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Read about Jay Rosen's book, What Are Journalists For?

Excerpt from Chapter One of What Are Journalists For? "As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press."

Essay in Columbia Journalism Review on the changing terms of authority in the press, brought on in part by the blog's individual--and interactive--style of journalism. It argues that, after Jayson Blair, authority is not the same at the New York Times, either.

"Web Users Open the Gates." My take on ten years of Internet journalism, at

Read: Q & As

Jay Rosen, interviewed about his work and ideas by journalist Richard Poynder

Achtung! Interview in German with a leading German newspaper about the future of newspapers and the Net.

Audio: Have a Listen

Listen to an audio interview with Jay Rosen conducted by journalist Christopher Lydon, October 2003. It's about the transformation of the journalism world by the Web.

Five years later, Chris Lydon interviews Jay Rosen again on "the transformation." (March 2008, 71 minutes.)

Interview with host Brooke Gladstone on NPR's "On the Media." (Dec. 2003) Listen here.

Presentation to the Berkman Center at Harvard University on open source journalism and NewAssignment.Net. Downloadable mp3, 70 minutes, with Q and A. Nov. 2006.

Video: Have A Look

Half hour video interview with Robert Mills of the American Microphone series. On blogging, journalism, NewAssignment.Net and distributed reporting.

Jay Rosen explains the Web's "ethic of the link" in this four-minute YouTube clip.

"The Web is people." Jay Rosen speaking on the origins of the World Wide Web. (2:38)

One hour video Q & A on why the press is "between business models" (June 2008)

Recommended by PressThink:

Town square for press critics, industry observers, and participants in the news machine: Romenesko, published by the Poynter Institute.

Town square for weblogs: InstaPundit from Glenn Reynolds, who is an original. Very busy. Very good. To the Right, but not in all things. A good place to find voices in diaolgue with each other and the news.

Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

Rants, links, blog news, and breaking wisdom from Jeff Jarvis, former editor, magazine launcher, TV critic, now a J-professor at CUNY. Always on top of new media things. Prolific, fast, frequently dead on, and a pal of mine.

Eschaton by Atrios (pen name of Duncan B;ack) is one of the most well established political weblogs, with big traffic and very active comment threads. Left-liberal.

Terry Teachout is a cultural critic coming from the Right at his weblog, About Last Night. Elegantly written and designed. Plus he has lots to say about art and culture today.

Dave Winer is the software wiz who wrote the program that created the modern weblog. He's also one of the best practicioners of the form. Scripting News is said to be the oldest living weblog. Read it over time and find out why it's one of the best.

If someone were to ask me, "what's the right way to do a weblog?" I would point them to Doc Searls, a tech writer and sage who has been doing it right for a long time.

Ed Cone writes one of the most useful weblogs by a journalist. He keeps track of the Internet's influence on politics, as well developments in his native North Carolina. Always on top of things.

Rebecca's Pocket by Rebecca Blood is a weblog by an exemplary practitioner of the form, who has also written some critically important essays on its history and development, and a handbook on how to blog.

Dan Gillmor used to be the tech columnist and blogger for the San Jose Mercury News. He now heads a center for citizen media. This is his blog about it.

A former senior editor at Pantheon, Tom Englehardt solicits and edits commentary pieces that he publishes in blog form at TomDispatches. High-quality political writing and cultural analysis.

Chris Nolan's Spot On is political writing at a high level from Nolan and her band of left-to-right contributors. Her notion of blogger as a "stand alone journalist" is a key concept; and Nolan is an exemplar of it.

Barista of Bloomfield Avenue is journalist Debbie Galant's nifty experiment in hyper-local blogging in several New Jersey towns. Hers is one to watch if there's to be a future for the weblog as news medium.

The Editor's Log, by John Robinson, is the only real life honest-to-goodness weblog by a newspaper's top editor. Robinson is the blogging boss of the Greensboro News-Record and he knows what he's doing.

Fishbowl DC is about the world of Washington journalism. Gossip, controversies, rituals, personalities-- and criticism. Good way to keep track of the press tribe in DC

PJ Net Today is written by Leonard Witt and colleagues. It's the weblog of the Public Journalisn Network (I am a founding member of that group) and it follows developments in citizen-centered journalism.

Here's Simon Waldman's blog. He's the Director of Digital Publishing for The Guardian in the UK, the world's most Web-savvy newspaper. What he says counts.

Novelist, columnist, NPR commentator, Iraq War vet, Colonel in the Army Reserve, with a PhD in literature. How many bloggers are there like that? One: Austin Bay.

Betsy Newmark's weblog she describes as "comments and Links from a history and civics teacher in Raleigh, NC." An intelligent and newsy guide to blogs on the Right side of the sphere. I go there to get links and comment, like the teacher said.

Rhetoric is language working to persuade. Professor Andrew Cline's Rhetorica shows what a good lens this is on politics and the press.

Davos Newbies is a "year-round Davos of the mind," written from London by Lance Knobel. He has a cosmopolitan sensibility and a sharp eye for things on the Web that are just... interesting. This is the hardest kind of weblog to do well. Knobel does it well.

Susan Crawford, a law professor, writes about democracy, technology, intellectual property and the law. She has an elegant weblog about those themes.

Kevin Roderick's LA Observed is everything a weblog about the local scene should be. And there's a lot to observe in Los Angeles.

Joe Gandelman's The Moderate Voice is by a political independent with an irrevant style and great journalistic instincts. A link-filled and consistently interesting group blog.

Ryan Sholin's Invisible Inkling is about the future of newspapers, online news and journalism education. He's the founder of and a self-taught Web developer and designer.

H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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September 11, 2004

Weekend Notes With "Forgery" Swirling in the Air

By Monday morning, we should know a great deal more about whether CBS News peddled forged documents as the real thing in its recent investigation of President Bush's National Guard Service. Here are some quick thoughts-- not about the charges, which seem serious to me, but about the general atmosphere and what's at stake if this turns into a political scandal.

Four things to stick in the front of your mind:

  • It completely elevates the episode and charges it with political and cultural tension that the anchorman, Dan Rather, presented the CBS report Wednesday Night accusing Bush of disappearing from Guard duty. If Sixty Minutes had presented a damaging story of that kind at the height of an election campaign and it turned out to be based on forged documents, that would itself be a crisis. But it was Dan Rather on Sixty Minutes, and it is now Rather on the hook if the documents are fake. (Indeed, Rather told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m of the school, my name is on it, I’m responsible.”) That brings in Rather’s celebrity, the corporate iconography in which an anchorman is always involved, the succession drama at CBS News now that Rather is 72 years old, and the enormous venom out there for Rather, who is seen on the Right as a man of many political sins. Thus, PowerLine wrote: “This would appear to signal the end of Rather’s career. If the documents are ultimately accepted as forgeries, which seems inevitable to us, he can’t survive.” All of which means this is not just a scandal, but a cultural theatre for it, and that’s different.
  • At some point attention will shift to the confluence of events in the news media, in publishing, and in politics that made for “Guard week” this week— to all the things that appeared within days of each other. Forces behind that confluence will be brought to light. As ABC’s The Note said Friday, “Republicans can rightly ask about the confluence of all the DNC, outside group, and media focus on revisiting the Guard story.”
  • Right inside the door of the CBS scandal there is a Dirty Tricks scandal waiting to come to light. If the documents turn out to be fakes, the question will immediately become: who dealt them to CBS? Perhaps that explains this: “Longtime Democratic strategist Pat Caddell said Friday that if documents aired by CBS newsman Dan Rather Wednesday night turn out to be forged, as alleged by experts, the presidential race ‘is over. It would be the end of the race,’ Caddell told Fox News Live. ‘It would be the end of the race,’ he repeated.”
  • This story is bursting open what was called the “undercard” in the earlier scandal story to which “Guard week” is a reply of sorts— the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and their charges about John Kerry’s military service. There, according to blogger Belmont Club, the big beef was between Kerry and the Swift Vets. But an undercard, fascinating in its own right, featured Mainstream Media vs Kid Internet. “The reigning champion, the Mainstream Media, has been forced against all odds to accept the challenge of an upstart over the coverage of the Swiftvets controversy.” (See the original post by Wretchard at Belmont Club, and my take here.) Now that undercard has become the main event. The Note put it this way: “It is interesting to Note that the right (Drudge, Fox, right-leaning blogs, others) led the way in pointing out the questions we have all been asking — and they were onto the questions, with remarkable detail, relatively soon after the documents were made public.” Pay attention to The Note’s chronology (Sep. 10th edition), showing how the blogs argued into plausibility the “forgery” thesis. Contrast that with the Boston Globe’s account, which barely mentions those who “led the way,” according to ABC News. More conflicts—Globe’s reporting vs. ABC’s— are here.

Other voices:

John Podhoretz of the New York Post sees a “populist revolution against the so- called mainstream media” in the events of the last few days. “Yesterday, the citizen journalists who produce blogs on the Internet — and their engaged readers — engaged in the wholesale exposure of what appears to be a presidential-year dirty trick against George W. Bush.” Or against CBS.

Roger L. Simon apparently feels that Rather (or someone working for him) almost got away with the equivalent of electoral fraud. But the bloggers stopped it. Thus: “when you think of what Rather could have done, uncriticized by bloggers (working, unlike him, virtually for nothing), it’s blood curdling.” His view includes this prediction: “…if Rather and his colleagues don’t apologize fully and soon, I imagine a mass movement to boycott CBS News (not their sponsors - it’s not their fault) for promulgating forgeries during a presidential campaign would be forthcoming.”

I found it interesting that Stirling Newberry of BOP News, who identifies Left, is not only convinced there’s a credibility crisis for CBS (“the simple truth is that the equipment that existed in 1972 would not have produced this output…”) but also for the “left blogsphere,” which “should be ashamed of itself for backing off of demanding what we will need to demand the next time Bush pulls a secret plan to save social security out of his nether regions.”

Newberry’s point is: a principled Left would not leap to defend Dan Rather and CBS because it likes the consequences of their reporting on Bush’s National Guard years. Instead, demand what we need to see before the public can again have confidence in the report Rather aired Wednesday night.

For those in the Big Picture market, the smartest thing I have seen written so far on the events in question is again by Belmont Club:

The traditional news model is collapsing. It suffers from two defects. The “news object” can no longer be given sealed attributes in newspaper backrooms. The days when the press was the news object foundry are dying. Second, the news industry is suffering from its lack of analytic cells, which are standard equipment in intellgence shops. Editors do some analysis but their focus is diluted by their attention to style and the craft of writing. The blogosphere and other actors, now connected over the Internet, are filling in for the missing analytic function. And although the news networks still generate, via their reporters, the bulk of primary news, they generate a pitiful amount of competent analysis.

Overheard in the comments here (Lee Kane): “Trouble is Bouffard is now on the blogs saying that the Globe mischaracterized his comments and that he is more suspicious of the documents than ever: but no mass media outlet is of course picking that up.”

In other words, in mass media land, the scandal is over and the forgery suspicions put to rest. I don’t think bloggers alone can put enough pressure on CBS to release their originals or reveal their provenance. The scandal may well remain in blog land and, in the mists of time and fog of war, ultimately end up as an “urban legend” and anyone who believes it will be thought a right-wing crackpot.

I don’t buy that, myself.

Posted by Jay Rosen at September 11, 2004 2:17 AM   Print


Jay, I'm not sure this is helpful, but the narrative difference given the undercard is highlighted by comparing past TV news magazine scandals with this one.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 2:36 AM | Permalink

Sigh .. Time to batten down the hatches for a blast of blog-blather ...

While I don't want to take away any credit from people who did an extensive investigation, I can't see this as anything which depends on an emergent open-origin smart-rabble social-underwear wikimob revolution.

The first halfway-decent historical expert who looks at the documents will say "What in the world is a small-font superscript 'th' doing in a supposedly typewritten memo from 1973?"

That CBS has no good answer for what should be a screaming red flag on a story, is what seems to me the most damning about their not having investigated historical accuracy.

Jay, I suggest this is the key pressthink question: WHY DIDN'T CBS ASK A HISTORICAL FORENSICS EXPERT?

I'm sincerely curious about the answer.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 11, 2004 4:34 AM | Permalink

What seems most odd to me is CBS News' response to this matter so far. Is this how a news organization should respond to criticism? One can imagine ignoring criticisms if they were entirely frivolous, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.

So far, Dan Rather (and by extension the entire CBS News organization, which has fully stood by Rather and the story) has essentially implied that the criticisms are not to be trusted because they come from partisan political operatives and news competitors. However, there are many on both sides of the politic aisle who agree the charges are serious and I'm not sure what Rather means to accomplish by dissing the Washington Post and New York Times. This seems the height of arrogance. Is this how journalists should respond to valid criticism of their work?

Was it an appropriate response by Rather to say that questions about the documents miss the larger questions his report raised? Rather seems to be claiming that the potential falsity of the documents is unimportant in the larger context of his entire report. Is this a valid claim?

Rather has claimed that the criticisms aren't "definitive" and if they become "definitive" that is when they will acknowledge them. What the heck sort of news standard is this? Does CBS News only report stories that are "definitive"?

Why has CBS News acted more like a politician responding to criticism than a news organization after the truth? When the questions were raised by reporters from distinguished news organization, CBS did not immediately name the expert (or experts) who authenticated the documents. According to the one they have now named, he has been asked not to give media interviews by CBS News. What is up with that? Is that appropriate journalism?

CBS has publically criticized its critics by saying they don't have access to the same quality of documents that CBS does. Ok, fine, so why hasn't CBS released as high a quality reproduction of the documents as they are able? How much of a burden would that be? It is only four documents. Given what we've seen from the degraded copies that have been released, there is no evidence of their provenance, so it doesn't seem as if higher quality copies would burn the source or anything. At the very least, shouldn't CBS News explain why they are unwilling to provide higher quality copies?

Is CBS News stonewalling criticism? It seems to me that they are. Journalists often complain about stonewalling politicians, corporate executives, etc. Perhaps they should adhere to the same standards they expect of others.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 9:00 AM | Permalink

Seth, even if the documents turn out to be legit, it's fairly clear that CBS scrambled to answer some very serious questions (and still hasn't answered them). But, let's face it, weblogs have dramatically changed the way a scandal like this unfolds. I don't know why you feel it necessary to make a dig at weblogs. Professional jealousy?

Posted by: Brian at September 11, 2004 9:15 AM | Permalink

Jay Rosen is right: this is "cultural theatre"... and boy, is it entertaining! It's so much fun, I might even start buying newspapers again. (Kidding!)

Jokes aside, this is a significant "power shift" moment -- just like when Matt Drudge broke the news of Monica Lewinsky; the Old Media losing power to New Media.

Though it's sad to lose my last bit of trust in "60 Minutes", I accept the winds of change. New technology has brought mass media's power to the masses. Cell-phone cameras make everyone a roving reporter. The Internet makes every website the world's newspaper.

So rejoice, bloggers! For this is your moment in history.


Posted by: A.R. Yngve at September 11, 2004 9:18 AM | Permalink

Was there ever, anywhere, a "news object"? Or are we yet uninclined to adequately distinguish some liquid semeiosis from its commodified corporate packaging?

Posted by: tom matrullo at September 11, 2004 10:19 AM | Permalink

The most impressive aspect of this story IMO was that the success for the bloggers to not only build on the expertise of other bloggers, but to reach out to independent experts (see UML Guy's Scorecard linked from Tom Maguire's roundup and also the bottom of this Power Line post).

Another interesting promotional aspect of the new media is the ability to self-order/organize and raise funds.

For example, like Trudeau's $10k USO award (scroll down to "Can we read some Bush Guard testimony? Who won?") for witnesses to Bush's Alabama NG service, there is also now an award "to the first person who can find a typewriter available in 1972 that reasonably could have produced the documents in question."

Does this ability to raise funds and offer awards (or bundle political contributions) give Kid Internet some of its influential standing on the undercard?

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 11:06 AM | Permalink

Another question that has to be raised about the journalism in this case is the claims from sources that they have been mislead or their claims taken out of context. According to ABC News: "Retired Maj. General Hodges, Killian's supervisor at the Grd, tells ABC News that he feels CBS misled him about the documents they uncovered. According to Hodges, CBS told him the documents were 'handwritten' and after CBS read him excerpts he said, 'well if he wrote them that's what he felt.'" Will CBS release a tape, transcript or reporter's notes for this phone call? Or is this not "definitive" enough?

The Boston Globe, which has been one of the pring publications at the front of the original story, published an article today claiming that the memos are authentic. However, one of the experts that they cite is complaining that his arguments have been misrepresented. See, . Is the Boston Globe engaged in responsible journalism? Or are they spinning to cover deficiencies in their reporting?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 11:36 AM | Permalink

There may be legitimate challenges to the authenticity of these documents, but the wire service stories yesterday were based on historically false assumptions about both proportional spacing and superscripts. Seth Finkelstein's "screaming red flag" is nothing of the kind. It is the historical forensics expertise he calls for that tells us so. Why is he so misinformed?

I submit that is an important question that is part of the story. It is predictable that the Republican blogosphere would be generating charges like this before the program on which the documents were aired had even ended. But why would the MSM transmit these empirically false claims on the front page of every major newspaper in the country?

If there is going to be a challenge to the authenticity of the documents it would help the blogosphere and the MSM's credibility if these were based on arguments with some historical basis.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 12:37 PM | Permalink

"Ben Franklin",

There have been a number of legitimate challenges to the authenticity of the documents from numerous sources. There have also been many false claims made as well as misinformed claims. However, the exisitance of false and misinformed claims is not terribly relevant. For every false and misinformed claim attacking the authenticity of the documents, I can produce false and misinformed claims "proving" they are of the era.

Indeed, your very claim that the Republican blogosphere would be generating charges like this before the program on which the documents were first aired as ended, is an example of misinformation. According to reports, the timestamp issue regarding when questions were first raised about the documents did not grasp the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. See,

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 12:52 PM | Permalink

Another way of putting what I get out of the last Belmont club quote is that news organization are no match for the psy-ops, undercover intelligence model of political subversion that now passes for US politics. Walter Lippmann's fear for the derangement of public opinion by the manufacture of consent has taken on a pseudo-populist, undercover operative twist. Until news organizations start going undercover themselves, they will continue to be outmaneuvered and miss the real story of Atwater-Rove style campaigns.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 12:53 PM | Permalink

So, let's recap:

1. CBS airs a story using documents after "... some alarm 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 ..."; experts who've authored anti-Bush books, and an interview Barnes, a discredited politico and Kerry fundraiser who has opportunistically changed his story.

