RATHER FLAT. Dan Rather gets a B-minus for his defense of the Killian documents tonight. Parts of his report were fairly compelling. Since the superscripted "th" has become such an issue, it was pretty interesting to see that some of Bush's official National Guard records, released by the White House, have the same typographical feature.
Rather also reported that Times New Roman, the typeface used in the documents, has been available since 1931. In fact, we already knew that some of the earliest claims made by the conservative bloggers who kicked this story off yesterday were just plain wrong. (Liberal bloggers can play this game, too.) Examples: that Times New Roman wasn't available in 1972 (oh, yes it was), and that there was no such thing as a typewriter that did proportional spacing (ditto).
But I agree with Josh Marshall: it still seems more likely that someone simply banged this out in Microsoft Word than it does that Killian had exactly the right typewriter, with exactly the right font (granted, it's the most common font), and happened to format it exactly the way a Word document would be formatted by default.
My first criticism of Rather was that he didn't go deep enough really to convince me or anyone else that the documents weren't fakes. Yes, the evening newscast is over in the blink of an eye, but the hurricane coverage lasted longer than a real hurricane. My second complaint is that he dwelled too much on other aspects of the story, and tried to argue that a few li'l ol' documents don't really undermine what we know about Bush and the National Guard.
Well, they don't in a perfect world, but this is all about atmospherics. The truth is that the narrative of the campaign has changed overnight, and Rather said nothing to change that. Bush supporters will now boldly reject every single contention about Bush's National Guard service (or non-service), and huge segments of the media will be too cowed to point out the reality.
Plus, there remains the central question: where did these documents come from? Bushies are already openly describing this as a dirty-tricks op by the Kerry campaign, even though the only "evidence" we've seen is that anonymously sourced report from the American Spectator, home of the Arkansas Project.
But that's obviously where this is heading. Rather than asking legitimate questions about Bush's Guard service (or, gee, I don't know, about the war in Iraq, or health care; just a thought), the next media obsession will be: what did Bob Shrum know, and when did he know it?
I'll also be very interested to see tomorrow's Washington Post. Today the paper all but pronounced the documents to be forgeries. Will it back down?