Did Kerry Have Debate Cheat Sheet?


Section 5, pages 4-5 of the binding “Memorandum of Understanding” that was negotiated and agreed upon by both political campaigns states: “No props, notes, charts, diagrams, or other writings or other tangible things may be brought into the debate by either candidate…. Each candidate must submit to the staff of the Commission prior to the debate all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate, and the staff or commission will place such paper, pens and pencils on the podium…”

So what did Dem presidential contender John Kerry take out of his jacket as he approached the stage [with his back to the auditorium’s audience]? What did Kerry place on the podium? Video replays of the Kerry maneuver played all weekend long on the internet.

[A tight zoom of the Boston.Com feed shows Kerry pulling a mysterious “card” from his jacket. 14 seconds into video, after commerical]

A top Kerry campaign source explained to the DRUDGE REPORT late Sunday how Bush supporters were once again trying to distract. “Kerry did not cheat,” said the Kerry insider. “This is more lies from Republicans, who are hoping for a quick change of subject away from the president’s performance, and the new polls.”


I really can’t see much from either feed. My strong suspicion, however, is that it was just the note paper that Kerry was scribbling on throughout the debate. Indeed, I’m not sure what advantage Kerry would have gained from crib notes.

Update (10/4 1109): While Drudge, as usual, simply posted this as if it were his original reporting (and directly linked to the video feed as well), this story actually started as a blog post by Bill at INDC Journal. His original post has lots of updates that go beyond the original Drudge hyperbole and his follow-up post this morning provides rebuttal to the hate mail and hyperventilating sparked by the original. As I discovered from reading the comments and following the TrackBacks from my brief post on the subject, many people don’t bother actually reading what’s written before engaging in commentary on it.

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Adams says:

    Yep, I can’t see the earpiece Bush wore either . . .

  2. Barbara says:

    And I didn’t see the strings moving his mouth. There must have been a problem though, all he seemed to be able to say to all questions was …”it’s hard work” “it’s hard work” “it’s hard work” “it’s hard work” “it’s hard work” “it’s hard work”

  3. Albert Hodges says:

    I strongly support President Bush’s reelection but


    I mean our guy was tired and looked grumpy.

    He can get it right next time.

    Some of you guys need to get a life or better yet spend your time working for your local and state GOP candidates.

    I find interest in this story to be incredulous!

  4. carpeicthus says:

    Incredible, too.

    Jesus, grasping at straws, here. I can’t see the viedo at the moment, but apparently if you watch Bush, he pulled something out, too. Clearly a case for impeachment? No — I really can’t think of anything that matters less, particularly since much more important rules were thrown to the wind from the outset.

  5. Herb Ely says:

    What are the odds that Kerry would cheat in front of all those cameras and reporters? Vanishingly small, I think. Albert Hodges is right. Get a life, support your local repulican candidate and stop graping at straws.

  6. McGehee says:

    What are the odds that Kerry would cheat in front of all those cameras and reporters? Vanishingly small, I think.

    Before the CBS memo hoax, I might have agreed — but everyone has to know the cameras and reporters might as well belong to the Kerry campaign. Even Kerry.

    That said, I don’t consider this story worth covering. If there ever gets to be actual evidence — other than a fax from Abilene — then I might reconsider. But even then, true or not, I just don’t see it having the impact that Drudge’s coverage would imply.

  7. I’m boiling over Drudge’s latest. I can’t for the life of me see how blogs can even link to him anymore. His “scoops” such as Hillary “rocking the political world” by becoming Kerry’s Vice Presidential candidate often seem political plants. This one is outrageous and reeks of the worst apparent political sour grapes. On the left you have some loonies suggesting Bush was wearing an earpiece during the debate. If so, whoever advised him needs to be fired. Now on the right you have Drudge suggesting there is a “mystery.” To WHO? To Drudge. I watched the debate live and twice on tape. I read a ton of stuff on it and did The Mother Of All Roundups on my blog. Kerry was simply better prepared for the debate than Bush — something that I can guarentee you we will not see in the remaining debates.

    I think, folks, I’m so angry because this campaign looks like it is finally getting down to ISSUE rather than these side issue distractions that center on personalities (earphones…cheat sheets…military records of both candidates). As someone who doesn’t belong to either party I find these kinds of things are what will tip me over when I vote. I agree with each party on different aspects of their platforms. So when I vote I will vote for the campaign that has run the least sleazy campaign and that had the least sleazy backers.

