Monday, February 07, 2005

Battle of the bulge

This is an old story now, with the election three months ago. I wish I'd started my blog earlier in the fall so I could've said my piece on the subject. But at the Romenesko media blog, there's a report from FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) that the New York Times had a story on the infamous "Bush bulge" - the strange shape visible underneath the back of President Bush's jacket during the first presidential debate - and chose to kill it, rather than run it.


NASA scientist Robert Nelson examined photos from the debate and digitally enhanced them, as he'd been doing with images of Saturn's moon Titan to determine contours and craters on its surface. "It could be some type of electronic device," he told "It's consistent with the appearance of an electronic device worn in that manner."

Nelson initially shopped his findings around to several newspapers, including the Pasadena Star-Times, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Los Angeles Times, and each of them passed on the story, which brought him to the New York Times. The Times was interested in the story, but kept pushing it back due to more pertinent stories (such as the missing explosives in Iraq) occurring in the news. Eventually, editors decided to kill the story. Nelson then went to Salon.

But why did the New York Times decide not to run this? According to the FAIR article, the Times, due to flack from conservatives and the Bush campaign about its criticisms of the Iraq War leadership, was nervous about publishing the story so close to Election Day.

Here's what's eating me: Didn't the Times have a responsibility to run a story that could've affected the outcome of the election? Maybe it wouldn't have, in the end. But shouldn't such information have been made available to the public? Would the revelation that President Bush may have been getting answers fed to him during a debate prompted some voters to reconsider their support?

What's even more disturbing is the implication that the story may have been spiked to avoid charges of "liberal bias." That's pull-your-hair-out maddening. What's more important: kowtowing to one side or another - in a misguided concern over fairness - or releasing an arguably significant story and giving people information they should have?