2. CBS presents an entirely one-sided story despite knowing counter-evidence and witnesses are available.

3. CBS misquotes and mischaracterizes their research source(s).

4. Oliphant's "basic standards" Boston Globe, WP and NYT rush front page stories based on CBS's "news magazine" without skepticism or critical examination.

5. CBS stonewalls and obfuscates and attacks. Note:

And let us not be the last to point out that if a(nother) major corporation was withholding information related to serious allegations made against the president of the United States, "60 Minutes" would be all over them, demanding to know about their documentation and expert back up.

6. Oliphant's "basic standards" Boston Globe misrepresents another source, begging the question how many times the Globe can pull this crediblity trick without loosing their own? (Need we mention fake rape pics again?)

I only provide this incomplete list to ask whether ethics and the credibility of "Old Media" has been weighed appropriately in this discussion.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 1:08 PM | Permalink


It is the historical forensics expertise he calls for that tells us so. False.

It is predictable that the Republican blogosphere would be generating charges like this before the program on which the documents were aired had even ended. False

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 1:11 PM | Permalink

I stipulate your point on the timestamp as I have no better information. How does that affect the assumption that a sentient being would expect the Republican blogosphere to try to challenge the authenticity of the documents? That doesn't prejudge whether they will be successful or not. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. If you are living and breathing you have to expect they will try to challenge them. Are you living and breathing?

The front page story yesterday at USA Today and the Washington Post exclusively addressed issues regarding proportional spacing and superscript. These were demonstrably available on IBM typewriters from the late 60s. If there are telling arguments available--please share if you have one--they were not part of the front page story on USA Today or the Washington Post challenging the documents. Today's reports are moving toward potentially significant arguments. Yesterday's stories were demonstrably baseless.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 1:12 PM | Permalink

The IBM Executive model had proportional spacing. Superscript "th" was available on the Executive and the Selectric as was the font in question. On what do you base your denial of these historical facts about IBM typewriters?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 1:16 PM | Permalink

"Ben Franklin",

Now you are beginning the descent into name calling, making claims about "a sentient being would expect" and "if you are living and breathing."

One can expect Republican partisans to attack the story. One wouldn't necessarily expect them to attack the authenticity of the documents. Had the documents come from Pentagon microfiche or some other impeccable provenance, they would be making other claims about the story, but not the documents.

Furthermore, just as it is predictable that Republican partisans would attack the story, it is equally predictable that Democrat partisans would defend the story just as aggressively.

This proves and means, what, exactly? What it means to me is that the most vocal and rapid partisans of both sides lack both perspective and objectivity.

Both the front page stories did indeed deal with issues regarding proportional spacing and superscript, but they also referenced named (for the most part) document forensic experts who had significant doubts. The Washington Post story did note that proportional spaced typewriters existed at the time the documents were dated. The claim is that proportional spaced typewriters were uncommon compared to the monospaced versions.

Could the stories have more information and be more nuanced? Yes. Are there other arguments against the authenticity of the documents to be made? Yes. Does this mean the stories are "baseless"? Clearly not.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 1:28 PM | Permalink

Story vs. authenticity point taken.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 1:35 PM | Permalink

My point is precisely that the named forensic experts were ignoring the IBM ability question. The experts were exclusively talking about the pre- post- Microsoft word boundary which is undermined by the proportional spacing, superscript capability. Those arguments ARE simply baseless.

We agree it is quite possible the documents may be legitimately challenged on other grounds. The "expert" arguments you referred to were actively ignoring the historical information on typewriters in the article you refer to. Why disseminate a logically fallacious argument?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 1:40 PM | Permalink


I'm not interested in engaging in a point-by-point typography debate on ALL the capabilities required to produce such documents. It's being done ad nauseam already.

Historical forensics expertise -> CYA personal file documents, with such wordprocessing perfection, dated in the early 1970s -> raises red flags, eyebrows, and questions. PERIOD.

One of the more interesting discussions on the The IBM Selectric Composer.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 1:51 PM | Permalink

I'm saying the questions they raise have answers. We need to pay attention to those answers, not just doubt in the abstract. The great thing about this debate is that there should be evidence to resolve it one way or the other. Maybe you are right. Maybe I am. Simply saying you see red flags period gets us nowhere.

We will have to stop doubting if the evidence says those are not red flags, but signs of our ignorance about typewriter capabilities. If it is established that the CYA memo involves something they couldn't do, let me know. Proportional spacing and superscripts don't fall into that category.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 1:57 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the link.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 2:04 PM | Permalink

The link was interesting. The last argument is the least impressive. The writer is completely convinced by the exact match between the centering of the heading of different memos on different dates and imagines this is somehow impossible on typewriters but inevitable on word processors.

Those of us who typed in the 70s know that, just like in MS Word, typewriters allow you to set tabs. You do the math to center routine documents like memos once, you set your tabs, and voila!--from then to the end of time, your routine document headings are centered in exactly the same way in every memo you type from then to eternity. Again, there may be arguments that take these documents down, but I haven't seen them yet.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

"Ben Franklin",

The questions raised have not yet been answered.

Is it technically possible that the docments were created in 1973? Possibly, but that has not been conclusively shown. However, even if possible, the machine that produced them would be relatively uncommon, which is a point the newspaper articles made. That is a red flag.

Strangely, none of Bush's official records of the era include proportionately spaced type, which is strong evidence that proportionately spaced typewriting was uncommon in military use in those units involved with Bush's records. Is this conclusive? No. However, it is a red flag.

The mere existence of equipment that might possibly (there is no firm evidence that they could reproduce exactly) have produced the memos doesn't mean the red flag goes away.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 2:36 PM | Permalink


What do you think about how CBS has handled the controversy? Have they been responsive and transparent? What do you think about the competitive ethics involved in airing the story with these documents and Ben Barnes? How about the competitive ethics between CBS and the other media news organizations? How about the role the bloggers on both sides of the debate? What about the "experts" on both sides? Did CBS seek out independent experts? Have the bloggers? What about the other news organizations?

What do you think should happen if the documents are frauds/forgeries? Is Rather more like Jayson Blair or Howell Raines? Should the source of the documents be exposed?

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 3:14 PM | Permalink

I'm still uncertain about how this case will turn out. However, I've read elsewhere that the claims that such typewriters were uncommon at the time have been pretty much debunked. See dailykos for example.

What's the PressThink going to be if it turns out all the forgery claims were baseless? Then we've got a bunch of Republican bloggers who questioned CBS and turned out to be all wet, and a bunch of other bloggers (including PressThink?) who apparently believed them because they liked the meta-story. "Blogger catches traditional media lying" and "computers are way more advanced than primitive typewriters" are irresistable memes to many bloggers, even Democratic ones.

So, point in favor of traditional media? Well, on the other hand, other bloggers questioned the typography claims, and the debate continues. So the blogosphere is working out this issue in its own way, and we may yet get to the bottom of it. (But no amount of theorising will do that - it's only going to happen by digging into the details.)

The real question, I think, is whether we'll reach any consensus, or whether the Republican bloggers will continue to insist it's a forgery while the Democratic bloggers insist that it's not. I'm still hopeful that enough evidence will come out and people will educate themselves enough that we will get to some sort of conclusion, at least among non-conspiracy theorists.

I'm less hopeful about your average undecided voter. For them, there will probably always be a cloud of uncertainty around this issue, regardless of whether the folks who are paying attention figure it out. Both CBS and the Kerry campaign have something to lose if that happens.

For the traditional media, if they want to avoid getting questioned in this way, they're going to have to start putting more details online. Publishing the evidence along with a primer on typography and how the documents were authenticated might not stop partisans from insisting they're fakes, but it would do a lot to prevent other bloggers from repeating such claims.

Posted by: Brian Slesinsky at September 11, 2004 3:36 PM | Permalink

Ben and Mr. Rather have apparently forgoten a cardinal rule in science.

When extraordinary claims are made, the burden of proof is on the claimant, and the rigor of evaluating any evidence offered as proof is much greater than usual.

It is not up to those rejecting the extraordinary claim to prove its falsity.

Furthermore, one of the memos has been easily and precisely reproduced using just Microsoft Word (at LGF); the two are identical. Say what you will, it remains extremely unlikely that the default Word settings would produce (amazingly) a 1972 typewritten document exactly, even including the difficult task of "manually" centering Times New Roman.

Posted by: Pogo at September 11, 2004 3:40 PM | Permalink

The fact that the typewriters with the capability to reproduce the memo when they were debated had been debunked? Ok. That certainly explains why proportionally spaced type is commonly found in the official and verified records released to date.

Oh, wait, proportionally spaced type is not commonly found in the officially released records. Nevermind.

If the memos turn out to be authentic, it would be ridiculous to think that the lessons include publishing primers on typography when publishing a story.

If the memos are authentic, then CBS would be clearly right to have run with their story and there is nothing wrong with it, considering it before the criticisms were raised. Now that valid criticism have been made, however, CBS' response has clearly been lacking.

Why didn't they make the names of the experts they consulted readily available? Why did they counsel the one expert they did name not to talk to other media? Why haven't they provided copies of the documents as clear as they can?

You don't have to detail your reporting process for every story you publish, but when valid criticisms are raised, you should be prepared to explain the process of the reporting in more detail.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 11, 2004 3:51 PM | Permalink

The mass media is not down yet. As of Saturday, it's largely dropped the "forgery" angle. The AP posted a story today surveying veteran's reactions to the "facts" described in the memos. The AP story mentions not at all the forgery allegations. One of the primary typewriter experts, Philip Bouffard, was quoted in the Boston Globe as having backed off his suspicions. This was picked up by the SF Chron and other outlets. Trouble is Bouffard is now on the blogs saying that the Globe mischaracterized his comments and that he is more suspicious of the documents than ever: but no mass media outlet is of course picking that up.

In other words, in mass media land, the scandal is over and the forgery suspicions put to rest. I don't think bloggers alone can put enough pressure on CBS to release their originals or reveal their provenance. The scandal may well remain in blog land and, in the mists of time and fog of war, ultimately end up as an "urban legend" and anyone who believes it will be thought a right-wing crackpot.

This is, of course, unfortunate. I wonder if CBS will be able to get away with it. I give them better than even odds since even ABC now seems to have dropped the pursuit.

What happens then?

Posted by: Lee Kane at September 11, 2004 4:05 PM | Permalink

I think we can all agree that if CBS anticipated some controversy surrounding the typewriter issue, which the public statements from their lead consultant suggest is the case, it was at the very least arrogant of them not to bother to anticipate reasonable questions in readers minds by laying out the case for their interpretation of the documents, rather than simply assuming it.

My impression so far is that in their mind the confirmation they got from anonymous sources made their story absolutely bulletproof from the perspective of traditional journalistic ethics related to sourcing. This traditional standard, however, does not account for increasing audience skepticism, the institutionalization of party-based media infrastructure, and the culture wars effective delegitimation of almost any mainstream media claims to authority or expertise.

I didn't see the original CBS broadcast, but I have read a couple of their online defenses. As a person who consistently calls for more spine from the media, given the networks general listlessness in transmitting bad information from the Bush administration even I am a little startled by the way in which Rather's defense has seemed to take political sides as part of the defense of the story.

We will certainly need to see how the forgery debate is resolved to decide whose behavior we find more appalling, but I will concede that CBS certainly didn't present their case in very effective or convincing detail at the start. Surely that would be possible on their website even if not on the news broadcast itself.

Most of you have probably already seen the discussion in the Boston Globe from the forensics expert who was on record for the New York Times as skeptical yesterday and who is now convinced the IBM Selectric Composer could have produced the memos.

One of the strange aspects of this story is the anonymous confirmations they seem to be relying on. That is not very satisfying to anyone, I should think. It is a problem that goes beyond this story, but it is also at the heart of why this story is so frustrating. Did Hodges support the story or not? How specific was he? What information was he responding to? What exactly did he say? I want to know too.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 4:22 PM | Permalink

I think yesterday's wave of front page stories clearly put the forgery issue into the mix and I have seen it reflected in quite a few stories online today as well. Are you talking about television news?

Do you have a link for Bouffard's comments on the Boston Globe story?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 4:28 PM | Permalink

Ben -- Could you please stop spamming this board? Fine, we get it, you don't want to believe they are forgeries. You aren't even reading the other posts. Lee points out that Bouffard claims he was *mis*quoted by the Globe and that he has not at all backed off his suspicions. He does not believe that the IBM could have produced the documents.

Posted by: Ben You Missed It at September 11, 2004 4:30 PM | Permalink

Ben, yes, here is the link in which Bouffard says the Globe manipulated his statements.

Here is the link in which the AP completely ignores the forgery allegations.

I think the stories you ar seeing are from yesterday. Print has either dropped it or is now just reporting that CBS has denied it, suggesting the matter is winding down.

(PS. last post was from me.)

Posted by: Lee Kane at September 11, 2004 4:33 PM | Permalink

An interesting point from Jane Galt's blog comments about this controversy:

Steve Teeter wrote:

Here's something else pointing at Rather, though it is only an inference, not a fact. (And we've all just learned to be careful about that, haven't we, hmm?) Joe K. said, "In 1992 they would have got away with it." That's because in 1992 the memos would have been flashed on the screen for fifteen seconds under Rather's narration, probably with everything grayed out except for a highlight box around what Rather was quoting. No one would have had a chance to notice anything wrong. Theoretically a few reporters might have asked to see them, but they might not have noticed anything, and even if they did what member of the journalism fraternity would dare to blow the whistle on Dan Rather?
As it is, CBS felt obliged to post them on their website, allowing thousands of very bright and skeptical people to examine them carefully, and thus it all blew up in their faces.
Which suggests that it never occurred to the person responsible for this that they would be so posted and get such close scrutiny. It is easy to imagine Rather forgetting all about that, as he is in his sixties and totally disdainful of the Internet. It's not possible to imagine a 26-year-old junior staffer forgetting that detail.
(all emphasis mine)

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 4:41 PM | Permalink

Maybe this is a case of the fireman arsonist, except this is a DB discrediting?

We need to look for other usual suspects since Rather's defense is the unpenetrable, "Do you know who I am!?!"

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 5:22 PM | Permalink

unpenetrable -> impenetrable (LOL, apologies.)

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 5:30 PM | Permalink

To elaborate on my view of the press aspect:

If Dan Rather dives into a shark-pit with red meat smeared on his chest and no armor, and then gets mauled, my thinking is that the big question is why he dived into the shark-pit with red meat smeared on his chest and no armor. NOT, which particular shark got him first, and does that mean we are in a new era of evolution (no offense meant here to the smaller sharks which swam fast and got him very quickly, before the slower Great Whites could get their teeth into him).

Now, one can answer this question by saying "Well, Dan Rather is just a senile idiot. Humans are OldThink. Sharks Rule!". I find this unsatisfying, as I just don't believe he's a senile idiot. If someone hates Dan Rather and/or loves sharks, they of course might like this explanation.

Variant: "Dan Rather thought he was invulnerable. He thought his buddies would immediately pull him out of the pool". But again, he's been dealing with sharks for decades. This is basically still he's-an-idiot.

Again, the rules of professional journalism are that most stories do not require accuracy, merely a modicum of verisimilitude, and the targets can be blow-off. But this one, this incident, was something which required both checking and was against a target which could check.

So I believe the blog boosterism is downright harmful to thinking. It's basically just endlessly repeated "We're sooooo smart. They're sooooo stupid. Aren't we new? Aren't they old? It just goes to show how they're stupid (monolithic authoritarian elitists ... ) and we're smart (emergent distributed regular-people ...)."

I don't think that line of "reasoning" gets one anywhere in terms of understanding.

And I will never be popular because I'm not echoing it :-)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 11, 2004 5:41 PM | Permalink

There is no question that CBS mishandled the release of the documents, as well as all the statements it made in reply when the original doubts were raised. The actions taken are not consistent with an Internet Ready Awareness in charge at CBS News. And there may be no such awareness there; that seems very possible to me. The transparency being demanded is stricter than they thought, bigger. They aren't used to it.

From what I have seen so far, I regret to say it looks like a defensive, unthinking, we-stand-by-the-story, obey-all-relexes response-- and also like no one is in charge at CBS News.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 11, 2004 5:44 PM | Permalink

Seth: I think part of the answer to your puzzle may be found in the gap between proof procedure (which is meant to uphold standards) and the actual standards of truth your operation upholds as it makes decisions under real world conditions about what has been "nailed down," and therefore will not blow away when the storm comes.

While it is inconceivable that Rather and company failed to check on the authenticity of the documents, or failed to seek expert opinion, it is not inconceivable at all that their procedures for doing so--the in-use CBS standard in what it means to "check" something--were faulty, subpar, especially because "shooting par" has been changing, as the courses have gotten tougher because of the Internet's strengths in marshalling information quickly.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 11, 2004 6:00 PM | Permalink

Jay, thanks, but my point is that par *here*, in this case, is *extremely* low - in fact, all the New Era yadda yadda acts to obscure that point.

What I keep trying to convey is the question:

"Are these documents historically authentic?"

DOES NOT require elaborate consultation - you don't *need* a crowd of people pooling their talents, etc.

It doesn't depend on some obscure fact where the one surviving witness might see a picture in the newspaper (err, on a speciality blog), and say "That's funny, I was there, and ..."

All you need to do is ask one typographic forensics analyst, "Do these memos seem real?"

And they're going to say "No, they look dubious, because ..."

Talking about The Internet obscures this - Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the general right-wing machine, has the power to ask that question.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 11, 2004 6:15 PM | Permalink

I'm afraid I still don't understand the one basic question you are trying to ask. There was a question of authenticity. Experts disagree about the answer.

What do you want to see that you are not seeing here? You seem to think the question is settled.

Allegations aren't proof. It IS a situation that requires pooling talents and historical data as far as I can see. It is a question of who had what kind of typewriter models capable of doing what, when, and where. If someone was in the office, they could shed light on it that couldn't be known until they hear about the story and comment on it. The experts consulted so far wouldn't differ so wildly in opinion if it wasn't. What do you know that the dozens of experts consulted so far don't know?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 7:06 PM | Permalink

I think it's settled that the memos are extremely, extraordinarily, typographically suspicious, so much so that any expert who looks at them will raise strong concerns. Some of the discussion has taken a turn into arguing what would be incontrovertible proof of falsity, and confused that with raising red flags which should be immediately obvious on cursory viewing by any average expert.

That superscript small-font "th" is way out of place. It may not be utterly impossible for the time. But it's such an outlier that it should prompt immediate intense scrutiny. It's not obscure. It simply looks too good to be true for the era and the context, as well as being very easy now.

The contemporary-document version "th" that CBS showed looked so different that I was very surprised they would even claim a similarity.

Again, they are forensically suspicious - that is glaringly obvious. Blog New-Era blah-blah in fact acts to excuse this, saying it was beyond CBS to check. It wasn't. It would have been easy. That's the deep issue to me.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 11, 2004 7:32 PM | Permalink

The echo chamber of the MSM:

CBS Repeats Globe Lie

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 7:38 PM | Permalink

How many of you ever typed anything on a typewriter? How many of you typed in the 70s? As someone who has done so, I know that proportional spacing wasn't rare or difficult to produce on an IBM. Curly apostrophes were common. The 'th' was less so but not strikingly rare. If age matters, it would appear to be the younger folks who are demonstrably more ignorant. The bloggers who can't grasp the fact that MS Word *imitates type* seem especially clueless. I do wish cbs would tell us more about their sources though.

Posted by: beth at September 11, 2004 9:12 PM | Permalink

Ignorant, clueless, whatever. Beth, whether or not proportional fonts existed (no serious critic of the memos has claimed otherwise) does not answer whether those proportional fonts match what is found in the memos (there appears to be a discrepency with the character '4'). Killian's own family poo-poos the idea that he would type up much less keep a memo like this among his personal papers. The "pressure" cited in one memo came from someone who had retired a year before. At least one memo has been reproduced in Microsoft Word. There are interesting peculiarities in terminology and format.

Most damningly of all, to me, is that CBS apparently never had access to anything better than a photocopy--which it seems obvious to me means that the documents' authenticity can never really be 100% verified. What is even the point of analyzing a photocopied signature?!? The very fact that it is an nth generation copy means that none of the content above it can be corroborated.

To say nothing of other sources now claiming they were misquoted/misled about the documents. Before you resort to namecalling, you might try looking at the story from a *slightly* more skeptical vantage point.

Posted by: Brian at September 11, 2004 9:27 PM | Permalink

By the way, I used a typewriter in high school, but what does that prove? Killian apparently had some hell of an exotic model. Forget typewriters, though. Looking at my late-80s term papers, done on a Commodore 64 with a thermal transfer printer, they don't look even slightly like something that a typical word processor in 2004 would produce. The similarities between Word and the Killian documents are well beyond fishy.

Posted by: Brian at September 11, 2004 9:31 PM | Permalink

The Patterico link on Tanker KC specifically states that he posted his challenge to the formatting of the memo BEFORE THE SHOW HAD FINISHED AIRING. Elliot, I'll thank you to retract your misinformation charge or talk to Patterico and Tanker KC about their story. One of you has it wrong.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 11, 2004 9:54 PM | Permalink


Notice that the formatting of the signature blocks on the memos that caught Tanker KC's attention is not one of the issues being debated.

Interesting, don't you think?

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink

I've read elsewhere (on the Well, so I can't quote it) that the 'th' character wasn't all that unlikely, especially since these documents were written by 111th division, which had the occasion to type "th" a lot and get the special key for it. Folks who actually were using typewriters back then don't find this implausable.

I don't personally know anything about 70's typewriters, but it seems like we are discovering that a lot of people (including so-called typerwriter experts who get quoted in newspapers) can make mistakes. The jury is most definitely still out on this.

Posted by: Brian Slesinsky at September 11, 2004 10:21 PM | Permalink

It looks like it's been proved the docs are frauds. A gent with a Composer, allegedly the only machine capable of producing all the "miracles" seen in the docs, is unable to replicate the Ra'th'er documents.

Even before it got to esoteric typographics, there were several other format and 'historical' problems. The ever rigid military some how created docs with different formats. Some of these formats weren't adopted in the AF until over a decade later. Maybe this is what a historical forensic expert would have picked up on. Is it reasonable that the regimented military would produce some docs without a letterhead? Anyone notice an AF manual (AFM) referenced that never existed? Probably more things a historical forensic expert would have picked up. There's lots more of these, but enough.

There were so many waving red flags that the typographical proof is only needed to nail the lid on an icon. Bloggers have a big advantage - via their vast numbers they have virtually every skill on tap or within easy reach. The knell you're hearing for Big Media is a warning to adapt or die.

Posted by: MaDr at September 11, 2004 10:33 PM | Permalink

Long Post:

Actually, I find some reassurance for the MSM in this.

I have spoken on this subject several times here on Jay's blog. Regulars, and Jay, please forgive anything you find repetitive. I do add new thoughts, new to me anyway, if you care to follow.

The investigative capabilities of Internet Kid are fairly impressive. They, the bloggers, are a form of distributed intelligence. This form, similar to the internet itself, flows freely around obstacles that a more centralized approach would find a barrier. I suggest that straight comparisons between the traditional media and the bloggers is going to present difficulties. Contempt such as pajama-clad (the Kid), or over-simplification such as biased (the MSM,) are a part of these difficulties.

The basic tests and purpose of coverage in the traditional media are being tested severely. The tests, which Jay puts in a formal operational terms, I state as Credibility of Source; Prima Facie proof of Assertion(s ;) and Intent.

The Kid has little care for coverage issues, however, their readers come because they so choose. The act of reading or viewing traditional media may also be called an act of choice; however, the publicly imposed expectations of compliance to standards are different from those of the Kid.

The traditional media, as a collective, seem to have stakes in the stories above that of dissemination of accurate information. Similar to some on this blog, the intent of the story outweighs the importance of accuracy and credibility.

I said I find some hope for the traditional media in all of the coverage of the purported forgeries.

The Kid has found, in this instance, cause for concern in three areas:

1) Content: The Date - the pressuring officer spoken of in the August memo had retired a year and a half prior to the date of the memo. The CYA - the widow and the son both state that this is not a behavior (writing CYA memos) of the deceased purported author.

2) Format: Military format, acronym use, and language are not appropriate for the author or the place. One could say that this is just for file so it didn't need to be, but then why take the extraordinary effort required to center and superscript? Finally, the paper size is wrong for the time/place.

3) Typography: Curly Quotes; Superscript; diminished size of superscript; proportional spacing; and finally letter-by-letter compression based on what else was on the line to give best fit to the line (kerning.)

The traditional media, notably not CBS or Boston Globe, have made Herculean efforts in a short period of time to present and address these somewhat complex subjects.

Additionally, the traditional media have, through their traditional strength - the personal interview - have discovered, and covered, the development that Hodges was misled by CBS in that they told him the document was hand-written; and Robert Strong who told them that while Selectrics were available, he doubted that the particular unit had any. Remember: it requires not just a selectric, but a "Composer" model, and with additional type-balls (for superscript, proportional type, and curly quotes) - which even then can't do 'kerning.'

In other words, the traditional media, with exceptions, have been following, investigating - in their own way, and covering.

I was not confident that would happen.

The forward interest in this: the resolution of the forgery investigation; the fallout in media terms; the implication in political terms; and if necessary – additional investigation on the perpetrator and connections.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 11, 2004 10:35 PM | Permalink

Picking up on Lee Kane's comment above, Jay's doubt in the AfterMath section, and John Lynch's comment ... Glenn Reynolds:

I notice that some commenters over at INDCJournal think that the Big Media is trying to bury this story. I actually don't think so. I was interviewed today by a journalist for a major paper who's doing a story, and it's getting big play in the latest Weekly Standard. Plus, as a scroll down will demonstrate, it's getting a lot of major-media coverage already.
He also doesn't think the final determination on the documents matters as much as the damage already done.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 11:00 PM | Permalink

Apparently there are six documents, not four.

Posted by: Tim at September 11, 2004 11:16 PM | Permalink


Here is the first post made by Tanker KC.


They are not in the style that we used when I came in to the USAF. They looked like the style and format we started using about 12 years ago (1992). Our signature blocks were left justified, now they are rigth of the ones they just showed.

Can we get a copy of those memos?
107 posted on 09/08/2004 5:19:00 PM PDT by TankerKC (R.I.P. Spc Trevor A. Win'E American Hero)

Why would anyone have to wait til the end of the show to make this kind of post? If your familiar with the subject matter , AF Docs in this case, how much time should take before posting your question? I guess I would be more impressed with your argument if the comment appeared online before the documents were shown on the program.

Posted by: TAJ at September 11, 2004 11:53 PM | Permalink

Wow. There is information in this comments thread that is even more uninformed than the stuff I'm reading at Little Green Footballs.

Every current and former secretary over 50 who's commented on this has said exactly the same thing: the IBM Selectric could have created these memos. I had one, and they are correct. And if anyone still had one in the garage, you would have seen samples by now. But it should be enough that there are authentic Bush documents online that show the use of special superscripted characters (not identical, but definitely a special key or typeball character).

More to the point, I spent 1988-1993 doing military conversion projects, taking DD-214s and other original documents and contemporaneous copies and turning them into civilian resumes. Twenty years and out, so these guys all went in from 1968-1973. None of the packages had consistent typefaces, and many documents that had been frequently updated had as many as 5-6 different kinds of typewriter copy.

But the Guard packages were the most nonstandard of all. Weekend warriors, remember? I'm still trying to find out what Killian's civilian job was (or if he was full-time Guard), but it was obvious that Guard packages had often been filled out off base, probably at a civilian office. Back then, as I guy who could type, I was considered unusual. Killian probably had someone else type them, and to my eye the two "questionable" documents sure look like the kind of thing I would have done back then on my Selectric.

As to this Composer argument, I've never heard of such a machine. I don't doubt its existence, but it's being presented as the "only" typewriter that could have done this memo, which is untrue. The IBM Selectric II with changeable typeballs was, in all likelihood, the typewriter used. And it was very common in the early '70s.

I cannot tell you the documents are not forgeries, but there is absolutely no information presented in this thread that makes a reasonable case for fraud. Anyone who claims they can say forgery based on copies of the original clearly is not an expert. And anyone who buys the ridiculous MS Word theory doesn't know know anything about typesetting. It is a laughable claim that no typesetter would ever make and countless sites have already debunked it, one with a clever animated GIF.

Sorry to barge in shooting my mouth off, but all I know is what I've seen with my own eyes, and I suspect I've worked with a lot more Guard documents from this time period than anyone else posting on this topic. There is nothing suspicious about these documents based on my first-hand experience. And, unlike actual military personnel who dealt with their own base's protocols, I have seen documents from all over the country and overseas, and know that the much vaunted military standardization was not the case. Even page sizes varied, let alone typefaces.

Nothing I have said makes these memos real, but the burden of proof should be on the people claiming forgery, and so far they're not even close to a convincing case. I think it would be much more honest to say that many on the right recognize that to accept these documents would be tantamount to admitting that George Bush has lied to them. And that's the issue here.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson at September 12, 2004 12:01 AM | Permalink


Actually the burden of proof lies with the claimant that these are real.

Further, I stated that the issues above are what the bloggers have found that raise concern.

I also do not claim forgery. I claim prima facie evidentiary standards have been me that require the claimant to provide further proof.

Finally, you may want to check your facts. The IBM Selectric had several models: The Selectric, the Selectric II, The Selectric Executive, and the Selectric Composer - a 20K$ model unlikely to be at an ANG base. Additionally, there is a blogging report (for what it is worth, we'll have to wait to test the veracity) that the Selectric models, with varying type-balls have now been tried and found wanting in being able to recreate these memos.

I have typed with the Executive and proportional fonts - in the 70s. No problem with that part of your assertion. Centering text in proportional font on a typewriter was a real bitch to do. This part of the allegation resonates with me. However, this does not constitute proof.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 12:21 AM | Permalink

I don't think it's such a big deal, but I was accused of spreading misinformation further up in the thread simply for mentioning this fact.

I'll think about the signature issue a little more, thanks.

Mark Gisleson,
Good post. What was the occasion for you to be engaged in this conversion work? Where did it go down?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 12, 2004 12:26 AM | Permalink

Damn. Preview is my friend.
I also do not claim forgery. I claim prima facie evidentiary standards have been me that require the claimant to provide further proof.

Should Read:

I also do not claim forgery. I claim prima facie evidentiary standards have been met that require the claimant to provide further proof.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 12:29 AM | Permalink

Mark, good post. Thank you. John, I typed card catalog cards and other library documents in the 70s. Centering isn't that hard even with proportional spacing. I guarantee we didn't use a $20k machine. That doesn't make the documents real. But I still maintain that anyone who accepts forgery arguments w/o skepticism has little professional typing experience. Not to mention that it's difficult to envision any reasonable circumstance in which my spouse or children would know what sorts of documents I prepare at work.

I agree that cbs should have done more to explain their vetting sooner.

Posted by: beth at September 12, 2004 12:44 AM | Permalink

I think the amount of bluster we're starting to see is undermining weblogs' usefulness...look how easy it is to throw a bunch of sand by stating that proportional fonts existed, Times New Roman was created in 1931, case closed. Mark Giselson actually claims that the burden of proof is on people skeptical of CBS/Rather--a breathtakingly subservient stance given that it's CBS/Rather making the extraordinary claim. Let's not forget that Killian is already on record praising Bush's National Guard service, that Killian's family disputes that the documents express his views or that he would have created them, that multiple "sources" have retracted, backpedaled, qualified, or otherwise diluted claims that CBS relies heavily on, etc.

And, let's face it, CBS is not acting like an innnocent party. Their "rebuttal" is utterly pathetic, disingenuous, selective, really typical network high-handedness. Just trust us, in short. I'm sure with a little effort I could create a document showing that Killian testified that Mark Giselson is a big poopie-head. Then hand out a 14th generation copy and do a bunch of handwaving. I won't even begin to take CBS' assertions at face value until they produce an original document. Period. Forging a copy is simply too easy with available technology.

We still don't even know who their source for these documents is. Only that he's "unimpeachable". Translation: just trust us. We're the MSM. Would we lie to you?

Posted by: Brian at September 12, 2004 12:51 AM | Permalink


TO get it right you had to type the line twice. Once on one pice of paper, then again on your target piece of paper. You couldn't know without doing this, how long the line was going to be until the individual characters had been typed. Therefore you wouldn't know where to start the line to get it exactly centered. Unless of course you knew the width of each character for the specific font you were using and added them all up. Either way, a real task to do with perfect accuracy.

For a non-typist, as Killian was, to perfectly center line after line on the same document: well, to me it resonates.

Centering in non-proportional fonts, as the preponderance of typewriters were at the time: no problem: count the characters, divide by two, start the line that number of characers from the center.

We're getting into the merits of the case as opposed to the treatment of the media. As I said in my forst post, I think the traditional media, excepting CBS and Boston Globe, is doing OK, at least so far.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 12:52 AM | Permalink

Beth, I'm noting a pattern. Attack the weakest claims and add some irrelevant personal experience. No one has found a typewriter font match yet--including people who have extensive databases of them.

Experts are all over these with estimations of 90% and upward likelihood of them being fake. "But I still maintain that anyone who accepts forgery arguments w/o skepticism has little professional typing experience." You're right, skepticism is called for regarding claims that some things in the documents (such as strange PO boxes) don't look right--there's a lot that the untrained eye might deduce is fake that really isn't. But if you think this story is about CBS not being on the ball in getting out its contemptibly lame/dishonest/self-serving/lawyerly rebuttal, then this story passed you by at least 24 hours ago.

Posted by: Brian at September 12, 2004 1:00 AM | Permalink

Brian, I actually agree w/you about CBS.

Have just been fed up with uninformed claims about typing and implications that Rather et al. are too old to recognize superiority of blogs--when I see lots of bluster in blogs that proves little, presented as fact-checking. Granted, my reminiscences also prove little. So I guess MSM isn't so much worse on this one anyway. Apologies for lack of eloquence--I am on a pda, quite a comedown from a Selectric much less my laptop keyboard.

Posted by: beth at September 12, 2004 1:21 AM | Permalink

Brian, I actually agree w/you about CBS.

Have just been fed up with uninformed claims about typing and implications that Rather et al. are too old to recognize superiority of blogs--when I see lots of bluster in blogs that proves little, presented as fact-checking. Granted, my reminiscences also prove little. So I guess MSM isn't so much worse on this one anyway. Apologies for lack of eloquence--I am on a pda, quite a comedown from a Selectric much less my laptop keyboard.

Posted by: beth at September 12, 2004 1:24 AM | Permalink


Good point. I'm not an expert, yet I'm addressing the point that Beth raises. Further, I let the weakest, or one of the weakest, points distract from the larger case.

Each of the points that the bloggers have raised, supported by expert opinion and facts, need to be addressed in order to verify that these documents are real.

I think the hard points to address are: the officer had retired a year and a half before the memo; the assertion that Killian was not a documenter; the typographic issues in general; and the kerning in specific.

But, this thing is moving fast, and there may be even more faults found in the coming hours, if they haven't been found already.

I am pretty sure that CBS will not choose to provide further proof. But I have been wrong before. I think either way, there is going to be quite a fuss over this thing.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 1:27 AM | Permalink

The issue of the machine used to compose the memo has little to do with the equipment used on military bases. Guard officers routinely took work with them to their civilian offices to have the work done by their secretaries. Arbitrarily defining the circumstances in which these documents would have been created is an unusual way of determining authenticity. That was a very different world than the one we live in now. Based on my experience with documents from that period, I would have found it odd had all the typefaces matched. I'm almost positive I've never seen a package that uniform, at least not pre-PC.

Mr. Lynch, given my first-hand experience with these types of documents, and the fact I find the memos appear authentic, what further proof do you require? Does idle speculation trump first-hand knowledge where you come from? Matching typewriter type over thirty years after the fact would be a herculean task, and if that were the standard, all old documents would be assumed to be forged since it would be too much work to verify their authenticity.

I'm not a "real" typesetter. My experience in that realm began with a Selectric and is now done on a Macintosh. Real typesetters, however, know little about Selectrics, and why would they? But I know enough about typesetting and Selectrics to know that the arguments being advanced do not represent professional opinions. My barely trained eye can see that these terrible copies appear to have originated on a typewriter. I live in Word (sadly my work must be emailable so Quark is not an option for me since few HR departments use it). I could replicate most of the memo in Word, but it would be very painful and I would have to import Photoshopped images to match some of the characters that are not standard Times New Roman (unless they were significantly distorted by the copying process).

The real bottom line here is that everyone is looking at some pretty crappy copies and coming to some very heavy conclusions. And, since the documents aren't critical to the information coming out on Bush's Guard duty, why would anyone forge them?

This is such an odd thing to debate so heatedly.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson at September 12, 2004 1:34 AM | Permalink


When over seven, at last count, document forensic experts have stated that they are almost positive (over 90%) that these documents are not real; and when the provenance of the documents are unknown; and the people who know somthing about the author and the times state that this is not something he would do; and the officer cited in the memo had retired - I think that I, at least, require a good deal more than your, or Dan Rathers, assurances that they are real.

What would I require? The provenance: where have these documents been, where did they come from, what path did they take to Dan Rather's hands. A chain of evidence thing. Failing that, some proof that a typewriter of the time could produce a perfectly centered, kerned, spaced copy of these documents; and/or another document whose provenance is known that looks like these documents in each of the questioned aspects; as well as addressing the issues raised by the people who knew Killian. There are probably other convincing proofs that I can't think of, but that might be provided if they are real.

These seem like reasonable standards for such an issue.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 1:51 AM | Permalink

It is all very nice to know that machines existed that could reproduce these documents and that they were very common. Indeed, I'm shocked that no one has yet provided any contemporaneous memos from the 111th that match the typestyle. I'm also surprised that no one, least of all CBS or the Boston Globe, has identified the specific model and typeset used to create the documents so that they can be reproduced as a proof to the world.

My hat is off to Microsoft, which, amazingly, managed to reproduce the typeset of this common machine (which no one has yet identified) with such precision that thirty-year old documents are nearly a precise match. Bravo, MS, bravo!

Of course, these are crappy copies were talking about and CBS claims to have superior versions. Heaven forbid a news organization should be transparent in its evidence or anything.

Moreover, because these documents are not in any way relevant to the story, I'm surprised CBS made such a bid deal out of them in the first place. For even bringing the issue up, they should be blamed for all the controversy. If they had ignored them, as many seem to council, even CBS in its defense, then this controversy would never have arisen.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 2:47 AM | Permalink

And until they're resolved to your satisfaction, it's guilty until proven innocent?

Here's a new "smoking gun" from LGF. Do you think these two alternating memos look the same? The copy effect makes it hard to really compare, but several letters are noticeably different.

Hugh Hewitt cites the following manual as some kind of proof, but sadly it lacks a copyright date:

Still, this manual for the Composer uses a similar font, and has examples of perfectly centered justified type. In fact, the justified type seems to be the only real difference between the Composer and Selectric. Given the lengthy and complicated instructions for justifying type, I suspect that was the major component in the large price difference. Oddly, although the manual is for the celebrated "Composer", the typeball looks identical to the one used on the Selectric II that I owned, and most of the standard features sound like the typewriter I had in Iowa. Since the keys were on the typeball (or element as IBM called it), this would suggest anything a Composer could type, a Selectric II could type as well. In fact, the manual states "Single-Element typing was introducted with the IBM "Selectric" Typewriter, and the came concept is fundamental to the IBM "Selectric" Composer.

If the Composer elements were, as they appear, interchangeable with Selectric II elements, then anything the Composer could type could be typed on the Selectric, especially a simple memo.

I can understand your wanting to see the element that produced this memo. So would I. But so far, no amount of research has been able to let me find out how many different typeballs were made by IBM. let alone what was on them. The only thing that is absolutely clear is that IBM created elements that had superscripts, and they had a Times New Roman element. Did they update the TNR ball to include superscripts? I don't know. Do you?

It's easy to ask questions, but obviously it's proving hard to get those answers. Still, I would think it wise to refrain from crying forgery since the technology to do such a memo obviously existed at that time.

Posted by: Mark Gisleson at September 12, 2004 3:10 AM | Permalink

Guilty until proven innocent? Is this a court of law? Should I simply accept the authority of CBS and Dan Rather? Should I not expect them to adhere to standards of transparency and openness?

There are legitimate questions about the authenticity of the documents. At the very least, if CBS expects that we should accept the documents as authentic, it is reasonable to expect them to provide more information about the documents and why CBS considers them authentic. At this point, I am not asking CBS to reveal any sources. However, I fail to see why CBS cannot reveal the name of all the experts who examined the documents and why CBS has asked the one they did name not to speak with the media. Furthermore, CBS has said they have access to more accurate versions of the document. Why shouldn't they make those copies available to independent experts? Is this too much of a burden? Are these unreasonable requests? If CBS doesn't provide this information, am I not permitted to question why?

Yes, I've seen those "smoking guns." The CBS memos and the modern version from MS Word are remarkably similar in may respects, suspiciously so. Are the identical? That cannot be proven given the poor quality of the CBS memos. Neither, however, can it be shown that they did not both originate from MS Word. Unfortunately for CBS' credibility, the suspicions remain. One would think that a news organization whose credibility is seriously questioned would do everything it ethically could to dispell those questions.

There are many things I don't know, and seeing a machine that would be capable of producing the memo would be an important piece of evidence in support of their authenticity. However, it is not the only evidence that would do so. Other contemporaneous documents in the same typeface would also support their authenticity. As would more accurate reproductions of the memos that experts could examine. It would also be very useful if the documentation experts CBS consulted were named and encourage to explain their reasoning.

Yes, these are questions. Yet there is one more: why is CBS not doing its best to answer at least some of them? That is evidence of some sort too, is it not?

In any case, you will find that I've never claimed the documents are forged. I've merely claimed that there are sufficient suspicions concerning the documents that it would be wise to gather further evidence before accepting that they are authentic.

Are you claiming that we should accept the documents as authentic without further question? If not, what are those questions and who should answer them?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 3:48 AM | Permalink

I think that these guys have done a fabulous job examining the way MS Word works, reviewing IBM typewriter capabilities, finding experts before the MSM did, noting that the General who was supposed to exert pressure had retired months before the memo on that subject, discovered tell-tale differences in military document formatting, and even differences in a signature. They’ve even used a Tivo to examine the two examples of superscripting CBS claims to have found$msgnum=6221

Like an increasing number of viewers and members of the media, I think that CBS may have screwed the pooch, jumped the shark, augured in. Now someone--perhaps the guy at the Selectric museum --could take a look at the second screen capture and tell us the model that generated it. Why would they be different? Could the TANG have had a prototype "Super Selectric"?

Why didn't CBS simply run over to IBM--the headquarters is just up the road from NYC in Armonk--and ask them about the models sold to the USAF/ANG during that period, the typing balls that were available and if they tracked sales at that level, the typing balls supplied to the government? The TANG would be at the bottom of the food chain. They’re flying F-102s for Pete’s sake! Why would they have the latest typewriters?

I believe that unless there are a lot of other documents from that period and place that use Times Roman font (forget kerning and superscripting, just the font), then you have to ask where did the Col. type his notes if not on base, and why would he spend ~$600 on a typewriter he could hardly use? A typewriter with these capabilities couldn't have come cheap. The Col. didn't have it at home, apparently. Do the Democrats and CBS want us to believe that, or maybe that the Col. bought his own typing balls so he could change them around? I bet the guy couldn't change the ribbon alone.

Here are a few more questions that occur to me based on Rather's "defense":

1) Let's leave aside all of the items in evidence we know: the Col. was not known to be a typist, and wasn't a touch typist at that, the points I mentioned above, etc. Why would he use such a "fancy" style as superscripting in a document he prepared himself? His family says that he wasn't a paper person, and that he didn't keep TANG records at home to their knowledge. The documents are inconsistent in style--no letterhead when required, etc.--and disagree with the other records in the President's file.
2) Are their other documents from CBS' source that the Col. "typed"--say, aircraft readiness, reports on other servicemen with problems, meetings with his superiors on his own career, or other topics that deal with subjects that can be confirmed by first person conversations with a living witness? Are they in that font and style?
3) Here’s the money shot for me. Unless the Col. Used a typewriter at an office or another location other than the base—in other words, unless he took confidential personnel records detailing the movements of men and equipment around the country off base, subjecting himself to courts martial—he used a machine on base. The military almost never buys one of anything. Where are all the other typewriters with the special typing element? Where is the TANG budget or asset inventory showing how and when these were acquired? Where are the destroy and replacement orders for the final disposition of the equipment? Who signed for them--the budget documents must still exist--we aren't talking about the Cretaceous period here.
5) Where are the other documents in the President's records that use the same typeface and the same kerning/superscripting/typesetters apostrophe/etc/ styles?
6) Where are documents in the files of the President's contemporaries that use the same typeface and the same kerning/superscripting/apostrophe/etc. styles?
7) If no one will release their documents for inspection, then where are the orders of the day, aircraft readiness reports and other documents that may survive in the organization from that period that use the same techniques.
8) Does any other ANG unit anywhere in the nation have documents produced in the same way? In other words, can we establish that there were thousands of other such typewriters as we should expect there to have been?

BTW, I served in the USAF from 75-79, and was formally discharged from my reserve requirement on 3/18/81. My DD Form 214 doesn't use any superscripting or even number/letter combinations in the form of "th" at all. My DD Form 256 from '81 shows the date as "18TH"--not superscripted--and in Courier font. I was stationed at Randolph AFB, TX, and assigned to the Air Force Manpower and Personnel Center there as a computer programmer. Basically, that base was and may still be Air Force personnel clerk central. If they didn't have a "super Selectric" by '79-'81, who other than perhaps some purchasing guy who was evaluating typewriters at the Pentagon or somewhere would have had one?

Great article, and very interesting thread on a scandal that very well may lead to the destruction of the network news organization that once was home to Murrow.

Posted by: Jim at September 12, 2004 3:59 AM | Permalink

This "doomed are the gatekeepers" shit is driving me nuts. The reason the blogs are getting such traction is that one successful cable outlet, Fox, is willing to run with pretty much anything that comes down the pike and doesn't seem legally actionable. No one else is obliged to follow suit, but CNN and MSNBC appear to have decided that lowering their standards, such as they were, is the most competitive move they can make. There's absolutely no reason in the world for the Washington Post or the New York Times or any self-described "reputable" press organization to say anything about the records other than so far as they know, the originals haven't been examined by any independent forensic experts, that other contemporaneous records show similar qualities and that multigenerational copies are not the ideal subjects for examination. In point of fact, Karnak is on an equal footing with most of the experts who have weighed in so far; they seem to share the same methodology.

The press don't have to run with raw news. They've got the resources to deal with very complex issues, let alone one that comes down to whether a particular capacity was available at a particular time, and they have the budget to send Jimmy Olson out to find a machine that can duplicate the stuff after he calls the professor to get the lowdown.

The problem here is the same one that led major news organizations to screw the pooch on their Iraq coverage, on the allegations of torture against US personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq, and on other major stories such as the one that landed Wen Ho Lee in solitary for a year: bad frickin' judgement, timidity and laziness. Rather than sticking with and improving upon their alleged strengths, the press have elected to combine the worst elements of traditional news gathering with the echo-chamber properties of blogging.

I will not be convinced that no one at the Post or the Times has access to someone who collects or services old typewriters, or to a press liason or archivist at IBM, or to a forensics expert who would render the only valid opinion at this point, which is that no one can render a valid opinion on the authenticity of the documents without access to an early generation of the them and a thorough understanding of the state of the typewriting art at the time.

But rather than waiting 24 hours or however long it would have taken to put together a non-speculative story, our intrepid press tried to outblog the bloggers. Instead of doing what they're still reasonably good at when they remember to do it, which is throw a bunch of resources at a story, they just grabbed whatever came down the pike and ran with it, accomplishing nothing other than to reduce their own credibility to something equivalent to that of the muttonheads at Little Green Footballs and, in the process, pretty much guaranteeing that nothing short of the guy rising from the dead to authenticate the memos will resolve the question to anyone's satisfaction.

In other words, the blogosphere hasn't created any new difficulties for the mainstream press; it has just vividly highlighted the existing ones, and the press haven't yet figured out that the way to deal with the situation is to elevate their own performance in their own areas of excellence rather than trying to imitate the blogs. Maybe it's time to reinstitute the tradition of occasional brawls between denizens of rival newsrooms.

At its heart, this is an editorial problem, perhaps best illustrated by Post executive editor Len Downie, Jr., in his response to the American Journalism Review's inquiry as to how his paper missed the allegations of torture at Abu Ghraib and other US installations: "In part, obviously, because information was not made readily available, and in part because we didn't always see the tip of the iceberg as clearly as we should have." And in whole, obviously, because he didn't do his job. And that's what's happened in this instance as well.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 4:29 AM | Permalink

CBS has the resources, less muddy copies of the documents, and the names of the experts it used to authenticate the documents and presumably their reports. CBS could have easily nipped this debate in the bud by releasing this information when it was clear the questions were getting traction, assuming the information reasonably proves to independent observers that the documents were authentic. Sure, the rabid partisans of the right wing might never be convinced, but the evidence should convince the reasonable skeptic.

CBS has yet to release any of this information, with the exception of the name of a single handwriting expert who they asked not to provide press interviews.

Why blame the Wash Post, the NY Times and others for following a developing story? Should the remain silent on the issue until they are able to provide a definitive report?

In any case, I certainly hope that other media outlets are looking for various typeballs, other contemporaneous documents in the same typeface, etc. We will have to see.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 4:59 AM | Permalink

I stated earlier that I was going to stay out of the point-by-point forgery debate. And I am. I mean it.

But ...

I thought A Compendium of the Evidence was worth posting as a reference of concerns raised about the documents.


Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 7:19 AM | Permalink


Good Morning.

And until they're resolved to your satisfaction, it's guilty until proven innocent?

This is just the point: CBS is making the accusation. Using sources they will not reveal; documents that cannot be traced from the author's hand to the media; whose contents are suspect; format is suspect; layout is suspect; and assertions are dubious.

They have the burden of proof.

I agree sources are, under most circumstances, confidential, but the provenance: Killian created these where (and how, and why)? Put them where? Stored them where? They surface where?

Using a dead man, with untraceable documents, that do not seem reproducible, citing retired officers, ...

Who wouldn't have questions?

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 10:34 AM | Permalink

Beth, Mark, (others as interested)

I realize that this is a blog report and hence by some standards not accepted, but still: read if you would the trial of the Composer to reproduce the documents.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 11:29 AM | Permalink

Ernest, there's a third alternative for the mainstream press. They needn't remain silent and they needn't simply reprint the speculation of other sources. They could do their own damn reporting. Simply going with what other people have said without providing any contest for it or doing any significant investigation into whether the claims are justified isn't reporting, it's stenography. I have no problem with any criticism of the way CBS has handled the situation, but bad damage control on their part doesn't excuse bad reporting on anyone else's.

My point remains that the only reason mainstream press outlets find themselves being driven by the blogosphere on stories is that they've panicked themselves into lowering their own standards still further. That isn't to say none of the bloggers have done good work, only that the press have by and large done bad work.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 12:18 PM | Permalink

Adding to what Jay wrote above concerning what's par for CBS checking (H/T: Glenn):

For the second time in four months, CBS's "60 Minutes" has made an on-air apology regarding a report about drug smuggling. This time it's over a memo that turned out to be bogus.
I would also tack that onto the report about previous news magazing scandals.

We may also soon be getting more information about the source and provenance of these documents.


My point remains that the only reason mainstream press outlets find themselves being driven by the blogosphere on stories is that they've panicked themselves into lowering their own standards still further.

I'm afraid that the low standards pre-date the blogosphere - AND - are quite possible the catalyst for the rise of political and MSM-watch blogging.

Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 12:26 PM | Permalink

Tim, I agree. As I've said, the blogosphere had nothing to do with crappy coverage of stories such as the administration's Iraq follies, or the late start the press got on the Abu Ghraib story, or Jeff Gerth's contribution to sending Wen Ho Lee to solitary for a year, or any number of other blown stories. Again, my point is that the appropriate mainstream press response to the emergence of blogs is not to panic and lower their standards still further, but to panic and elevate them to the point where they're using their splendid resources to provide a product that blogs can't.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 12:41 PM | Permalink

I thought this was a telling snippet from Power Line, which has been credited for playing a central role in the document deconstruction:

[Columnist and Professor Peter] Seglin appears not to be familiar with the Internet or the development of the evidence throughout the blogosphere relating to the 60 Minutes documents. We acted as a clearinghouse for information, freely quoting correspondents and linking to sources. We named names and identified sources. We included evidence that might tell against the points we raised; when a correspondent wrote to point out that the White House had itself released copies of the 60 Minutes documents, we posted that. It turned out that the documents released by the White House had been provided to it by 60 Minutes.
We awaited some word from CBS that would allow us to verify the authenticity of the documents. When Dan Rather offered his pathetic apologia Friday night, we noted his report and discussed its almost unbelievable weakness in the face of the issues raised.
Contrast the behavior of the blogosphere with that of CBS. While we have disclosed sources and responded to all inquiries from reporters like Wallsten, CBS has taken its plays from the old Watergate playbook. Stonewalling and misdirection are the order of the day. To the extent that CBS has cited sources, they have not supported the authenticity of the documents. All in all, CBS has behaved like a criminal caught redhanded in a fraud of monumental proportions.
One interesting dynamic is that MSM reporting contains too much undeserved "trust me", whereas bloggers have little credibility and start from a point of untrustworthiness that they must overcome through their transparency - both in their bias and in building the story.

Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 12:47 PM | Permalink


I'm not really sure what the problem with the Washington Post's coverage is. Bloggers raised questions about the documents. The Wash Post investigates and consults several document experts - not simply bloggers. These experts agree that the CBS memos are at least somewhat suspicious. Wash Post contacts CBS, gets CBS' response.

Sure, it would have been nice for the Wash Post to do even more on the story (and I hope they are), but what is wrong with their report on Friday morning?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 12:51 PM | Permalink

Ernest, I don't want to get into minutiae here, but much of what the Post reported was simply wrong, IBM introduced proportional spacing in the 1940's. The Post's claim that IBM had introduced a typewriter with that feature by the early 1970's is technically accurate, but doesn't have the same import as noting that the feature was also available in the early 1940's.

That aside, the Post was talking to experts who were looking at copies of copies, and who clearly weren't up to speed on what features were available on typewriters current at the time.

So not only did the story get several details wrong, it offered no caveat as to the difficulty of making any judgement on a multigenerational copy of a document. It's as if an art expert pronounced a Renaissance-era painting to be a forgery after examining a xeroxed copy of a photo of the painting because portions of it look to be airbrushed in the copy. It isn't good reporting; it does nothing to advance the factual understanding of the story and, because of the errors, it actually subtracts from the sum total of a reader's knowledge on the subject.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 1:27 PM | Permalink


I don't want to get into minutiae here either, but although the Post's article could have been better, I don't see that it actually subtracts from the sum total of a reader's knowledge on the subject.