    As a former journalist I can tell you that it would be a GREAT story to break if a candidate cheated during the debate. No one broke it for a reason — just as no one broke the great news Hillary would be running with Kerry for a reason. I now have a rule on my modest little blog: if Drudge has a scoop I usually wait until I see a wire service or a paper has carried it (and that can be the Washington Times). I won’t do a breathless post on one of his scoopes. This one truly reeks of trying to find a reason to discredit Kerry since Bush didn’t prepare adequately for this one. He now joins Dennis Kucinich and Alan Keyes on Mars. Of course I can be wrong on this…but I doubt it. It sounds like the story line for talk radio this week (better than the story line about the debate itself and the latest see-saw polls showing the debate may have helped Kerry).

  8. DrudgeFan says:

    I could see clearly what Kerry pulled out of his jacket pocket. It was an inspirational photo of that intern he was banging.

  9. Bruce H. says:

    If notes wouldn’t do any good, why did both sides agree not to use them?

  10. Brew says:

    Kerry spent the entire debate taking notes, a practice that he likely learned as a trial lawyer that can both make him appear focused, and help him organize his thoughts. Also – to even think that Kerry needed a crib sheet – come on – the Bush camp has spent the last three weeks trying to convince us that Kerry’s debating skills make him the second coming of – well . . . whoever.

    If you wanna start your own rumors, check out the strange crease (wire?) running down the president’s back. Of course had HE cheated, I would think they woulda done a better job.

  11. AnjinSan says:

    After America got to see the real gw bush stand up, I can see the rather desperate need for a diversion, hence the “Kerry cheated” story…

    Pretty sad that the President of the United States can’t perform in a room that has not been sanatized in advance by karl rove.

    The “Kerry doctrine” nonsense is also rather obvious grasping at straws… even a reading of Kerry’s remarks on the bush blog show that he was referring to an after the fact “global test”.

    BTW I appreciate the open-mindedness of this blog. I have been banned from many bush blogs. Spreading freedom thru censorship I suppose…

  12. carpeicthus says:

    McGehee: The cameras were under Fox News’s oversight. Think they’re in the tank for Kerry?

    James: Come on. The people in the comments here may be overheated, but it’s condescending and unfounded to say they’re doing so out of ignorance. This is a non-issue, and a non-issue played up in such a way that it shows why political blogs of all stripes really do have huge problems as a primary news souce.

  13. Hank Fenster says:

    This issue is what you get when you have 32 pages of rules on how the debate is to be conducted. Post-debate, you get a swarm of partisan auditors trying to find the places the other guy “cheated.” We may as well have the debates conducted by the IRS. Jesus.

  14. Bush exposed says:

    View and fast forward this video to 1 hour 19 minutes and 45 seconds – you need to increase the size of the Real Player window to double size or full screen and it still won’t be as clear as it was on TV, but you can see the bulge that looks like a wire on Bush’s back underneath his suit coat as he leans over the podium:


    The wire would be consistent with an earpiece in his right ear.

    Also, others have noticed how Bush interrupted himself, apparently when getting a message from Rove:

    “During the Presidential Debate Bush made what may be his most costly error- he exposed that he’s using an earpiece to help him answer debate questions.

    In the middle of an answer bush said, “now let me finish” as if someone was interrupting him – yet nobody did – he was talking to the person in his earpiece.”

    Watch the video at c-span at about 40 minutes and 30 seconds (fast forward) in the same video above.

  15. Eric says:

    I’ll keep it very simple so the DemocRATs can understand… A winner never cheats, and a CHEATER NEVER WINS.

  16. Ensiben says:

    It doesn’t matter WHAT Kerry pulled out of his pocket – maybe it was Teresa’s photo to remind him of the hell he has to pay at home if he loses.
    The big point is that he ignored the AGREED-UPON “RULES”, which actually speaks, once again, to the innate and often questionable character of this man, and follows in line with everything we know of him. It’s scary to consider what socialist surprises he will pull out of the hat for this country if his “forked-tongue” campaign rhetoric should blind enough folks to actually snag him the election?

  17. WINIFRED F.F says: