February 7, 2005

What do you mean the election's over?

It's been a while since I've had much use for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the lefty press watchdog. The good actual media criticism it does has been largely supplanted by similar, faster work on the part of bloggers, and too often, what it considers journalistic lapses is simply stuff that offends its political sensibilities.

Today it claims that The New York Times killed an investigation on Bush's bulge (you remember, the whole 'he was wired for the debate' debate) because it was afraid of influencing the election.

The story collapses on several counts. Partly because it cites other articles that the Times did run that "could have" influenced the election against Bush, and partly because it's sad to see anyone on the left clinging to the idea that if there had been just one more Bush scandal, everything would have been different.

(At the end, the Times shrugs that of course it looked into the story, and was unable to find anything beyond mere speculation. You know, the explanation that makes sense.) But my favorite moment is after a Village Voice writer who was also looking into the story tells FAIR "that his source at the nationís self-proclaimed paper of record—whom he would not identify—told him the information about the bulge seen under Bushís jacket during the debates, provided by a senior astronomer and photo imaging specialist at NASAís Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, had been tossed onto the 'nutpile,' and was never researched further."

FAIR then drops its smoking gun: e-mails from a Times reporter to the NASA gadfly.

An indication of the seriousness with which the story was being pursued is provided by an email Schwartz sent to Nelson on October 26—one of a string of back-and-forth emails between Schwartz and Nelson. It read:

"Hey there, Dr. Nelson—this story is shaping up very nicely, but my_editors have asked me to hold off for one day while they push through a few other stories that are ahead of us in line. I might be calling you again for more information, but I hope that youíll hold tight and not tell anyone else about this until we get a chance to get our story out there.
Please call me with any concerns that you might have about this, and thanks again for letting us tell your story."

But on October 28, the article was not in the paper. After learning from the reporters working on the story that their article had been killed the night before by senior editors, Nelson eventually sent his photographic evidence of presidential cheating to Salon magazine, which ran the photos as the magazineís lead item on October 29. That same day, Nelson received the following email from the Timesí Schwartz:

"Congratulations on getting the story into Salon. Itís already all over the Web in every blog Iíve seen this morning. Iím sorry to have been a source of disappointment and frustration to you, but Iím very happy to see your story getting out there.
Best wishes,

Not exactly the kind of message youíd expect a reporter to send to a "nut."

Actually, I can assure you that this IS exactly the kind of message you send to a nut. A friendly, scrupulously noncommittal, "don't come after me with a .44" kind of message. Any reporter would recognize it right away.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


I'm not a reporter, but it struck me from the words "Hey there Dr Nelson..." that Shwartz was trying to ditch him. But I think it's nuttier to believe Bush's line about a poorly tailored shirt. If I can change out of a sweatshirt that has some sticky spot on it, on a day when I'm not even leaving the house, am I supposed to believe the president goes around in illfitting clothes? Then again, maybe being bothered by that one little sticky spot makes me a nut.

I too found the FAIR story thin on bombshell revelations, but it ain't about the bulge, it's about... that's right, the lying. On the part of both the White House and the Times. If the Times authorized someone to lie to the Voice that they did not pursue the story at all, that's egregious. If the WH lied to the press about the bulge (which, duh, they certainly did, more than once) that's egregious and they need to be held accountable for it.

Whether or not it would actually have tipped the election is not the point, and neither is the question of whether the bulge is or is not a communication device. There's something there, and anyone who says they can't see it with their own eyes is deranged.

The WH is, to date, still brazenly saying "who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?" and to divert the story to discussions of how nutty the communications-device theory is or isn't is just playing the same obedient lapdog that the mainstream press is so often (rightfully) accused of playing.

Given everything serious that the White House lies about -- to the press, to the public, to congress, to the world -- I just can't get worked up over the fact that they don't want to admit that Bush wears a kevlar vest or whatever (though I guiltily admire the Rovian evilness of turning the denial into an opportunity to paint all adversaries as nutjobs, even the ones who aren't).

I didn't read this AT ALL as the Times lying to the voice. First of all, the source is obviously speaking for himself, not on behalf of the paper. More importantly, what he says conforms exactly with what Okrent reports: the paper looked into the story enough to know it wasn't interested, then tossed it and didn't research it "further."

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