As I said before, the stories could have been more nuanced and had more information.

It would have been much better if the article had pointed out that the experts were looking at copies of a copy and that conclusion of falsehood or authenticity much more difficult, if not impossible. Heck, they should have emphasized the CBS refuses to provide the copies that CBS used to authenticate, or high quality reproductions of same. That said, however, the article has many caveats: "suspicions" "appear" "anomalies" "doubts."

I also don't think the experts aren't up to speed. A memo written in the early 1970s that resembles the CBS memos would be uncommon and should raise suspicions, given the lack of other corroborating evidence. Yes, it may be technically possible to reproduce the memo using early 1970s equipment, but that doesn't make it likely.

Finally, in addition to the caveats I noted above and the generally tentative voice of the piece, the experts did not declare the works a forgery. If you claimed to have a Renaissance-era painting, provided only a poor photocopy and the experts said it was suspicious because it appeared that some parts of the painting were airbrushed, they would be right. They didn't say it was a forgery, they said it was suspicious. You should be suspicious of such a painting, until more evidence is provided.

I might point out, speaking of getting details wrong, your analogy to declaring a painting to be a forgery seems to imply that the experts declared the memos to be a forgery. That would be misleading. It might even actually subtract from the sum total of a reader's knowledge on the subject.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 1:51 PM | Permalink

Weldon. Good post. I made many of these same points farther up on the thread. I think CBS has done a lousy job of making its case but I agree wholeheartedly with you that that does not justify the first wave of truly uninformed challenges. Some of the arguments that have emerged Saturday and today are more plausible and worth pursuing. The heart of the wave of first page stories on Friday was and remains unsupported where the bad arguments were being made by "experts" or not. An unsupported argument is unsupported regardless of whose mouth it comes out of.

Aren't we ultimately seeing the fruits of corporate downsizing mandated by Wall Street as it manifests itself in the newsroom? That's where I'd put my money.

Profits over public interest and the commonweal have put us here. The blogosphere didn't force media corporations to slash news budgets--Wall Street did. Thanks Wall Street. I do think the producers and editors at CBS have done a lousy job with what they have, but this is the big picture.

It's the Republican profits first mindset that has demanded that newsroom budgets be slashed. Republicans of the blogosphere: Welcome to some of the consequences of your philosophy.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 12, 2004 2:04 PM | Permalink

Ernest, you make my point. Not only does the article include factual errors, it doesn't make clear the difficulty involved with making any judgement based upon copies far removed from the original sources. Any art expert who arrived at the conclusion that examining a xerox of a photo of a painting raises doubts about anything other than the expert's sanity or professional ethics would be ridiculed. That's one elephant of a missing caveat.

I have already agreed that CBS is fair game here. What I will not agree with is that the Post article advances in any way the state of knowledge on whether or not the documents are genuine, and the errors will in fact leave any trusting reader with less actual information, where information means "stuff providing any evidence as to the authenticity of the documents," than he or she had to begin with.

I'll leave you with a link on another case of potential forgery, one that I think pretty much sums up the state of journalism on this one to date.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 2:12 PM | Permalink

Power Line takes on Rosenstiel over the "end of 'network news'".

Rosenstiel argues that networks have "abdicated their authority with the American public." They have exchanged prestige for profit. Network news moved closer to a cable news model, cable news is winning and network news is ceding. As a result, the format or structural bias is different: from "journalism of verification" to "a journalism of assertion".

That's interesting as I think in terms of "trust me" journalism. From "authority" to "assertion".

"Deacon" at Power Line argues Rosenstiel has it wrong and, if I understand correctly, network news' "golden age" or "most trusted man" is more meme, more myth, than substance. Deacon doesn't accept that network news traded prestige for profit, but that network news organizations have failed to fulfill a duty due to ideological advocacy. He "suspect that the networks believe their news organizations will retain prestige enough by continuing to tilt towards 'right-thinking' candidates and causes."

Perhaps. Rosenstiel writes, "What is disappearing is an idealism about the potential of TV as a medium to better our politics and society." That sounds like advocacy. That sounds progressive. That's not a statement devoid of a cause, looking to objectively communicate a undistorted map of reality.

Stephen Waters, whose opinion I've come to respect on this board, doesn't want an ethics policy, "We just trust staff to use good judgment. Where we have concerns, we'll discuss it."

Can we discuss this recommendation? If "everything has changed" after 9/11, is this more or less needed? Are bloggers performing this role?

A partial solution suggested by Wallace is found in an article written earlier this year by Emerson Stone, himself a former senior CBS News executive. Stone is among a growing number of media practitioners to call for the revival of a concept called that National News Council. The Council, made up of journalists and non-journalists, was devoted to studying complaints lodged against news organizations. Issues of ethics, deception, and libel all came before the Council, which existed from 1971 to 1983. Many news organizations agreed to broadcast any finding that a complaint against them was warranted. Stone (p. 20) makes the point that "any such outside nongovernmental criticism improves broadcast news, with the added benefit of raising the sensitivities of newspeople themselves to what they do."

Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 2:14 PM | Permalink


What the heck are you talking about? The Washington Post article makes the case that the documents have raised suspicions, suspicions shared by experts. What is the matter with that story?

"Any art expert who arrived at the conclusion that examining a xerox of a photo of a painting raises doubts about anything other than the expert's sanity or professional ethics would be ridiculed. That's one elephant of a missing caveat."

Huh? Why wouldn't discrepancies in the xerox allow an expert to say that the claim that the painting is authentic hasn't been proven and that the claim is dubious based on the evidence provided? Why would that not be a valid claim by an expert?

A reader of the Post would certainly have their knowlege raised that their are valid questions about the authenticity of the documents. What more do you expect? Should the Post not report anything at all until there is conclusive evidence one way or the other? Is it not a reasonable story to note that suspicions, voiced by experts, have been raised?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 2:23 PM | Permalink

As a graphic designer, the degree to which these discussions center on issues of typography and what I'd call "font forensics" is fascinating.

I see a lot of discussion of typefaces, proportional spacing, superscripts, etc., but not a lot of factual knowledge. I'd recommend Daily Kos for the most in-depth look at these issues: a technological archaeology of typewriters, a history of Times Roman, and, of course, superscripts and proportional spacing.

From a news standpoint, I'm interested in who the "forensic document specialists" actually are. My post on Design Observer suggests that the nation's leading typographers could have been consulted. Is it possible that we need a new generation of forensic experts knowledgeable in typography and computer font development? (I'm not sure this is the same thing as Jay's call for a "historical forensics expert?")

As noted in Design Observer comments, news organizations from Slate to US Today have been calling designers. These same designers critique of news coverage suggests that:

1) These stories depend on creating conflicting expert opinion "to qualify for the media's murky requirements of 'equal time.'" Ironically, some of these expert designers do not want to play this game.

2) Whether or not these documents are forgeries will be determined quickly. In the meantime, news organizations are filing stories hourly based on an understanding of typography that is generic at best, or by looking at lo-res PDF versions of the documents.

When the final documents are analyzed, we will be able to thank blogosphere for not only challenging the CBS reports, but for laying out the typographic and document issues that the "forensic specialists" should be looking for.

Posted by: William Drenttel at September 12, 2004 3:11 PM | Permalink

Ernest, what you're describing isn't journalism. First, the article leaves out the fundamental point that it's really difficult to say anything with any certainty about documents an expert hasn't actually examined. That's an important part of the story.

Then the story counfounds that error by furthering the misunderstanding of when proportional spacing was introduced, making it sound as though it were a recent development rather than one that was, at the time, three decades old.

Then the story quotes an expert inaccurately stating that the font in question wasn't widely available when, according to IBM, who should know, that's not true.

Here's the lede:

Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said yesterday.

So: we're not told that the experts haven't actually examined the documents in question, but at best, copies of copies of copies. Later in the piece, we're given to understand, incorrectly, that proportional spacing was a recent innovation at the time the documents were generated. Then we're given to understand, incorrectly, that the font on the documents would not have been widely available.

That's bad reporting. That's bad journalism. It does nothing to clarify the situation. The Post could have held the story up for the few hours necessary to look into those problematic areas, but didn't. That's bad editorial decision-making.

These are not fuzzy questions. When an expert tells you something, you check it out. It took me five minutes to find the 1940's IBM typewriter that brought proportional spacing unto the world, and only slightly more than that to learn that IBM had hired the original designer of the Times New Roman font to adapt it to their typewriters.

So the article takes what is at best a suspect process—making judgements about documents working with copies far removed from the originals—and compounds the problem by getting some significant details wrong.

That process sucks. It really does nothing to clarify anything other than that some people think the documents may be forged, which we knew already, and it propagates several factual errors. There is nothing laudable about it.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink


Yes, it would have been nice if the article had mentioned the fact about the copies and how CBS refused to make clearer copies available to independent experts for analysis. However, that doesn't mean there can be no certainty concerning the documents. There is certainty that the documents are suspicious, given the uncommon typeface used, the remarkable similarities to modern PC-generated documents, and the lack of any authenticated contemporaneous documents that closely resemble the CBS memos. One can say, with certainty, that the documents have many characteristics that are consistent with a modern forgery and thus more information concerning their provenance is required.

What is uncertain about that?

In any case, except for the suspicions, the article did not make any certain claims about the documents one way or the other. There are plenty of caveats. The article makes clear that these are tentative opinions based on the evidence provided.

Yes, it would have been nice if they had pointed out that IBM had introduced a proportional spacing typewriter in the 1940s. What the Wash Post said was, "While IBM had introduced an electric typewriter that used proportional spacing by the early 1970s, it was not widely used in government." You assume the fact that such a machine was introduced 30 years earlier is particularly relevant. That is not entirely clear, and certainly not enough of an "error" that the piece should have been spiked because of it.

This isn't "bad" journalism its journalism that isn't perfect. The article clarifies several things and leaves several questions unanswered, but that is inevitable in a daily paper.

Why not complain that the Washington Post published a story about the documents in the first place, in an article that basically accepted that they were authentic, though the article noted that Post could not independently confirm it? Perhaps this article was a sort of corrective to the first? What should the Post have done?

Who knew that the some people think the documens were forged? If they only read the Post, they only found out through this article. Should the Post assume that their readers read blogs?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 8:04 PM | Permalink

Doesn't this whole hoorah strike anyone as the triumph of process over substance?

The media AND the blogs have spent an inordinate amount of time and space talking about type fonts, proportional spacing and National Guard supply systems. Ignoring the arguments, pro and con, that lay at the documents' center.

Whether the documents or fraudlent or not - and there are certainly legitimate questions about them - it doesn't change the issue at hand - that Bush chose the Guard and wasn't shot at while Kerry chose river patrol and was shot at.

Has anyone's mind really been changed one way or another?

And those issue pales at the virtual abandonment of the issue that the economy is souring while the situation in Iraq continues to degrade. And no one is offering much insights into either issue.

For years the major media have been criticized -a and rightly so - for favoring coverage of process over substance, a focus on the chatter and the 'how' of an event rather than the 'why' or what the hell it means to us poor slobs.

It appears that the glory that is blogging is subject to the same weakness. Only more rapidly and fervantly.

News is rapidly becoming a matter of opinion. My expert can beat up your expert. And we all know that opinions are like bellybuttons. We all have one.

Posted by: Dave In Texas at September 12, 2004 8:19 PM | Permalink

Ernest, I'm not arguing about the authenticity or lack of it of the documents. I'm telling you that from a technical standpoint, what the Post did was bad journalism. It isn't even a close question. The documents may well prove to have been forged, but that will not turn bad journalism into good journalism. You can whomp on CBS all you like, but that doesn't change the quality of the work the Post did in that initial story.

Let's assume for a moment that you're right, and that a Post reader somehow missed all the other news outlets reporting on the doubts about the authenticity of the CBS stuff. That still doesn't change the fact that the Post story gets important points wrong; what we're left with is a reader who now knows there are doubts but is misinformed on some important particulars and uninformed on others.

Do you see what I'm saying? This isn't bad journalism because it tilts one or the other, but because it was poorly done. There are standards that stories ought to meet, and that particular story fails on several of them. The problem isn't that it's not perfect journalism, but that it actively sucks.

One of three things is likely to happen here: someone will demonstrate that the documents are probably forged; someone will demonstrate that they're probably not; or, no one will be able to demonstrate anything conclusively. We're not at any of those points yet, but regardless the outcome, the Post story will still have sucked.

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 8:33 PM | Permalink


And I'm claiming that it isn't bad journalism, it simply is not perfect journalism.

As for your assumption that Wash Post shouldn't have done a story because it was widely available through other sources, I'm not sure how many sources we would have left if that were the standard. Apparently, if another other sources run a story, newspapers should feel free to ignore it.

As for getting important points wrong, we clearly disagree, I don't think that Post got them wrong, or that they are particularly important or crucial to the story. I disagree that the story actively sucks.

There are many aspects of the story I wish had been addressed. They weren't. Woe is me. Happens a lot when I read stories in which I have some level of knowledge. Journalistic standards are important, but few stories are going to be without flaws or omissions.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 8:53 PM | Permalink


This battle has less to do with politics than it does to do with the media.

Forgetting for a moment that we have a political battle going on, perhaps one of the most important of our lives, it remains that the media itself is also in a battle.

The battle within, and with, the media is not wholly derived from the political battle. The political battle is certainly creating the strains, exposing the weaknesses, and the biases; but those existed prior to the political battle.

There are two reasons to examine the SWBT Vets, and the RatherGate phenoms. For all of us gleeful, or depressed, partisans it is the battle of politics that occupies our thoughts. The other reason, for those who may be partisan but are also engaged in the media – Where are we going? Why are we going there? Are there choices, or is this path pre-determined?

Setting the political battle aside, and looking at the battle of, and with, the traditional media, the stresses and strains are highlighting issues that have been discussed, debated, and largely dismissed with, by, and for the media. The bias discussion has been going on forever, and largely dismissed as either non-existent or non-important. Yet it rears its head now. The coverage discussion has been fought over and termed the cause of malcontents of left or right for years. Yet it rears its head now. The investigative capabilities have been cut, and cut for years now. Yet it rears its head now. The analytical capabilities have been criticized for years. Yet it rears its head now. Market share has been dropping for years now, as has credibility, as has belief in the media. These issues again raise their heads.

Using the now familiar means of dodging the issues, by saying:

Whether the documents or fraudulent or not - and there are certainly legitimate questions about them - it doesn't change the issue at hand - that Bush chose the Guard and wasn't shot at while Kerry chose river patrol and was shot at.

We can choose to change the subject, back and forth, depending on convenience of the moment. Alternatively, we can choose to face each issue: one at a time, and chase them through adequate resolution.

The media battle is the subject here.

The political battle is worthy of our energies, and will surely creep into our arguments.

For example: I do not think these documents have an effect, nor will they change the polls an iota. However, I look forward to the next round of SWBT Vet stuff.

Take those comments how you will.

The point here is the credibility, the self-correction capabilities, and the evolution of the media.

For this group at least, I would think these important points.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 9:13 PM | Permalink

Ernest, I'm losing patience. I didn't say the Post shouldn't have done a story, but that the story they did was poorly done and its readers would have been better served had the paper waited and done a better, more accurate and more thorough piece.

You're comfortable with the errors in the piece because, I gather, you support the idea that the documents are forged. I'm uncomfortable with the errors in the piece because they're there. The quality of journalism is quantifiable and, in this instance as in many, many others, the Post and a number of other outlets fall way short of being good, let alone perfect.

Readers were not told that the experts weren't looking at originals or anything close to them. Readers were given the impression that proportional spacing was at the time a recent development. Readers were given the impression that the font in the documents was not widely available. All those things are important, the first because it speaks to the level of certainty of the experts and the other two because they're not true. The problems with the story don't prove that the documents weren't forged or that they were, but they do prove that it's a bad story.

And with that, I'll just agree to agree to myself that you're wrong. Aloha ...

Posted by: weldon berger at September 12, 2004 9:25 PM | Permalink


Yes, of course it would have been better if the Wash Post had done a better and more thorough piece. That is also almost always the case with most newspaper articles. I can't tell you how often I've read articles that deal with my area of expertise that couldn't have been improved with more nuance and thoroughness. Damn the fact that newspapers have limited column space!

That doesn't make the articles that haven't gotten everything just so "bad" articles. They may not be perfect or great, but that doesn't mean they aren't reasonable examples of the journalists trade.

I'm not defending this one article because I support the idea that the documents are forged. In actuality, I support the idea that the documents are potentially forged and we need more information to straighten out the facts.

Readers weren't told that the experts weren't looking at originals or close to the originals. But how does that negate the fact that the public evidence CBS has made available does not support their claims? Would the article have been equivocal (or even written) if the originals were available? Can't anyone who reads the article see that these are questions and suspicions and that the evidence is tentative either way? If you read that article and walked away with the conclusion that the authenticity of the documents was proven one way or the other, you're reading a different article than I did.

Perhaps some readers were given the impression that proportional spacing was at the time a more recent development than it was. Without even more evidence and nuance why is that necessarily relevant? Why isn't it also relevant the proportion of porportional spacing typewriters sold, proportional spacing typeballs and etc.? Wouldn't that also be relevant? I believe they are. However, I don't have the answer to those questions. Even if I did, should I fault the Post for not including them?

With that I'll simply say that I'm certain that people can be certain of suspicions without being certain of the ultimate answers.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 12, 2004 9:40 PM | Permalink

John Lynch,

This episode demonstrated the red team/blue team capabilities of the blogosphere. This does not always occur. Often the Right half is writing about their issues and the Left, their own different issues. But the adversarial efforts to debunk and debunk the debunking developed more information than any news source would have found economical.

