A conspiracy theory started at Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, then expanded down through the bowels of the left blogosphere and plopped onto the mainstream media.

The theory was that Mitt Romney cheated at the debate by using a cheat sheet, via The Week:

The video: A handful of liberal bloggers think they’ve found a way to take Mitt Romney down a notch after his big debate win over President Obama. They’re pointing to a clip in which Romney, after greeting Obama at the showdown’s start, rapidly pulls something flat and white from his pocket and places it on his podium (see the slo-mo video below). Gotcha? Romney critics say it sure looks like he used a cheat sheet to help him hit his prepared points. If so, he might have broken the rules. The Commission on Presidential Debates hasn’t issued new guidelines for the 2012 contests, but it typically forbids the use of “props, notes, charts, diagrams,” or anything else a candidate could use as a crutch. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul says the cheat-sheet theorists are really reaching. The item in Romney’s hand, she says, was a handkerchief.

The reaction: It appears poor Mitt has been busted, says John Aravosis at America Blog. “Notes? A hanky?” ….

Via NewsBusters, this video has over 330,000 views on YouTube as of this writing:

It plopped onto the mainstream media via a blog post at CBS DC written by Democratic operative Bill Buck, Upon Further Review: Mitt Romney May Have Cheated To Win The Debate:

But there was a moment in the debate that will be discussed in the days ahead that everyone missed until yesterday.

A review of the debate tape reveals that, apparently, Mitt Romney needed a cheat sheet to keep the lies straight.

The rules of the presidential debates are clear about not bringing outside notes and presidents and aspirants have followed the rule for decades.

Video of the first eleven seconds of the debate available on YouTube shows Mitt Romney reaching into his pocket at the moment he is out of view of those in front of him, he used the lectern as a shield, and removing what appears to be folded papers from his pocket.

We see this because the camera that was broadcasting was behind Romney. Those in the audience and the moderator may have been shielded from his sleight of hand, but not the viewers.

In an update Buck admitted he was wrong, but the headline remains.

Atlantic Wire even ran close up images of Romney’s face examining whether there were indications of a cold which might support the defense that it was just a handkerchief.

BuzzFeed seems to have deflated the cheating scandal by pointing out that Romney actually used the handkerchief later in the debate:

Don’t think it’s over. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog is sticking by the theory:

UPDATE: Additional video shows Romney, after the debate is over, after the families have come on stage, suddenly going to back the podium, picking up some papers, folding them up and leaving.  Obama, on the other hand, just leaves the stage.  What were those papers?

Ugh, probably the notes the candidates were allowed to take during the debate.  Obama’s obsessive note taking drove Andrew Sullivan to the edge during the debate:

If Sullivan isn’t into the debate conspiracy theory, you know there’s nothing to it, because he knows about conspiracies.