It turns out FAIR’s claim that the New York Times killed a “Bush bulge” story was not “totally off base,” as a Press Clips column reported on November 16.
The “bulge” in question was a strangely shaped lump under Bush’s jacket at the presidential debates—a shape that some speculated could have been a radio device allowing an aide to coach the president. The White House dismissed the rumors, but the bulge debate persisted on the Web. It even received some attention in the mainstream press—including the Times—but none of the stories dug very deeply into what the thing was.
On November 5, a press release from FAIR quoted a claim by independent journalist Dave Lindorff that the Times had received “compelling photographic and scientific evidence that would have contradicted Bush’s claim that the bulge on his back was just a matter of poor tailoring.”
Lindorff said the Times had “assigned three editors to this story and had it scheduled to run five days before the election, which would have raised questions about the president’s integrity . . . But it was killed by top editors at the Times; clearly they were chickening out of taking this on before the election.” Lindorff elaborated on his findings on FAIR’s radio program, CounterSpin.
In early November, I asked one of the Times staffers who was allegedly involved in the piece if what Lindorff reported was true. This staffer laughed, and said the Times had received the purported scientific evidence, but did not pursue the story. On November 16, I reported: “FAIR, a liberal press watchdog, claims that the Times researched the bulge story, then killed it. A Times reporter alleged to have worked on such a piece says FAIR was totally off base: The paper never pursued the story.”
I was wrong. The Times‘ public editor, Daniel Okrent, said this week that, indeed, the Times had assigned two reporters to the bulge story. A Times editor even pitched the story at a news meeting, but the paper decided not to go with it.
My Times source did not lie: As far as that person knew, the story was dead on arrival. And because the Times staffer dismissed the FAIR claim entirely, I did not go higher up the Times chain of command.