Is an equally adversarial, not just competitive, role exist in a "non-partisan", "objective" MSM pressthink? Something Jay Bryant wrote about:

So that's lesson #1 here. The newsies like to complain about the giant corporate ownership that has taken over their business, forcing them – in their own minds at least – to surrender some of their independence. But it is "corporate" that is coming down on them like a ton of bricks right now, because they really and truly do need adult supervision.
If lesson #1 is the top-down lesson, lesson #2 is strictly bottom-up.
For decades, I have wondered why, if the three network news organizations were truly in competition with one another, they didn't act like they were. Eventually, I decided my sense of competition had been warped because of having learned it in the political game.
In politics, a major part of the competition is exposing your opponent's miscues. But that never seems to happen in the news business. Why, I often asked myself, don't the networks spend some investigative effort on one another, debunking the others' stories whenever possible? Wouldn't that be in the public interest, convenience and necessity? But they never do. Night after night, they simply report on the same news, with virtually the same lineup of stories, and it's been like that since the very beginning.
The only reasonable explanation is that none of the organizations wants to call the kettle black, for fear that they are equally pot-worthy. I think that's pretty close to the definition of what might be termed oligarchic monopolistic behavior, where a few companies have divvied up the market and are all getting fat and happy and don't want to risk anything.
So lesson #2 is that "them days is gone forever," because the market for news has uncontrollable players now. In other words, the Internet has arrived. Thank you, Al Gore.
Power Line, I think touches on a similar symptom of the problem:
What do Brig. Gen. William Turnipseed, Capt. George M. Elliott, and now Dr. Phillip Bouffard all have in common? They were all misquoted in the Boston Globe.
What's more, there seems to be a pattern. The Globe quotes, the source objects, the MSM refers to it as a "recantation," the Globe stands by its story and claims to be relying on what the source "originally said." We have an identical situation with Sharon Bush (Kitty Kelley) and a similar set of circumstances with Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges (CBS).
I'm not sure whether this lack of competitive bloodlust, or professional courtesy, in the MSM compared to the blogosphere is a good thing. Sometimes, I think that journalists are sensitive to the Hearst/Pulitzer competitiveness that became known as Yellow Journalism.

Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 10:00 PM | Permalink


I think the collective we are missing an opportunity.

This time, like no other, is exposing through stress and political bloodlust more strengths, more weaknesses, more subtle organizational flaws, more procedural flaws, and more behavioral issues than any likely to come in the next decade.

We know we have issues. We know there are flaws. We know change is required. During times of tranquility and status quo, we settle in our armchairs and debate with a lack of actionable facts.

Now we have an abundance of actionable facts. Will we even take their measure? Will we understand our collective strengths? Moreover, the strengths of others (such as bloggers?)

I do not know if the red/blue battles can be recreated at our convenience so that we can capture the learning possible now. I do not know if there are operational models that can be created without the red/blue conflict. I do not know if anyone even notices that something unique is happening now, in our time.

Posted by: John Lynch at September 12, 2004 10:19 PM | Permalink

Good analysis of type issues in the memos (says certainly forged)

(found on INDC, but should stand on its own)

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 12, 2004 10:41 PM | Permalink

Ben Franklin It's the Republican profits first mindset that has demanded that newsroom budgets be slashed. Republicans of the blogosphere: Welcome to some of the consequences of your philosophy.

Ben, statements like this are not substantive, not constructive, and are simply inflamatory.

Posted by: sbw at September 12, 2004 11:02 PM | Permalink

Our political philosophies have consequences. Why do you refuse to consider what they might be? If you think I'm mistaken, make your case.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 12, 2004 11:28 PM | Permalink

From my perspective, one of the core failings of contemporary Republican ideology is its resolute refusal to consider the consequences of its actions on anyone other than an imaginary, idealized capitalist.

The fantasy of Robinson Crusoe in a sea of corporate welfare. The destruction of our common environment to improve a few profit margins for a couple of years with consequences for centuries. The expropriation of public resources for private profit (one of George Bush's favorites). And the celebration of private corporate profit over the common good (including the sad pretense that they are one and the same).

I've read countless news stories over the last ten years about news budgets, overseas offices, reporters, resources, etc. being slashed in major media news organizations due to downsizing.

It was a more or less Keynesian approach to public policy that supported large news budgets through most of the twentieth century as a public good and a source of prestige rather than as a source of profit. With the victory of neo-liberalism, profit trumped concerns for democracy in slashing news budgets and deregulating media. Major media conglomerates visibly devote smaller budgets for newsgathering and analysis than in decades past.

There are effects on our society as a whole that these purportedly "economic" decisions bring about--consequences that flow directly from Republican supported policies that I find not only deeply misguided but even dangerous to democracy. If you disagree, as you obviously do, make your case.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 12, 2004 11:43 PM | Permalink

Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Viacom

Top 25 Media Companies’ Campaign Contributions, 1999-2002

2000 Election Cycle: $1,066,275
2002 Election Cycle: $2,092,341
Company Total: $3,158,616
Democrats: 81%
Republicans: 19%

Posted by: Tim at September 12, 2004 11:52 PM | Permalink

In case any "experts" are able to reproduce the Killian memos on equipment available in eary 70s, the award is up to $37,900.

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 12:20 AM | Permalink

An aside. BF's post doesn't seem to have anything to do with the discussion. Were we elsewhere I would attack his steretyped and incorresct description of "Republican Ideology." But that's off the subject entirely.

Here is another viewpoint thta applies to SBVT and the National Guard information. This is the logical ( as opposed to obvious or sellable ) way to compare the two candidates.

Bush has been CIC for 3.5 years; that is by far the most important military service issue for the president: how he serves as commander in chief. Other issues should have been dealt with by the press and opponents in previous races. Hence to find a surprise in his National Guard records sould be a shock, and even so irrelevant in this particular case,

Kerry has not been CIC at all. Hence analyzing his military history gives us new information about him. The SBVT has focused on this, and also his immediate post-war activities.

This sounds covenient for me. It is. But it is logical. The purpose of examining someone's behavior 35 years ago is to find out about their character. In this *particular* case, we know that Bush was a drunkard and that he went through a program that successfully solved his problem.

In Kerry's case, we don't have that information.

By my logic, we care about what he did starting at age 40 than before, and especially his behavior in the white house. Kerry, on the other hand, needs to be scrutinized from way back, to try to get some idea of what he might be like as a wartime leader.

Posted by: John Moore at September 13, 2004 12:25 AM | Permalink

I still don't know what to think about these documents. And I feel I do not know what happened, at all, in this entire episode. I am frequently astonished at how confident some people are in what's been proven or disproven, but then this has astonished me since I began spending serious time on the Net around 1995. So maybe I should learn.

I plan to pour over the Monday papers (particularly the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times) wait for ABC's The Note to post its Monday edition (mid-morning) and put that material together with what the blogs have accomplished over the weekend and whatever CBS adds by then and maybe... the picture will be clearer. (I'll also be checking TV Newser and Lost Remote for leaks from CBS, where many mysteries remain.)

The Note is becoming an extremely significant site for journalism because--as an Internet product--it is Net-aware; and the authors try to read the traditional press and the blogs together and tell one story. This is not true of, say, the Boston Globe reporters.

My thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion since Friday night. I found it quite interesting and remarkably serious. And I am more convinced than ever that the way to make a comment section work at a blog is to encourage posters to "argue by link"-- actually a few powerful sentences and a link.

Why? Because when two people agree on nothing, they can agree on the importance or interest of a particular link.

If you will forgive a horn-tooting rhetorical question: at how many weblogs were people from the Left and Right, forgery-skeptics and forgery-believers, thrashing out the issues and questions in a single discussion space-- i.e. this thread?

Finally--and this is really a guess, nothing more--when more of the case comes out, I believe we may find that the aura, ego, image, power and, yes, arrogance of The Anchorman, along with the automatic deference paid to him internally at CBS, will be seen as a significant factor in why events played out as they did. It's just a sense I have and I could be wrong.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at September 13, 2004 12:42 AM | Permalink


Of course this is detrimental to the media. That was essentially my point.

What's worse -and I suppose our major difference of opinion - it's hazardous to the body politic. The focus on ever finer points about TypographyGate, Swifties, etc. soon fills up all the available space and drowns out the issues.

Blogs and major media outlets may feel a swell of pride with each marginal change in the story, but it still doesn't tell us much about where we're going politically.

Are we electing a U.S. president or the national chair of the VFW?

The media are in trouble. I feel at times that there are a million transmitters out there blasting away full volume. The chatter overtakes substance everytime.

As for Jay's question about the power of the anchor, I'm not sure they've really been that influential in a while. Their decline likely started with explosion of cable networks and news/talk shows.

With TypographyGate, we see just how irrelevant they've become.

Posted by: Dave In Texas at September 13, 2004 1:13 AM | Permalink

Here is USA Today's current summation of the debate:

Apparently, they are aggressively pursuing the story. There are also some implicit criticisms of CBS' response to the controversy in the piece, but forgive me if I think that the article would be harder on a politician who was withholding documents and the names of experts he had consulted.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 13, 2004 1:18 AM | Permalink

What are we supposed to infer, care about, conclude, in relation to your campaign donations link?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 1:34 AM | Permalink

Are you trying to argue that the Washington Post primarily sides with the Republican Party because of the preponderance of its campaign contributions?

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 1:37 AM | Permalink


This is interesting from the USA Today link:

USA TODAY obtained copies of the documents independently soon after the 60 Minutes segment aired Wednesday, from a person with knowledge of Texas Air National Guard operations. The person refused to be identified out of fear of retaliation. It is unclear where the documents, if they are real, had been kept in the intervening three decades.
What does that mean about the source of these documents or their provenance, I wonder?


I don't think I need to add any explanation.

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 1:59 AM | Permalink

News Corporation budget cuts

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 2:56 AM | Permalink

What does that mean about the source of these documents or their provenance, I wonder?

A more pertinent question may be: what does this say about the state of politics in America?

Posted by: Joe at September 13, 2004 4:03 AM | Permalink

Ben If you think I'm mistaken, make your case.

To inject the supposition that Republicans or their ideals have strangled newsrooms senseless is not only irrelevant to the thread, it is baseless, inflamatory instigation and I'll not play your game.

Sound ideas count, not party labels. Contrary to your posturing, neither party has a lock on newsrooms or the cogent use of brain cells.

Posted by: sbw at September 13, 2004 10:53 AM | Permalink

Still nothing at Poynter on Rathergate. Thought this was interesting:

Rather started by noting this: When you're a reporter contrasting what someone in the administration says with what you know to be the facts, pointedly laying out the differences, "You're gonna catch hell." "And those who are willing to pay the price," Rather said, are fewer today than before. In a later remark, he said the strong feelings nationwide and the guarantee that they'll be voiced not only calls up more caution than ever -- sometimes a good thing -- but causes some to ask: "You know what? We run this story, we're asking for trouble. Why do it?"

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 11:13 AM | Permalink

As far as the details burying the signal, the details are performing an important process. The news is like a sausage maker -it is continuously producing product.

If we get better journalism as a result of closely examining CBS's evidence (I would save CBS in generally), the the details are worth it. Think of it as a temporary down time while the machinery is inspected and fixed.

Furthermore, it's like an FDA recall at the Dan Rather sausage factory. People need to know the factory was putting out dangerous product (assuming, of course, that their primary information is nonsense - a reasonably safe assumption at this point).

The media has set itself into a watchdog role. Is there a profession Kings-X card? The media should be looking into what appears to be a plot, using forgery, to influence the election with pure falsehoods.

Posted by: John Moore at September 13, 2004 2:43 PM | Permalink

Glenn's thoughts on trust me journalism:

The world of Big Media used to be a high-trust environment. You read something in the paper, or heard something from Dan Rather, and you figured it was probably true. You didn't ask to hear all the background, because it wouldn't fit in a newspaper story, much less in the highly truncated TV-news format anyway, and because you assumed that they had done the necessary legwork. (Had they? I'm not sure. It's not clear whether standards have fallen since, or whether the curtain has simply been pulled open on the Mighty Oz. But they had names, and familiar faces, so you usually believed them even when you had your doubts.)
The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.
Should I say it? Read the whole thing.

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 3:00 PM | Permalink

I find it odd that this mystery man with the Guard didn't find Kitty Kelley (who has deep pockets) or she him before CBS. Kitty pays for interviews, and I'd say this guy could have made some money.

All this time--30 years!--and he now shows up? Hmmmm.

Posted by: rachel at September 13, 2004 3:54 PM | Permalink

Case Closed!

Bill Safire says the memos are "discredited." I had previously been uncommitted on their authenticity—just not on the quality of journalism relating to the question—but if Safire's convinced, so am I: some how, some way, some one will be stepping forward within a few days to prove that they're real. There simply is no more reliable obverse indicator than Bill.

Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish ...

Posted by: weldon berger at September 13, 2004 5:14 PM | Permalink

i'm an expert
journalist calls after emailing lo-res PDF of document
+ asks for opinion re: authenticity
i say:
with the material given to me
i can't make any claims
the journalist reports:
expert says no conclusions can be drawn
until better copies of the documents are made available

my sister's a microbiologist
if she made a diagnosis
based on a contaminated sample
that could get her fired
whether she'd been right or wrong in the 1st place
being of no importance

when lewis carroll stops newscating
somebody give me a call


Posted by: Sebastian at September 13, 2004 6:37 PM | Permalink


when lewis carroll stops newscasting
somebody give me a call


thanks again

Posted by: Sebastian at September 13, 2004 6:40 PM | Permalink

The Cincinnati Post published an editorial on the memos today that did not note that there were questions regarding their authenticity:

However, don't bother going to that link, the article has been disappeared:

Good journalistic ethics? You be the judge.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 13, 2004 6:50 PM | Permalink

Hugh Hewitt has interesting post comparing a speech by Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll that he gave on May 6, 2004, about "the rise of pseudo-journalism in America" at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication with the current story of CBS' memos:

Could it be that CBS is acting as the pseudo-journalists? Or the pajama-clad?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 13, 2004 7:19 PM | Permalink

Just caught CBS news, Monday night. Can't wait (which really means I can wait for a verry long time) for the transcript to be fisked, itemizing the red herrings CBS dragged across the path.

For instance, Rather suggests that, of course, it was technologically possible for proportional spacing and superscripts to be in a document of the period, not mentioning how unlikely it might be.

Then he called out Bush to directly answer questions about his National Guard that deflect attention away from the potential CBS faux pas.

It's a dandy dance and I'm embarrassed for it. Oh, and I'm chagrinned because it takes attention away from discussion of substantive differences between the candidates' visions for the future.

Posted by: sbw at September 13, 2004 7:21 PM | Permalink


BTW, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the rest of the CBS News broadcast which, based on extensive blog-reading for background on assault weapons and Iraq, seemed badly swollen from Point of View.

Posted by: sbw at September 13, 2004 7:26 PM | Permalink

Well, CBS News seems to be suffering some form of institutional psychosis:

Story credited to "CBS/AP"

"CBS said it used several techniques to make sure the memos should be taken seriously, including talking to handwriting and document analysts and other experts who strongly insist that the documents could have been created in the 1970s.

In addition to talking to handwriting and document analysts, CBS News said Monday it relied on an analysis of the contents of the documents themselves to determine their authenticity. The new papers are in line with what is known about the president's service assignments and dates, CBS said."

Gee, how nice the CBS let us know one more thing about how they authenticated the documents. Perhaps will learn more in dribs and drabs as the controversy swirls on.

By the way, who are these other analysts again? Oh, wait, CBS has only named one and asked him not to talk to the press. Geez.

It would be interesting to talk to the CBS reporter on the story and figure out how it was written. What are the ethics of reporting on your own news division?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 13, 2004 8:19 PM | Permalink

Interesting commentary from Slate magazine:

Timothy Noah makes some good points about why CBS should have hesistated to run with the documents based on what we know of their provenance (not font analysis and etc.). Then he makes what I consider a very odd statement:

"Which brings us to a larger point. The documents were entirely consistent with everything that's already been established about President Bush's National Guard service. We know strings were pulled on his behalf to get in. We know that, for whatever reason, he wouldn't take a required physical. We know that Bush agitated for a transfer to Alabama, and that for a period of six months there exists no evidence that he ever showed up. None of this makes Bush a bad person—except insofar as he feels free to question, or permits others on his campaign to question, the manhood and patriotism of his opponent, John Kerry. 60 Minutes may have inadvertently framed the president, but in doing so it framed an already guilty man."

Excuse me? If we already know all this, then why were the memos news? What the heck does "consistent" mean in this case? There has been plenty of evidence that Bush benefited from favoritism to get in the Guard, but there hasn't been much evidence of an effort to sanitize his record while in the guard (i.e., "sugar coat"). Their are suspicions, but no evidence. Thus, the memos would seem to be proof of a new allegation.

Is that allegation consistent with the story of a son of privilege? Sure. But I would hate to have my name smeared with everything that is "consistent" with my public record. I suspect that Timothy Noah would not like to be smeared in public and then have the argument made that the smear was "consistent" with what we knew of Timothy Noah.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 13, 2004 8:49 PM | Permalink

Timothy Noah We know that Bush agitated for a transfer to Alabama, and that for a period of six months there exists no evidence that he ever showed up.

[Caution. The quote above contains premature conclusion-jumping.] We don't know that he actually got a transfer to Alabama. If he never got the transfer, there would be no necessity for evidence to show that he showed up. If he were still in the Texas Guard, he apparently could fulfill requirements by attending some non-Texas sessions. It has also been suggested that the record may show he earned enough flight points for his final year prior to the alleged missed physical.

Oh, yes. One final observation. What Does It Matter? Like him or not, you have 3.5 years of recent experience upon which to judge whether or not to give him another four.

Posted by: sbw at September 13, 2004 9:24 PM | Permalink

Bush's Air National Guard Records

Orem, Utah: If the source documents used by CBS News in this story are, in fact, forgeries, what price should this venerable news organization pay? Should Dan Rather step down immediately as managing editor and chief anchor?
Michael Dobbs: It is up to CBS to decide how they are going to re-establish their credibility, which is their most important asset as a news organization. Other news organizations, viz New York Times and USA Today, have done this by a shakeup at the top. You could contrast this with the Post experience with Janet Cooke 20 or so years ago, when Ben Bradlee managed to ride out the storm by ordering a full, open investigation into how the Post came to publish a fraudulent story.
New York Times publisher decries cheapening of public debate
Sulzberger said that too often accuracy is sacrificed to the pressures to be first with a story. The Internet and 24-hour new channels have fueled that pressure, he said.
Sulzberger acknowledged that incidents such as last year's Jayson Blair plagiarism and fabrication scandal at his own newspaper, which led to the resignation of two top editors, also damaged news organizations' credibility.
He said that what upset him after the Blair scandal is that The Times received relatively few calls from people mentioned in Blair's stories.
"They just generally assumed that newspapers operated that way," he said.
(H/T: Romenesko

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 9:46 PM | Permalink

The Grinding of Dull Old Axes: CBS, General Westmoreland, and President George Bush (H/T: Instapundit)

Alas for CBS, no internal investigation would be necessary since TV Guide decided to perform an "external investigation" of its own.
TV Guide did research of its own and, with the help of inside-CBS sources who leaked unedited transcripts, titled its report "Anatomy of a Smear: How CBS News Broke the Rules and ‘Got’ General Westmoreland." TV Guide claimed that CBS began the project already convinced a conspiracy had taken place and "turned a deaf ear toward evidence that suggested otherwise."
....It was evident even during the broadcast that CBS did not substantiate the allegation of conspiracy or deception by General Westmoreland or anyone else. That was a major weakness of the telecast and has since cast doubt on the credibility of the entire program. The network did, however, obtain the compelling statements of a group of mostly unfriendly retired military officers who were involved with the production of intelligence estimates at the time
An internal drive for a "gotcha;" "convinced a conspiracy had taken place," turning "a deaf ear toward evidence" that suggests something is not as assumed; unsubstantiated allegations, statements from people hostile to the subject... As we can see, the patterns in Rathergate seem to be historic and endemic to the institution. Either that or just 'deja vu all over again.'

