been killed at the Times, October 28, he received a phone call from Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, famous for his investigative reports on Watergate. “Woodward said he’d heard the Times had killed the story and asked me if I could send the photos to him,” says Nelson.

The JPL scientist did so immediately, via email, noting that he had also been in touch with Salon magazine. He says Woodward then sent his photographs over to a photo analyst at the paper to check them for authenticity, which Nelson says was confirmed.

A day later, realizing time was getting short, Nelson called Woodward back. Recalls Nelson: “He told me, ‘Look, I’m going to have to go through a lot of hoops to get this story published. You’re already talking to Salon. Why don’t you work with them?'” (Several emails to Woodward asking him about Nelson’s account have gone unanswered.)

At that point Nelson, despairing of getting the pictures in a major publication, went with the online magazine Salon. This reporter subsequently asked Nelson to do a similar photo analysis of digital images of Bush’s back taken from the tapes of the second and third presidential debates. The resulting photos, which also clearly show the cueing device and magnetic loop harness under his jacket on both occasions, were posted, together with Nelson’s images from the first debate, on the news website of Mother Jones magazine (10/30/04).

What should affect elections?

Ben Bagdikian, retired dean of U.C. Berkeley’s journalism school, held Woodward’s current position at the Washington Post during the time of the Pentagon Papers. Informed of the fate of the bulge story and Nelson’s photos at the three newspapers, he said:

I cannot imagine a paper I worked for turning down a story like this before an election. This was credible photographic evidence not about breaking the rules, but of a total lack of integrity on the part of the president, evidence that he’d cheated in the debate, and also of a lack of confidence in his ability on the part of his campaign. I’m shocked to hear top management decided not to run such a story.

Could the last-minute decision by the New York Times not to run the Nelson photos story, or the decision by the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times not even to pursue it, have affected the outcome of the recent presidential race? There is no question that if such a story had run in any one of those major venues, instead of just in two online publications, Bulgegate would have been a major issue in the waning days of the campaign.

Given that exit polls show many who voted for Bush around the country listed “moral values” as a big factor in their decision, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some would have changed their minds had evidence been presented in the nation’s biggest and most influential newspapers that Bush had been dishonest.

“Cheating on a debate should affect an election,” says Bagdikian. “The decision not to let people know this story could affect the history of the United States.”

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Pam Spaulding

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