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Okay, tell me the truth. Does anyone think that millionaire preppy George W. Bush has a badly tailored shirt or a badly tailored suit in his wardrobe?
The question is important because that’s the lame excuse that Bush and Karl Rove have come up with to try and quiet the media buzz about the bulge under his jacket during the three presidential debates.
After behaving like total cowards for the past two weeks, the White House press corps finally squeaked. In an interview with Bush, ABC’s "Good Morning" reporter Charlie Gibson yesterday finally showed the guts to ask the president what the bulge in his jacket was.
Bush’s response was to laugh and try to play dumb (something he does convincingly). "I don’t know what that is. I mean, it is, uh, it is, it’s a– I’m embarrassed to say it’s a poorly tailored shirt," he said.
Okay, before, the Bush campaign and the White House were saying it was a poorly tailored jacket. Now, the man in question says it was the shirt. Are we supposed to believe that the president wore the same shirt for all three debates? He changed his jacket. He changed his tie. But he kept the shirt? And a badly fitting one at that?
Gibson, while showing more courage than his media colleagues in posing the question at all, didn’t bulldog it. He let it go, limiting his question to the bulge seen in the first debate. Clearly the follow-up question should have been: "If you knew you had a badly tailored shirt that was causing this controversial bulge, why did you wear the same shirt in debate number two and debate number three?"
Gibson also clearly didn’t look at the White House web site, where there was a 2002 photo showing the same bulge underneath a T-shirt Bush was wearing while driving a pickup on his ranch. That was clearly not the same shirt he was wearing in any of the debates.
So now we know, if we didn’t know it already, that the White House is lying.
They’re getting away with it because, except for Gibson, nobody in the mainstream press that tags around after the president is pressing him on it, much less investigating the matter more aggressively by trying to get sources from inside the president’s camp to come forward.
They’re getting away with it because, as one reporter who has contacted friends in many of the major news outlets has been told, the mainstream press won’t go after this story "because the Kerry camp hasn’t made it an issue."
Get that: the media cannot go after a story about a candidate unless the other candidate makes it an issue. Now there’s a wimpy new answer to the question: what is news?
Fortunately, the American public is smarter than this. If they think that the president’s dodge is ridiculous, it provides an opening for humor, and that’s where the story is now showing up–on Jay Leno, David Letterman, and now most powerfully, in Gary Trudeau’s "Doonesbury" strip.
At this point, unless the president can come clean and give a credible explanation for the cause of the bulge that appeared under his jacket at all three debates and on his ranch (when he was being interviewed at length by an AP reporter), we have to assume that it was what it appears to have been–a transceiver and a hidden radio-linked micro-earpiece–and that he was cheating in the debates, getting tips and hints of how to answer from someone in the back room.
There’s still a week in this campaign. It will be interesting to see whether anyone on the campaign trail or in the Washington press corps has the guts to follow up Gibson’s question to ask for a real explanation that would cover the bumps in the jacket at all three debates.
The electorate at least knows something’s amiss. Voters should all take that into consideration when they consider both the president’s intelligence and his integrity. He’s been caught cheating. Not on his wife; on the public.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This Can’t be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org