Friday, September 10, 2004

THE KILLIAN FILE. When I first heard last night about the blogland chatter that CBS News had relied on forged documents in its 60 Minutes report on George W. Bush's National Guard service, my instinct was dismiss it. Not that the media aren't capable of monumental screw-ups. But when CBS said it had consulted experts, I assumed that meant it had showed the documents to people who make their living knowing about the history of typewriters, fonts, and the like.

Now it looks as bad as it can get for CBS. The Washington Post and the New York Times are both reporting that experts they approached believe the documents bear numerous hallmarks of having been produced many years after 1972 and '73, when they were supposedly typed by the late lieutenant colonel Jerry Killian.

No, it hasn't been definitively proved that the documents were forged. But it appears far more likely that they were banged out on a computer using Microsoft Word than on a typewriter at a military basis more than 30 years ago.

For CBS, we're talking humiliation, resignations, plague, locusts, and seven years of bad luck. For the Kerry campaign, we're talking about an absolute nightmare.

The Times report seems to offer at least some possibility that the documents are authentic. But it strikes me that this is one of those things where the only possible exculpatory explanation would be a rather simple one, the sort of thing that CBS could put out today - indeed, should have put out already. Instead, network execs appear to have gone into the bunker, insisting that the documents are genuine without offering any real proof.

Drudge claims a source told him that "CBSNEWS anchor and 60 MINUTES correspondent Dan Rather [was] privately 'shell-shocked' by the increasing likelihood that the documents in question were fraudulent." Well, I don't have much doubt about that.

For the Kerry campaign, it gets worse - much worse. Glenn Reynolds reproduces this from "The Prowler," on the American Spectator's website, which I can't access right now because of the heavy traffic:

More than six weeks ago, an opposition research staffer for the Democratic National Committee received documents purportedly written by President George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard squadron commander, the late Col. Jerry Killian....

A CBS producer, who initially tipped off The Prowler about the 60 Minutes story, says that despite seeking professional assurances that the documents were legitimate, there was uncertainty even among the group of producers and researchers working on the story.

"The problem was we had one set of documents from Bush's file that had Killian calling Bush 'an exceptionally fine young officer and pilot.' And someone who Killian said 'performed in an outstanding manner.' Then you have these new documents and the tone and content are so different."

The CBS producer said that some alarms bells went off last week when the signatures and initials of Killian on the documents in hand did not match up with other documents available on the public record, but producers chose to move ahead with the story. "This was too hot not to push. If there were doubts, those people didn't show it," says the producer, who works on a rival CBS News program.

Reynolds notes that there's also some buzz that it's all a Karl Rove set-up. But that seems too clever by many halves.

None of this refutes the basic accusations against Bush - that he got into the National Guard through family connections in order to avoid combat duty in Vietnam, and that no one can recall his ever having popped up in Alabama. The Boston Globe's report earlier this week - that Bush failed to sign up with a Boston-area Guard unit, as he was obligated to do, while he was attending Harvard Business School - seems solid. But none of that's going to matter if CBS can't authenticate the documents in a way that we'll all find believable.

Josh Marshall is in wait-and-see mode, which seems smart. So am I - although, frankly, it's difficult to picture this having a happy ending for either CBS News or Kerry. Especially if it turns out that the documents came from someone aligned with his campaign.


island_earth said...

Please stop giving any credence to this bogus "they may be forged" idea... Anybody over 40 should be able to remember the IBM Selectrics with the little golf ball that both supported proportional fonts and supported a superscript interchangeable ball.

See for more information. Also, and even more convincing, see for examples of this technology going back to 1953.

Let's not give this nonsense any more legs than it already has.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Bush supporter and I would be quite delighted if one or some of the documents turn out to be forgeries. Certainly a lot of signs points towards that being the case. But the idea that somebody forged these documents to show what I figure most people are taking for granted anyway - that Bush's ANG service wasn't particularly honorable - seems so over the top that it is hard to believe.