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 10:05 PM | Permalink

This sounds like a description of Bush administration "intelligence" gathering for war in Iraq complete with leaks from appalled CIA operatives.
Juan Cole has a superb post laying out what bin Laden and al Quaeda want and how our ill-considered turn toward Iraq has helped him realize these goals. He says al Quaeda has not won, but thanks to the invasion of Iraq, comparatively more of bin Laden's goals have been realized.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 10:19 PM | Permalink

I should have posted this earlier:

My examination of *contemporaneous* *documents*:

CBS (60 Minutes) Forged Memos Comparison Evidence

"Whether or not such a typerwriter could exist in theory, it seems Bush's Air Force base definitely didn't have one!"

Go look at the examples I've linked. Just look at them. The base memos are night-and-day different from the CBS memos. You don't have to be a font geek to see the obviously differences.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 13, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink

While we talk about Vietnam and National Guard memos, Bush's policy in Iraq fails faster and faster. Newsweek.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 10:30 PM | Permalink

(Reuters) Jeb Bush Defies Court Order to Put Nader on the Ballot in Florida.

Perhaps our dear MSM might consider serious coverage of whether our second president in a row will be selected by coup de 'etat...

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 10:50 PM | Permalink

Interesting behind the scenes look at the making of the Swift Boat Veterans and the construction of unanimity.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 11:02 PM | Permalink

Finally an article on the CBS memos that is well enough written and researched to actually raise questions about the authenticity of the documents. Washington Post

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 13, 2004 11:15 PM | Permalink

Ben While we talk about Vietnam and National Guard memos, Bush's policy in Iraq fails faster and faster. Newsweek.

Always got a billious feeling when I tried to read Newsweek.

We are in Iraq. Precious little Kerry talk discusses how to improve the chances of success in Iraq. You have suggestions for Mr. Kerry? Certainly not to promise to remove troops within six months, I hope.

Ben, I wish your replies helped me develop better positions.

Posted by: sbw at September 13, 2004 11:21 PM | Permalink


Starting Thursday morning, the four bloggers — simultaneously doing original reporting and investigative work — created enough skepticism over CBS’s reporting that the network was forced to dedicate the opening segment of last Friday’s “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” to defending itself. (emphasis added)
(H/T: LGF)

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 11:35 PM | Permalink

Fix for Ben's WaPo link: Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers

Posted by: Tim at September 13, 2004 11:44 PM | Permalink

Ben, I think at least one of bin Laden's goals has been realized. If his version of Allah exists, bin Laden is probably now playing slap and tickle with his 72 virgins. Cole seems far too driven to find evidence of failure (or "failure") for my liking.

Posted by: Brian at September 13, 2004 11:57 PM | Permalink

I am interested in Mark's take on the WaPo article since he earlier in this comments section derided the notion that Microsoft Word comparisons were meaningful, calling them "ridiculous". Tell that to the wonderfully named Joseph Newcomer.

Posted by: Brian at September 14, 2004 12:02 AM | Permalink

Keeping US troops in Iraq until security is restored is like keeping your finger in your eye until this vision problem gets better. ANY solution requires replacing US troops with non-US troops and a governing authority that isn't compromised by collaboration.

It's hard to see that happening without a change of presidents. Sadly, Kerry is running to the right of Bush on this. I think they are both wrong. We need to get out as soon as possible, and our forces need to be replaced by truly international forces that can truly keep peace. Actually restoring sovereignty would also be a real start. Unfortunately, true democracy in Iraq will probably be Islamic.

Another reason the whole adventure was a bad idea to start with. Who will fix the mess Bush made? I like Kos from Daily Kos's analogy: Will we take away the keys from the guy who drove the car into the ditch or not?

That is the lesson I draw from the last three and a half years of this commander in chief's performance. Kerry doesn't look good, but we know what an utter failure Bush is already. That's an established fact. It's certain failure vs. faint hope.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 12:12 AM | Permalink

The articles on Friday were very vague about the MS Word comparison and involved numerous innacuracies as Weldon among others pointed out. They didn't raise any charges that were not fully countered by information about IBMs available at the time.

This article raises specific issues related to types of superscript, specific forms of mismatches. I'm still not entirely persuaded by that part of the argument, but it is much more compelling and calls on more evidence with more specificity and historical context.

What I've been interested in all along is the argument about provenance. How do the documents compare to other documents from that guard unit at that time? This article specifically addresses that issue and the CBS documents do not look good based on their analysis.

To my mind it is still possible that CBS sources could have information that accounts for why these documents look so different. Perhaps they were produced off-base and there is a general lack of uniformity to Guard documents as Mark Gisleson has argued. Perhaps they were not part of Bush's file, so it is false to assume that they should look the same. More evidence could save the case, but more evidence is required. This article DOES successfully raise questions in my mind, however.

If CBS can't produce evidence related to provenance, OR get their anonymous sources to go on the record, OR get past this "trust me" attitude, I think they are left with a trayful of egg on their face.

To get back to the partisanship you count on me to deliver, I think if CBS were to apologize for this, Hannity, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh should apologize for almost every word they utter (given that Media has been documenting their systematic refusal to speak the truth for months now). But if CBS can't come up with the evidentiary goods, this story puts CBS network news and Dan Rather into that select company. That is not a complement.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 12:30 AM | Permalink

Shakier Than Cafeteria Jello?
Keep your eye on USAT.

A sidebar quoted USAT Executive Editor John Hillkirk, saying the paper was now "pursuing [questions of authenticity] aggressively." I'll let kf e-mailer Mr. X take it from there:

usa today is the ball to watch on this one. my understanding is that the paper is extremely nervous-- because of the jack kelly fiasco-- and could well be the first to come right out and say what they have already implicity ("ostenibly["]) said: we were had. these docs are bogus, or at a minimum, we can no longer stand by the docs we reported to you about last week. If that happens, then the pressure on rather and cbs intensifies significantly...leading to what? a rather apology ot the president in the last few weeks of a presidential campaign? [link and emphasis added]

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 1:55 AM | Permalink

A Chicago Tribune article published in the San Jose Mercury News has some additional interesting information:

"CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said Monday that the network possesses what it believes to be so-called first generation copies duplicated directly from the original documents.

But the copies posted on its Web site are somewhat blurred and speckled, suggesting repeated copying.

Genelius said she could not explain why the versions posted on the CBS Web site appear to have been repeatedly copied, while the copies the network relied on for its reporting were not."

That raises the interesting question of why CBS has not made a high quality scan of these first generation copies available. Dan Rather complained initially that the questions about the documents were based on faulty copies. Okay. So, why not release better copies? Hello? Are there any adults in charge at CBS?

Ok, so that is a cheap shot. But, seriously, why hasn't CBS released better copies? It doesn't make sense that they wouldn't.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 3:08 AM | Permalink

Here's a link to the CBS Rather transcript I mentioned above. You can decide for yourself if the parsing is a little fine, if the herrings are red, and what the meaning of is is.

And if you don't already have on your bookmark bar for easy access (Ben) you might just find it worthwhile.

Posted by: sbw at September 14, 2004 7:54 AM | Permalink

It's fun to have Jonathan Klein inadvertently add his misrepresentation, "Bloggers have no checks and balances . . . [it's] a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas." Gleefully, bloggers proudly displayed their jammies.

Tim's pointer to Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds crystalizes blog value:

The Internet, on the other hand, is a low-trust environment. Ironically, that probably makes it more trustworthy.

That's because, while arguments from authority are hard on the Internet, substantiating arguments is easy, thanks to the miracle of hyperlinks. ... You can spell out your thinking, and you can back it up with lots of facts, which people then (thanks to Google, et al.) find it easy to check.

The Washington Post has weighed in. This is a journalistic watershed. Internet access has shown the big media to be more fallible than it wanted us to believe -- or wanted to believe itself.

How timely to discover journalism demands humility. Fortunately, one of the characteristics of humility is that it ratchets down the temperature of the discussion.

Posted by: sbw at September 14, 2004 8:36 AM | Permalink


Because I know that the anticipation is killing you (that is to say that you had probably already forgotten), here is an instant rebuttal of CBS News Monday.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 8:47 AM | Permalink

One of the things that I don't understand and that I believe reflects extraordinarily poorly on CBS is their response to the questions surrounding their reporting.

There are many problems that I've noted in my comments here, but here's another one. Last night, CBS trotted out two "new" experts in their defense. Neither of these two were document examiners and their expertise seems rather limited. Why couldn't CBS come up with more impressive experts? Shouldn't that give them a clue?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 10:57 AM | Permalink

Building on Sulzberger's comments (here), Ed at CQ sees some hypocrisy.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 11:16 AM | Permalink

The speed at which the 'forgery' and the 'credibility' memes has spread makes me think that all media (old or new) is behaving like an unthinking membot, and that's dangerous. If CBS chose to run a story based on dubious sources that undermines their legitimacy as a news source, but other sources are not justified in trying to discredit that story by making dubious claims themselves. The only responsible angle they could've followed after the CBS broadcast was simply to express their doubts and to pressure CBS to made better copies available for examination. Any so-called 'expert' that went on record at the time saying anything other than that the information provided to them was insuficient to craw any conclusions is, IMHO, immediately discredited. I'm writing from the UK, and a few years back a link between autism & the MMR vaccine was drawn using insufficient information. The media were quick to report. As a result there is now a drastic decline in vaccination, and the health authorities fear a measles epidemic among young children. The initial claims have now been debunked. The spread of the 'unsafe vaccine' meme will be a lot harder to counteract. The BBC's '45min' scandal that culminated with dismissals, resignations and even a suicide should also serve as an example. The only positive thing to come out of this story is that it can become an object lesson on the real dangers of irresponsible broadcasting in a network society. Different layers of a social arrangement operate at different timescales, allowing the faster ones to control the slower ones (when culture controls nature, when governance controls culture, when infrastucture controls governance, when commerce controls infrastructure, when fashion controls commerce) can only end in disater.

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 11:27 AM | Permalink

One of the things that first struck me in this story was how CBS could possibly have any confidence in documents of which it had never seen an original. To me this was a pretty glaring problem in their story (the moreso as sources started "changing their stories"/"correcting CBS' statements" depending on your viewpoint). But I've seen relatively little discussion on how this lack of originals should have affected the initial reception of CBS' claims. Up until Monday there will still plenty of people saying that if a typewriter could do proportional fonts then there's no reason to suspect these documents were other than genuine.

Others have put the burden of proof on CBS critics to "prove" that--and let me underscore this--the COPIES of documents CBS was making available in various degraded forms were inauthentic. They didn't seem to consider just what they were asking. Keep in mind that these documents did not come from government files and in fact CBS has never said what their history really is. Presumably they were passed hand to hand from one Bush resistance fighter to another, and that's why personal notes are only available in nth generation reproductions.

So the natural question is...what if? What if someone who was marginally competent and who had actually seen a typewriter had made these forgeries? It would have been child's play to get a Killian signature, alter it slightly to prevent a perfect match with another document, reproduce something reasonably close to the typeface used at the time (based on already released documents), and bang! you've got your forgery. Many, many people were willing to accept that a photocopy was fine with them as evidence.

Indeed, this scandal could serve as a tutorial (more or less) in how to get away with this sort of thing in the future. All you have to do is make the forgery good enough to get past initial scrutiny. And that's not hard to do.

I wonder if we're missing a few lessons from this affair about credible sourcing, standards of evidence, etc. Because, quite apart from the form and content of these memos, CBS/Rather's case has been weak from the get-go.

Or, put it this way: If these documents had shown up on someone's web site as jpg files, wouldn't everyone have been a tiny bit suspicious as to their authenticity? But print out that jpg and fax it to CBS News and it's good enough for a major network news magazine. Photoshop, anyone?

Posted by: Brian at September 14, 2004 11:36 AM | Permalink


Yes, dubious claims were made by many. It is the blogosphere, we are human. Yet, through collective action we come to a greater understanding despite individual error.

Moreover, it is one thing to acknowledge doubt, uncertainty and to express the tentativeness of a conclusion. It is another to act as if two arguments both with some degree of uncertainty are equally valid. Some uncertainties are greater than other uncertainties.

In any case, I do not see too much evidence of "unthinking" in many of the main critics of CBS. They may have gotten things wrong, but were often quick to acknowledge it and correct, which is much, much more than can be said for CBS.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 11:37 AM | Permalink

Agree with Ernest. To say that this affair was similar to a typical MSM feeding frenzy or groupthink episode is to miss out on the speed and diversity of expertise with which the documents were examined. Hypotheses were stated, tested, and discarded or advanced to theories from the start. This happened regardless of the "wishful thinking"/"foot dragging"/"trust them" sentiment across some weblogs. I really don't know how you can look at the storm of analysis and argument over the weekend and find it "unthinking".

What Sebastian says was called for was an expression of mild distrust and a plea of, "Please give me better looking copies, Mr. Rather." I would amend that to be an expression of outright skepticism and a stern call for originals, or failing that a scrupulous account of the documents' history--it is simply ludicrous to suggest that a copied document from an anonymous source has any credibility whatsoever.

Posted by: Brian at September 14, 2004 11:57 AM | Permalink

All I'm trying to say is that it would've been better to to simply put pressure on CBS to release better copies, question why such bad copies where made available, question why the WH would also release the same files, and make moves to clear the provenance issues, then picking up in the equally unlikely overlay of a badly artifacted document over another one from a clearly biased (FR) source. I'm a designer, and my colleagues consider me one of the most anal typesetters they know. I've spent many hours just looking at the space between two words at 1,000% magnification. When I got hold of the pdf files CBS released I simply couldn't get enough detail from them to assess them. If I can admit to this, why didn't any of he so-called 'experts' do the same? I'm not defending CBS, but I can't really agree with the subsequent coverage from other sources. There's enough at Daily Kos to debunk the MS Word hypothesis, which DOES NOT mean that the memos are authentic, it only means that further testing and more information is necessary.

Note: I haven't picked up any coverage outside the US yet. Anyone?

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 11:59 AM | Permalink

I wonder if we're missing a few lessons from this affair about credible sourcing, standards of evidence, etc.



This is the classic scam that worked because the person being scammed believed - no, desperately wanted - it to be true. Rather's first defense of the documents is he knows they're authentic because what they say comport to what he already knows is true about Bush.

These documents are soooooooo obviously questionable they should have never made it to air without originals that had iron-clad provenance and sourcing PUBLICLY available at the time of their release.

The documents are half of the hit job combined with the completely discredited for years Ben Barnes interview. Jimminy, is own daughter is speaking out against him.

On top of this, THIS BLOG had no problem adjucating a smear campaign calling for we said but can't decide on this issue?

BTW, here's more documentary evidence supporting those COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, NOTHING BUT LIARS, Swift Boat Vietnam veterans that take issue with Kerry's "I was surrounded by war criminals" rememberances.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 12:01 PM | Permalink

it is simply ludicrous to suggest that a copied document from an anonymous source has any credibility whatsoever.

My point precisely, so why the type/typewriter forensics? If the quality of origination raises enough doubts?

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 12:05 PM | Permalink

Note: I haven't picked up any coverage outside the US yet. Anyone?

Suspected CBS-Forgery: The Hitler Diaries Revisited

My point precisely, so why the type/typewriter forensics? If the quality of origination raises enough doubts?

That's a good question. I think the appearance of the documents is so eye-catchingly off from the expected and 100% of all other relevant documents to this unit and Bush at the time that proving they could not have been typewritten - and that they match MS Word default wordprocessing - became the focus. It actually drowned out even more obvious issues pointing to fraud.

That was interesting, and Daily Kos's journals are a classic example of some interesting red team research. What I was fascinated by was after all that research by Kos, the obvious conclusion was these were frauds.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 12:14 PM | Permalink


What's driving return of U.S press to its more partisan roots?
9/14/2004 9:48:01 AM

Rather's colleagues say they're worried about memos flap
9/14/2004 8:19:26 AM

Bloggers as Reporters
9/13/2004 7:11:05 PM By Paul Grabowicz

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 12:25 PM | Permalink


The argument that the documents are so degraded as to be totally beyond the ken of any claims is absurd:

"I'm a designer, and my colleagues consider me one of the most anal typesetters they know. I've spent many hours just looking at the space between two words at 1,000% magnification. When I got hold of the pdf files CBS released I simply couldn't get enough detail from them to assess them. If I can admit to this, why didn't any of he so-called 'experts' do the same? I'm not defending CBS, but I can't really agree with the subsequent coverage from other sources. There's enough at Daily Kos to debunk the MS Word hypothesis, which DOES NOT mean that the memos are authentic, it only means that further testing and more information is necessary."

I'm terribly afraid that the "debunking" of the MS Word hypothesis at Daily Kos is unpersuasive. If the documents are too degraded to make any claims, how can the Daily Kos have "debunked" the MS Word hypothesis? If there are claims that can be made about the documents (and there are, just with varying levels of probability), then the MS Word hypothesis remains the most probable origin for the documents, given public evidence.

Furthermore, if the quality of the documents is so poor that no judgement can be made about them, then it seems extraordinarily odd that CBS released them at all. Indeed, you would have to assume that CBS acted not simply with poor judgement but with active and reckless disregard for the truth.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 1:15 PM | Permalink


have a feeling that the biggest news of last week had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the media. We are in the middle of an insurgency against the occupation of the airwaves by that amorphous group called--in blogspeak--MSM, or mainstream media. And the latest direct hit has exploded in the illustrious offices of Dan Rather and CBS News.

I've been wondering if we need another test besides Anna's Clinton Test. I think we should call it a Fox News Test.

If Fox News had produced similarly questionable documents with unknown provenance conveniently PROVING Bush attended drills at Alabama signed by some now long deceased officer from the Alabama unit complete with an interview with spirit of George Wallace, would anyone be switching sides right now?

