My Salon story Friday about the mysterious rectangular bulge in Bush's suit jacket during the first debate, which has been rocketing around the Internet, crossed over to the major print media Saturday, with articles appearing in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.
While the White House and the Bush campaign repeatedly blew me off when I tried to elicit some explanation from them for the obvious bulge under the president's jacket, the Times and Post had better luck.
According to the Times, Bush's aides first tried to claim that the photo that appeared in Salon and on the Web was "doctored." When they were forced to admit that the image of the object was clear in the original video feeds of the debate, they changed their story, according to the paper, suggesting that it was nothing but a wrinkle in the president's jacket. Even the Times itself noted that they failed to explain why the wrinkle had a rectangular shape. The most important piece of information obtained by the Post reporter was a statement by the Bush campaign that the president was not wearing a bullet-proof vest during the debate appearance -- one of the most widely offered alternative explanations for the bulge in the jacket.
The Post reported that "Bush's aides tried to laugh off the controversy, with one official joking about 'little green men on the grassy knoll.'" Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt told the paper that it was preposterous to say that Bush was getting tips via a hidden receiver, although Schmidt "declined to elaborate or to suggest what could have produced the unusual photo."
And as Salon's Tim Grieve reported from the debate in St. Louis on Friday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card offered a slightly odd sounding explanation: "Maybe his suit had a little lump in it or something. I'll tell you, he was dressed for the opportunity to talk to the American people, and I am not aware of anything that was extra-ordinary in what he was wearing."
Such feeble denials are not helping the story go away. Already a new photo from Friday night's debate is making the rounds on the Internet. This time the photo of the president's back reveals what appears to be an oblong hump under his jacket. Some people have noted the jacket is not particularly well fitted (the sleeves appear a little long and the back is wrinkled -- both odd for a president in one of the key appearances of his presidency). Speculation that Bush is getting secret help via an electronic transmission will probably not be squelched until the president offers to be searched before the third and final debate next Wednesday. Don't bet on it.