WE STILL DON'T KNOW. The bloggers triumphed, but not in the way they imagine. By yesterday afternoon, it was clear that the wildest claims put forth by the conservative bloggers were wrong. The liberal Daily Kos did a great job of proving this yesterday.
Contrary to Power Line, Little Green Footballs, and others, the Killian documents could have been produced on a good IBM typewriter in 1972 and '73. Rather than exposing CBS News for falling into a forgery trap, the bloggers succeeded only in muddying what had seemed to be some pretty clear waters. Yes, you can't help but be struck by how easily LGF was able to reproduce one of the Killian memos using Microsoft Word. Yes, it seems as though the Killian documents could have been forged. But proof? Not even close. For that, we will have to turn elsewhere.
Not that Bush supporters are waiting. Driving home yesterday, I heard a caller to Howie Carr, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), claim that he had sold IBM Selectrics for, oh, 700 years or something, and those machines never had the capabilities that have come under question in the Killian memos: the Times New Roman typeface; proportional spacing; a superscripted "th." Well, maybe not on the models he sold, but he'd already been proven wrong. But so what? By the time I got past the Saugus Iron Works, Carr was pronouncing the whole thing to be a Kerry "dirty-tricks operation." Evidence not required, apparently.
Anyway, here are a few recent developments.
- Francie Latour and Michael Rezendes report on the controversy in today's Boston Globe. Their most striking piece of new information is that Philip Bouffard, a forgery expert who questioned the Killian documents' authenticity in yesterday's New York Times, has now changed his mind. Latour and Rezendes write:
Philip D. Bouffard, a forensic document examiner in Ohio who has analyzed typewritten samples for 30 years, had expressed suspicions about the documents in an interview with the New York Times published Thursday, one in a wave of similar media reports. But Bouffard told the Globe yesterday that after further study, he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter available at the time.
In the Times interview, Bouffard had also questioned whether the military would have used the Composer, a large machine. But Bouffard yesterday provided a document indicating that as early as April 1969 - three years before the dates of the CBS memos - the Air Force had completed service testing for the Composer, possibly in preparation for purchasing the typewriters.
As for the raised "th" that appears in the Bush memos - to refer, for example, to units such as the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron - Bouffard said that custom characters on the Composer's metal typehead ball were available in the 1970s, and that the military could have ordered such custom balls from IBM.
"You can't just say that this is definitively the mark of a computer," Bouffard said.
- On the other hand, Bouffard doesn't sound quite so ready to back down in this New York Times follow-up, by Jim Rutenberg and Kate Zernicke:
Dr. Philip Bouffard, a forensic document specialist in Georgia who has compiled of database of more than 3,000 old fonts, said people who bought the I.B.M. Selectric Composer model could specially order keys with the superscripts in question. Dr. Bouffard said that font did bear many similarities to the one on the CBS documents, but not enough to dispel questions he had about their authenticity.
Huh? Why so different from what he told the Globe? Inquiring minds want to know.
- No mainstream news organization went as far in questioning the authenticity of the Killian memos as the Washington Post did yesterday. The Post consulted several experts, including Bouffard. Today, though, the Post fails to return to the scene, instead running this Howard Kurtz piece focusing mainly on Dan Rather's defense, with plenty of quotes from all sides. Kurtz does, though, reference a pretty important story published elsewhere.
- That would be this article, by Pete Slover, in today's Dallas Morning News. Slover's lead:
The man named in a disputed memo as exerting pressure to "sugarcoat" President Bush's military record left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half before the memo was supposedly written, his own service record shows.
An order obtained by the Dallas Morning News shows that Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt was honorably discharged on March 1, 1972. CBS News reported this week that a memo in which Staudt was described as interfering with officers' negative evaluations of Bush's service was dated Aug. 18, 1973.
Oof. How damaging is this to CBS's defense? Slover writes farther down: "A CBS staffer stood by the story, suggesting that Staudt could have continued to exert influence over Guard officials." On a Lame-o-Tude Meter of 1 to 10, that comes in at about an 11. Slover adds that Staudt - who by the grace of God is, unlike Jerry Killian, among the living - has refused to comment. I assume a horde of reporters is now camped outside Staudt's home in New Braunfels, Texas.
- The press is filled with accounts reporting that Killian's wife and son don't believe he could possibly have written such memos. I don't care. We need proof. Either he did or he didn't.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this story is not how hesitant the mainstream media were to follow the lead of the bloggers, as the bloggers themselves claim, but, rather, how quickly the mainstream dove into this swamp.
The biggest question in my mind is how so-called experts like Bouffard could be so misguided in their initial statements. It seems to me that the very definition of being an expert in such matters is to know the history of typewriters, fonts, stuff like that. Bouffard obviously didn't know something he should have known: that Killian's memos could have been produced on a typewriter available at that time. Whether Killian did, or whether it's likely, is another matter, but that's not what Bouffard said. I think Bouffard and his ilk did far more to launch this story into the mainstream than, say, Little Green Footballs.
What we're going to have now are questions upon questions upon questions. The Dallas Morning News story obviously raises questions that need to be answered. There will be a feverish rush to discover whether the Kerry campaign had any involvement. Prediction: Look for some stories in the next few days that will later prove to be dead wrong.
And the larger issues in this campaign continue to be ignored.