But let's say, just for arguments sake, that the docs were forged by Dem hacks, does anybody believe that their careers will be in the tank? Isn't there a good chance that they will simply be seen as hard-hitting partisans who did the dirty work Kerry? Or am I underestimating our political culture?

James said...

What island earth conveniently ignores is that these memos had 'kerning' (fitting together letters so they are closer- look at 'VA' for example) which no typewriter has ever had. Also, while proportionally spacing was available, it was rare and there were no 'Times New Roman' resembling fonts available for it.

And take a good look at the Word recreations, like those on LGF- the only reason that they are not perfect matches is from the photocopying distortion. And that's not getting into the superscript and the 'curly quotes,' both of which add dubiousness to the memo.

Kennedy should admit that these forgeries will cast chilling doubt on any future ' 'revelations.' And for good measure I think soul searching is in order from a pressman who wrote that Kerry should 'Kick Bush's teeth in.' The nigh pathological Bush hatred made the Senator's campaign into something Nixonian. And that was abetted by the shrill chorus of the press lackeys.

It also means the mainstream press is fucked and that the right wing world of the bloggers and talk radio have made Dan Rather their bitch.

Dan Kennedy said...

I keep running across the kerning argument, but if there's any kerning present in the Killian memos, I can't see it. I looked at "CYA" and "We" - the spaces between "Y" and "A," and between "W" and "e" should be nicely closed up, and they're not. On the other hand, I also typed those words in MS Word in Times, and they still didn't look kerned. So I don't know.

Also, it's just plain wrong that Times New Roman, superscripting, and curly apostrophes weren't available on IBM typewriters during the early '70s - that's been well established now. So where do we go from here? As I said in my most recent post, I want to see these characters examined under a microscope to see if there are any tell-tale signs that they were output on a laser or ink-jet printer.

Tim F-W said...

1. I'm not sure why the skeptics of these memos keep bringing up kerning: none of the letter pairs looks kerned. In Microsoft Word, you can opt to have letters kerned, but it's not the default (go to Font/Character Spacing). In any case, with text this size, the amount of kerning that you'd see, even with letter pairs like WA is very small.

2. What I find intriguing is that the lower-case l and 1 used in the memos do not look much at all like Times New Roman as printed on my windows box.

3. The Press Roman font for the Selectric Composer looks an awful lot like the font used in the memos., at page 1.

4. It is indeed curious that this typeface has not appeared on other memos of the era from Killian. And it would be most telling to find the actual documents rather than (faxed) copies.

5. Assume that a Democratic operative wanted to forge some documents. Wouldn't it be easier to use some (old) carbon paper and an actual vintage Selectric typewriter with a common type ball like Prestige Elite or Courier than to use MS Word to do the faking?

N. These documents are hardly vital to paint a harsh picture of George Bush's attention to his National Guard duty in the early 1970s.

island_earth said...

Kerning, not kerning... what's the difference? I can recreate a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in photoshop... does that make the original a fake? The fact that you can recreate a document using Word is a testament to the power of computers, but it doesn't undermine the validity of the document in any way.

More importantly, this discussion is just a distraction from a truth that doesn't really depend on the supposedly-fake memo at all... Bush was AWOL, he didn't fulfill any of his obligations, and he pulled strings in Texas to get into TANG ahead of some more-deserving shlub who's daddy *wasn't* a congressman. That's pretty pathetic even if the memo *was* forged (which all evidence says it wasn't).

James said...

Island Earth- because photoshopping requires effort. This 'document' was created with Word's defualt settings.

And why are the letters so perfectly aligned and why the word wrap? It seems every expert not attached to Black Rock has major questions about the 'documnet.' And the alleged author's family are saying it's fake. And then people with NG backgrounds have raised questions about the form used... And the signature differs radically from other known signatures of the Colonel.

Occam's razor... it's not just for shaving.

Phil Gallagher said...

Enclosed is an interesting look at the documents and how they came to Rather. It is interesting to note that a CBS producer is the one who blew the whisle on the DAN (Rather).

Phil Gallagher said...

Here is the Spectator site