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 1:32 PM | Permalink

Why is it that SBVT is rewarded with credibility if one or two out of ten claims graze reality? What kind of a standard is that? The CBS story still looks good using that yardstick.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 1:36 PM | Permalink


Please list thier claims. Not whether they have been demonstrated to be true or not, just what they are.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 1:39 PM | Permalink

Hannity, O'Reilly, and Limbaugh outright lie about facts ON A FULLTIME, PROGRAMMATIC DAILY BASIS. People don't say much about it because it's a full time job to keep up with the encyclopedia of lies and disinformation that network puts out and repeats day in and day out. They never refer to any evidence for the baseless tales they tell because they make them up. Is that the future of US news?
O'Reilly was witnessed throwing a hissy fit last month when one of his producers accidentally put tape on the screen during a take that directly contradicted his chosen lie of the day. After he chewed out his director for allowing unhelpful facts onto the set, they took the damning video off the monitor so he could state his lie without the complication of reality intruding.

Your Fox news test has been running since the day they went on the air.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 1:47 PM | Permalink

O'Reilly is so fact challenged he claimed at one point that the Swift Boat Veterans never accused Kerry of lying!

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 1:55 PM | Permalink

Britt Hume lies on Fox News about the 9/11 commission's report and its support of Bob Graham's statements underlining the Bush administration's whitewash of Saudi involvement in the attacks.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:05 PM | Permalink

Newt Gingrich lies three times in just one Fox News Sunday show. He denies repeated proof of Bush distortion of Iraq intelligence, he lies about economic history, and he lies about Kerry's voting record. This is just one day on Fox news programming.

The real question is "Why the hell aren't we screaming about the Fox propaganda machine being allowed to pass as news programming?" The blogosphere is MIA on this stuff.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:17 PM | Permalink


1. You haven't answered my question.

2. You are an incredibly incompetent linker.

3. If you spent equal time at AIM or MRC, your hyper-hysterical rants might subside some.

I asked if you would have taken the other side if Fox News had done what CBS did. I take it the answer is yes, since EVERYTHING in its TOTALITY from Fox News is a lie or questionable.

Am I correct?

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 2:22 PM | Permalink

Given that Fox lies all day, every day, of course it would take a higher burden of proof from them. I have conceded that the burden of proof is on CBS to make their case now. If it were Fox, I would follow the evidence as well. It would naturally take longer for me to take them seriously since they are apparently opposed to telling the truth in principle, but I'm sure it happens occasionally, even if only by accident.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:28 PM | Permalink

You ARE correct that I am an incredibly incompetent linker. Apologies for that.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:30 PM | Permalink

O'Reilly link

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:34 PM | Permalink

Sorry. That one doesnt' work either.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:35 PM | Permalink

What your Fox news test really asks is, "How would people react if Fox undermined their credibility in the way CBS appears to have?" My answer is, to my mind they have yet to establish the credibility that this would call into question. It would reinforce their current lack of credibility even more forcefully than their already daily programming of lies and distortions.

Its apples and oranges. CBS periodically veers into cheerleaderdom. Fox is founded on that principle plus programmatic distortion. Roger Ailes ran Republican presidential campaigns for decades and then produced Rush Limbaugh.

When James Carville starts running a television network we can have a serious discussion about comparative bias in relation to Fox News.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 2:47 PM | Permalink

What your Fox news test really asks is, "How would people react if Fox undermined their credibility in the way CBS appears to have?"

No, Ben, it doesn't.

Thought this was interesting: CBS HEAD LAUDS BLAST AT RATHER

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 3:07 PM | Permalink

Combine this with the recommendation above:

Congressional Hearings, Anyone? (H/T: Instapundit)

So far, the silence on what needs to be done to cure the disease (Rathergate has been festering, metastasizing for decades) has been deafing. Probably because NOTHING has changed.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 4:24 PM | Permalink


“My point precisely, so why the type/typewriter forensics? If the quality of origination raises enough doubts”

Without having an original, it is virtually impossible to authenticate a document. The converse is not true, ie it is perfectly possible to prove that a copy is fraudulent.

How do you apply enough pressure on CBS to release the documents in their possession based solely on the fact that they’re copies? How often has that happened? They’ve already resisted significant pressure even in the face of overwhelming inconsistencies and questions.

Why has Rather been so reluctant to release the documents and provide some inkling of their source? Isn’t he doing more damage to himself, CBS News, the media, and journalism with his current posture? I really find this most troubling (and perplexing).

Posted by: MaDr at September 14, 2004 5:41 PM | Permalink

Interesting article from Dallas Morning News:

The article is an interview with Killian's secretary. She says the documents are forgeries, but that they represent true information. She is probably in the best position to know.

So, now the question becomes, why do we have a "true information/false presentation" situation? What the heck was CBS News up to? Why have the undermined their own reporting by presenting forgeries as actual documents of the time?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 5:46 PM | Permalink

On their website, "CBS/AP" continues to cover this story in bizarre fashion, as if the report isn't coming from the newsroom under fire:

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 6:06 PM | Permalink

I'm terribly afraid that the "debunking" of the MS Word hypothesis at Daily Kos is unpersuasive. If the documents are too degraded to make any claims, how can the Daily Kos have "debunked" the MS Word hypothesis? If there are claims that can be made about the documents (and there are, just with varying levels of probability), then the MS Word hypothesis remains the most probable origin for the documents, given public evidence.

This alone Makes MS Word questionalble.

A few things re: MS Word and typesetting:
Word (& Quark for that matter) 'generates' superscripts by scaling the lower case characters and shifting the baseline by a set amount. This creates a disparity in 'colour' (the superscript thus generated looks 'lighter' than the rest of the text). Actual common supercripts (like 'th' or 'nd' maybe included in the font as a special character that compensates this, but MS Word won't automatically substitute the letter combination for the special character (in the mac it will be some obscure key combination such as "option+shift+3) sometimes characters like these won't even be a part of the font and will be contained in a separate "expert" set (one can find/replace the appropiate character in Quark, a 'contextual alternates' option is available with opentype fonts in InDesign that would do this automatically. That could account for the differences between the two superscripts even at that resolution. The irregular baseline would be hard work to emulate in Word but this would be possible in Quark or InDesign, or even easier if one edited the font in Fontlab, irregularities in the spacing could also be added this way. The differences between the 1s is quite significant even at this resolution and the difference in height between the 1 and the other numerals, as well as the 7 dropping slightly below the baseline appear consistent with what i've seen in other typewriter fonts. This was done originally to preserve the differentiation between the numerals after several copies specially when used in accounting, therefore the name 'billing figures' which are almost typewrite specific as opposed to "non-lining" (or "old style") and "lining figures" which are the kinds of numerals available these days. The opening at the top of the 4 seems to be consistent with this as well.

Can this documents be produced via digital means?
With MS Word?
Don't think so, too crude a tool
Does this prove anything about the documents?
No, it doesn't
Why did a 'font matching' software, written by one of the 'experts' quoted, identify the font as TNR?
The 'expert' should learn to write better code, when he stops chasing aliens
Should CBS have run the story if the documents were copies that made provenance difficult to determine conclusively?
Were some of the arguments used by WaPo and others to discredit the documents justified given the amount of information that was available at the time?
Don't think so. They simply mirrored CBS' dubious behaviour.

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 6:36 PM | Permalink

I'm amazed that you can base your conclusions on the tiniest imperfections of this multiple-copy-of-a-copy document, compeletely ignoring all the macro evidence, such as the word wrap that matches the default settings of Word precisely, the cumulative error, where, if the size of the letters and spacing were at all different, several strings of characters would be expected to be distinct, given the addition of all the small differences. I could go on, but will leave it there.

As for your proof, which you link from the Daily Kos, it has been completely and utterly debunked. The distinctions between the superscript ligature "th" in Microsoft Word you point to is a result of the distinction between a screen font (what you see on your monitor) and a print font. Print the document on a common laserprinter (such as an HP model) and you will see that the ligature "th" matches the memos precisely.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 6:49 PM | Permalink

Oh yeah, don't take my word for it. Try it yourself and/or check out this Daily Kos link:

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 6:53 PM | Permalink

After reading the Dallas Morning News article:

It is not unlikely that CBS only got the info, and that one of the designers was asked to produce 'visuals' for the broadcast. Even the 'fax' distortions seem photoshoppable. I've seen this done in other occasions (not in the news though). Probably CBS was counting on their reputation as an information source and wasn't expecting the immediate backlash that followed. Which could also explain their reluctancy to reveal provenance. If this is the case it is unlikely that the docs will ever me made available. The PDFs they released were bad even for a scan of a xerox of a fax, and i'm surprised that the WH released copies of the same files themselves.

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 6:54 PM | Permalink

Word wrap:
The spacing (the amount of white space either side of every character) of similar fonts is likely to be the same and is built into the font, in fact the spacing of any digital version is likely to be a legacy of the original version so that copyfitting wouldn't change too much when crossing over from letterpress/photo to digital typesetting, it is modifable by software as i have said above. A line of letterpressed 12pt TNR in 1931 will probably match exactly the same line of 12pt TNR set digitally today. Default margin settings in MS Word are also legacy from typing days, WordPerfect 5.1 is likely to have the same default settings too (1 inch margins either side, 12pt type, single spacing). And I am very aware of the difference between screen and printer fonts, I've designed & altered a few typefaces. There would also be differences if we're talking a truetype or a postcript font.

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 7:14 PM | Permalink

...and i'm surprised that the WH released copies of the same files themselves.

Should read: and i'm surprised that the WH passed on copies of the CBS files CBS gave them.

ABC News World Tonight just interviewed two CBS experts, both denied authenticating the documents. Also reviewed Matley's WaPo statement that he did not authenticate the documents because they are copies.

Mentioned the secretary as interviewed by ABC News but not on camera. She says they are forgeries but represent some of the thinking at the time.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 7:20 PM | Permalink

ABC News has found two more experts that CBS relied on:

Doesn't look good for CBS.

EMILY WILL TO ABC: "I did not feel that they wanted to investigate it very deeply."

LINDA JAMES TO ABC: "I did not authenticate anything and I don't want it to be misunderstood that I did."

Emily Will:

Linda James:

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 7:24 PM | Permalink

I stand corrected, that's what I meant.

It looks like this is finally moving past the typeforensics and getting to the story: CBS and why they released these docs the way they did in the first place.

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 7:38 PM | Permalink


Similar typefaces will be very similar, but they won't be precisely identical. That is why the cumulative evidence is very telling. The smallest differences will add up over a line of text. Furthermore, one would expect such differences, to take into account differing printing technologies. For example, typewriter fonts tend to be a fraction thicker because they have to make good impressions after being struck thousands of times through an ink ribbon. Others have shown variations of Times New Roman that are distinct.

If you have other proof, I would be interested in seeing it.

As for the word wrap, the default margins for Microsoft Word are 1.25 inches on the left and right. Seems rather odd that a memo from 30 years ago would match that exactly. One inch would be plausible. However, even so, that doesn't explain why the words wrap the same way. As a typist, you hear the right margin bell ring and then you make a decision as to whether finish the word, hyphenate or carriage return. It is an amazing coincidence that MS Word matches the same choices of a typist made 30 years ago precisely.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 7:40 PM | Permalink

It is great that the story is moving beyond the typeforensics, but it was the typeforensics that got the story started and remain very important. After all, what are these experts basing their analysis on, if not the typeforensics?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 7:41 PM | Permalink

Default margins (which btw are also very sinilar to the marigins in ruled writing pads) are set to allow for hole-punching and they haven't changed that much you still set similar margins when designing letterhead templates today. The algorythm that determines line/word breaks makes these decisions in a very similar way (there's a 'flush zone' and the software determines whether a word can be hyphenated or it should be taken over to the next line, and the rules that determine english hyphenation have not changed for a while either). I'm not disputing that the documents could've been produced digitally. I'm just trying to say that MS Word is a very crude tool to account for some of the subtleties (even at low resolution). Given the font, the size and the margins, any word-processing or DTP software would produce the same wrap.

PS: No British MSM coverage that i know of so far (even The Guardian, which is very blog-aware as far as i know)

Posted by: Sebastian at September 14, 2004 8:06 PM | Permalink

I suggest a very simple experiment then. Download OpenOffice (it is free and quite a good program) and then retype the memos using the default settings. If they word wrap is identical publish it to the world.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 8:11 PM | Permalink

I severely hope we move past questions of whether the documents are frauds and forgeries. They are.

There are, I think, a number of questions that should be answered after that. Not all will be, I'm sure. Three off the top of my head concerning the story:

1. What happens at CBS News? Do Mapes and Rather get a pass (in Rather's case, again)? Ultimately, only CBS can answer that.

2. Jay mentions: "Right inside the door of the CBS scandal there is a Dirty Tricks scandal waiting to come to light." Someone, USA Today mebbe, will break the source of the documents and theorize on motivations.

3. Does the content of the memo concerning Bush's Guard service move the story forward, backward or is ignored as fruit of the poisoned tree. By forward or backward, there are of course partisan vectors and truth vectors involved in that answer.

From the undercards view:

What has changed really? Is it now easier, more acceptable, to cite or credit blogs in MSM work? Will journalists/reporters contact bloggers with certain backgrounds for "expert" opinion, besides on just blogging? Will they float trial theories, or draft stories with bloggers on the Left/Right or in a certain specialty to get the correct vocabulary and dissent/comments? Will they check quotes and develop stories using a blog format for pre-publication and how does that impact an economic system based on secrecy?

Lot's of questions. Very few new.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 8:20 PM | Permalink

Sebastian and Ernest,

Quick question, what were the Air Force/TexANG margins by regulation?

How would 1931 12pt TNR be identical to True Type TNR? And how would you compare font glyphs after they have been scanned (raster) and put into an Adobe pdf?

My question, really, is: Are the micro characteristics really only interesting in a cumulative/macro sense?

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 8:29 PM | Permalink

I would suppose lack of coverage overseas is just to do with the fact that Rather is not an important figure outside America, British tabloid journalism has inured them to scandals of this sort (Rather wasn't caught having sex with his horse), and perhaps the whole National Guard/Vietnam thing just isn't very relevant outside the U.S. (post-Clinton, I have to wonder why it's relevant *inside* the U.S.)

Posted by: Brian at September 14, 2004 9:05 PM | Permalink

Guardian on Rathergate. Also this.

Posted by: Tim at September 14, 2004 9:19 PM | Permalink

ABC News is showing that CBS has fallen to a new low. Honestly, I find it difficult to believe this is true, but ABC News is reporting it.

Two of the document experts hired by CBS News now say the network ignored concerns they raised prior to the broadcast of 60 Minutes II about the disputed National Guard records attributed to Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

Emily Will, a veteran document examiner from North Carolina, told ABC News she saw problems right away with the one document CBS hired her to check the weekend before the broadcast.

"I found five significant differences in the questioned handwriting, and I found problems with the printing itself as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter," she said.

Will says she sent the CBS producer an e-mail message about her concerns and strongly urged the network the night before the broadcast not to use the documents.

"I told them that all the questions I was asking them on Tuesday night, they were going to be asked by hundreds of other document examiners on Thursday if they ran that story," Will said.

Here is CBS's response:

"CBS News did not rely on either Emily Will or Linda James for a final assessment of the documents regarding George Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Ms. Will and Ms. James were among a group of experts we consulted to assess one of the four documents used in the report and they did not render definitive judgment on that document. Ultimately, they played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert who examined all four of the documents used," the network said in a statement.

"Most importantly, the content of the documents was backed up by our reporting and our sources who knew the thoughts and behavior of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian at the time," the statement said.

Umm, how long is CBS News going to continue this charade that they are a responsible news organization? And, where are these other experts?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 9:35 PM | Permalink

Dallas News breaks the story. The CBS memos are forged, but they accurately reconstruct the content of Killian's memos and views. So says his former typist and secretary who says he had a locked CYA file.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 9:39 PM | Permalink

Sorry, another link failure.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 9:40 PM | Permalink

At what point do the members of a news organization have an ethical duty or responsibility to speak out against their own organization? Shouldn't those who claim to be journalists hold themselves to a higher standard? Shouldn't they demand the same of the organization to which they belong? Reporters rely on ethical individuals in other institutions to blow the whistle when there are critical lapses. Where are the journalistic whistleblowers at CBS? What CBS reporter has the courage to say that their organization is engaged in an ongoing violation of basic journalistic ethics?

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 10:07 PM | Permalink

Ernest asks Umm, how long is CBS News going to continue this charade...


I am reminded of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, who perfected the Comical Ali defense. Remember him? The former Iraqi Information minister -- now the unofficial mascot whose philosophically absurd "You are not reading this" graces their home page.

Posted by: sbw at September 14, 2004 10:13 PM | Permalink

I think this is now a crisis in journalism. Seriously.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 11:16 PM | Permalink

While we rake CBS over the coals for being taken on the documents, we also have to get used to the idea that they have been proven right on the substance:

Bush has been lying about his guard service for years now. His honorable discharge is another undeserved badge of privilege. What does it tell us about his character that he has lied about his service as recently as this term in office?

In other words, the White House meme that these are old charges simply tells you how long he has been successfully lying and stonewalling.

Why has it worked? Because Republicans wanted to believe. They just couldn't accept the smirking, pock-marked truth about our boy-king. Start preparing your acceptance speech.

Posted by: Ben Franklin at September 14, 2004 11:17 PM | Permalink

From the NY Times story tonight:

Officials at CBS News said on Tuesday that they would at some point in the day provide the name of a document expert who expressed confidence in the records' authenticity before the report was broadcast. But they did not do so, and Ms. West declined to say why.

Officials also did not say why they did not report doubts about the documents' authenticity in their initial report.

Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 14, 2004 11:59 PM | Permalink

The LA Times:,1,1366024.story

Here is the title of the piece:
Rather Rides Out Latest Partisan Storm

That is friggin' insulting. As if this isn't about standards of reporting. The whole article is friggin' insulting, but points out that Rather will contineu to maintain the authenticity of the documents.


Posted by: Ernest Miller at September 15, 2004 12:10 AM | Permalink

Thanks for the Guardian link, i was just looking at the headlines i got through the RSS feed

I couldn't agree more, this is a crisis in journalism
in many ways

Posted by: Sebastian at September 15, 2004 8:21 AM | Permalink

Another Phony Scoop ("The Wall Within", Rather, 1988, Vietnam vets)

More background on Vietnam Media bias linked here.

Posted by: Tim at September 15, 2004 1:04 PM | Permalink

From the Intro