Theories of the Bulge: The Timeline

Media | United States | Building/Consensus

For Theories of the Bulge, I needed to come up with a timeline of when theories were developed. I researched through the core websites, and had a look at a few more that were linked. Afterwards, I gave this a bit of structure by splitting it up into weeks. And then I thought, what else was going on in the news that week? This was quite a busy month– and it didn't help that four debates were cramed into the first half of it. If the debates were spached out by a week or two over a longer period of time, it perhaps would have allowed the country to spend more time on the issues covered– as well as the meta-issues like this.

Chris Shaw, who covered this story at Bush Wired from October 10th on, composed this history of events on November 11th.

WEEK 1: Discovery and amplication.

The first debate had been two days earlier, on September 30th, in Miami, and the media is focused on analyzing that debate, while looking ahead to the Vice Presidential debate in Cleveland on the 5th, and the "Town Hall" Presidential debate in St. Louis on the 8th. It took a whole week to reach the mainstream media. (the 60 Minutes snafu took less than 24 hours.)

  • October 2: Joseph Cannon floats the theory, based on the observation of the back of the President, and upon hearing "let me finish" in mid-sentence. He further cites that viewers who watched President Bush speak at the D-Day commemoration ceremonies on June 6th had heard a voice reading the text before the President. Cannon suggests that someone use a frequency scanner at the next debate.
  • October 4: Kevin Drum takes notice, seems to read the same links that Cannon referred to, yet doesn't cite him, and describes it as "this weekend's clear winner in the world of weird speculation." This doesn't stop 268 responses to his piece.
  • October 5: Dave Lindroff writes about it in CounterPunch, citing Cannon, and suggests that readers start "scanning through Bush photos on line, looking for a telltale bulge on his jacket, or for a wire."
  • October 7: Josh Marshall cites in Talking Points Memo an AFP report that Bush has "decided to postpone his physical until after the election."
  • October 8: Dave Lindroff writes in Salon, restating the transmitter theory, citing spyware expert Jacob McKenna of Seattle: "There's certainly something on his back, and it appears to be electronic."

    WEEK 2: Mainstream Media picks it up

    Analysis commences on the second Presidential debate, and the media prepares for the third debate on Wednesday the 13th in Tempe, Arizona. Reports surface in the national media, and the electronic transmitter theory resonates in late-night TV and editorial cartoons. The defibrillator theory emerges midway through the week.

  • October 9: New York Times notes the story, and gets first denials from the campaign.
  • October 9: Camille Roberts of Knight-Ridder newspapers, hears from Presidential tailor Georges de Paris that it was just a "a pucker along the jacket's back seam"
  • October 9: Diarist on DailyKOS sees wire behind Bush's tie at debate
  • October 9: Atrios gives passing mention to the speculation, but offers no links.
  • October 10: ChicagoBruce on DailyKos points to video comparing Bush in his 1994 gubernatorial debate with the first 2004 Presidential debate.
  • October 11: Cannon passes along reader discovery that the White House website a a photo Bush with a bulge under his T-shirt– as seen driving around his ranch.
  • October 11: DailyKos diarist "The Cunctator" connects Bush skipping his physical with other health problems. Makes reference to the defibrillator, though the link points to a story three days ahead (was this edited later?)
  • October 11: On IsBushWired, a lead surfaces about Bush campaign volunteers Scott Zale and "Brad Menfil"– Cannon later determines that it some or all of it was cooked up to divert from the main story
  • October 12: Cannon reports of a Scottish journalist who tries on a listening device under a jacket. Cannon sees a bulge in the accompanying picture; the original article is no longer on the Internet.
  • October 13: Kevin Drum makes the connection with the missed physical: "A medical thingamajig of some kind?" One response: "If the public suspects the box is a medical device, the White House will probably panic and the truth will be forced out. "
  • October 14, 2pm PDT: Joseph Cannon introduces portable defibrillator theory, citing no one.
  • October 14 8:25 PDT: msaroff on Daily Kos posts a picture of the LifeCor LifeVest and floats the theory, citing "Jolly Reaper" as the source for this theory.
  • October 15: Kos receives, and posts, a video address recorded by President Bush and sent to the Iraqi Survey Group. Kos writes: "The fact he can barely finish his sentences should be a genuine cause for concern. [considering that] This was a planned, scripted, recorded address."
  • October 15: James Atkinson tells Salon that he has "personally sat outside the White House with lab-grade testing equipment — and have cataloged, monitored and confirmed that wireless monitors are being used." Also explains that President Clinton and John Ashcroft used ear-prompting. Jon Belgique, sales and marketing director of Comtek, does not believe that the equipment would make that impression under the clothes.

    WEEK 3: Official Denials

    With the debates and fact-check analyses finished, the media has a little more time to look at the story. A few new pieces trickle in. Most of the country is now looking at voter challenges, voter registration shenanigans, and electronic voting jitters.

  • October 17: Ken Mehlman, Bush campaign manager, responds to Tim Russert's questions on NBC's Meet the Press: pleads ignorant about the vest, claims that the tailor has been fired.
  • October 18: Dave Lindroff writes another CounterPunch article, complaining about the media's lack of attention to this.
  • October 18: IsBushWired reports that someone claiming to be Secret Service agent had posted to the site: "I am at all times aware that the president is wired, primarily to inform him of hostile crowds that he may encounter." This person claims to have worked for the Clinton and first Bush administrations.
  • October 19: Cannon passes along a suggestion from the IsBushWired comments that there's a simple way to get this verified– ask President Clinton. The next day, he composes a sample letter to Senator Hillary Clinton. Two respondents (of 15) report actually sending a letter.
  • October 19: Aya Rubyan continues the wearable defibrillator theory, adding in a P.S. that Vice President Cheney himself had worn one prior to getting an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) in July 2001 (citing a March-April 2002 Saturday Evening Post interview with Dr. Douglas Zipes)
  • October 20: A reporter for The Hill pays a visit to Presidential tailor Georges de Paris, trying on some 44L jackets, "The accompanying photograph shows the result, which appears to produce the same bulge." The reporter was convinced, but the photograph shows a rumple.
  • October 23: Cannon passes along an enhanced audio clip which purports to indicate another voice in the debate while Bush is speaking. Cannon cannot verify the provenance of the audio.

    WEEK 4

    Going into the final week, the new story to emerge is on the unguarded explosives cache at Al-Qaqaa. On October 29th, I was on a plane to Fort Lauderdale, where I watched the DeRita's press conference at the Pentagon, and every other political operative and volunteer was heading to battlestations across the country. I spent the weekend pounding the pavement and away from the media.

  • October 26: President Bush tells Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America that the bulge was the result of a "poorly tailored shirt."
  • October 29: Dr. Robert Nelson, image analyst of Caltech's Jet Propulsion lab disputes the wrinkled shirt theory.


  • November 2: Election Day. Networks call for Bush at 2am the next day.
  • November 7: IsBushWired wraps it up, with this epilogue to the story:
  • The Hill quotes an unnamed Secret Service source as saying that the box-shaped bulge under Bush's jacket at the debates was a strap for a bulletproof vest, a secret the Secret Service didn't want to reveal during the campaign, when the president was exposed to potential assassins out on the campaign trail. … The New York Times reports in tomorrow's paper (Nov 8) that the Secret Service won't comment on the question.

  • November 21:Shaw's last post followed up on whether the New York Times spiked a story on the JPL scientist's image analysis, which had run in Salon. Shaw got a response from public editor Daniel Okrent, who denied that a story had been written at all. Okrent wrote: "Nor can I accept, without much closer review than I am able to provide — independent analysis, better understanding of digital photo technology, etc. — that Robert M. Nelson's findings constitute '100% evidence'."
  • December 21: Clayton Hallmark posts analysis to IndyMedia.


    Note: I would have liked to have different icons and colors to indicate which theory is being discussed, and whether the point indicates proposal, refutation, evidence, etc.

    read the analysis…