Monday, September 13, 2004

With questions of typography, superscript and proportional spacing filtering through cyberspace over the past week, it seems fairly clear that the memos CBS revealed on “60 Minutes II” are in fact forgeries. Allegedly written by the late Col. Jerry Killian, the memos’ supporters hope they will strengthen the case against President Bush — that he received preferential treatment and that he disobeyed direct orders while in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. Yet efforts to prove the memos’ authenticity fail on two major levels.

First, on the substantive level, the memos reference a Col. Walter Staudt, who, according to one memo dated Aug. 18, 1973, exerted pressure on Col. Killian to “sugar coat” Lt. Bush’s record. Though Col. Staudt hasn’t returned media inquiries, the Dallas Morning News reported from official records that he was honorably discharged from the Guard on March 1, 1972.

The letterhead of the memos is also highly questionable, as Byron York of National Review has reported. According to Mr. Bush’s records released by the White House, not one bears the letterhead as seen on the CBS memos, which read “111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron/P.O. Box 34567/Houston, Texas 77034.” Col. Killian’s signature is also markedly different from the CBS memos and the records released by the White House. On the official records, Col. Killian’s signature says, “JERRY B. KILLIAN, Lt. Colonel, TexA[ir]N[ational]G[uard].” On the CBS memos, however, Col. Killian’s signature is limited to simply “Lt. Colonel” or “Lt. Colonel/Commander,” without referencing his affiliation with the Texas Air National Guard. One memo even applies the AFM 35-13 regulation to Mr. Bush’s failure to report for a physical. There was no AFM 35-13 regulation governing physicals. What Col. Killian, highly qualified officer that he was, probably meant was AFR 160-43, which did apply to physicals. The memos also fail on a number of then-standard formatting matters. One we’ll note is that the abbreviation for Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS) includes a period after each letter. Periods were not used for Air Force abbreviations.

As numerous Web logs (“blogs”) have reported, on a technical level the memos fail nearly every applicable test. On the matter of the memos’ use of superscript — the technology that allows a “th” or an “st” to be slightly smaller and elevated in relation to its modified word — no typewriter in 1972 in common usage had a key that allowed a user to employ superscript. CBS contends that in fact there were a few models that had a superscript capability (but even those didn’t elevate the “th” nearly as high as it appeared on the memo CBS used to corroborate its story). Yet, as the critics rightly note, it is exceedingly unlikely that Col. Killian had one either in his ANG office or at home. (Microsoft Word, by the way, automatically superscripts “th” unless told otherwise.) Concerning the memos’ use of the Times New Roman (TNR) typeface, CBS contends that TNR was invented in 1931. Fine. But, again as the numerous critics counter, TNR was not in use on typewriters in 1972, as it was almost exclusively used by publishing houses. (Coincidentally, TNR is the default typeface for Microsoft Word.) The memos are also written using proportional-spaced font, a technique that allows letters to be spaced in accordance to their size. Common typewriters generally used mono-spaced font, which gave each letter equal width, and provides the documents their “typewriter” appearance. (Proportional-spaced font is standard practice for Word.)

These brief examples by no means exhaust the critics’ arguments. Put bluntly, they reveal that: 1) the likelihood that Col. Killian possessed a typewriter that could perform the then-highly technical tasks seen in these memos is so remote as to render the suggestion absurd; and 2) Microsoft Word performs all the disputed technical aspects of the memos automatically.

Yet, despite the breadth of evidence against the authenticity of these memos, CBS, and in particular Dan Rather, refuse to conduct an internal investigation. Mr. Rather even suggested on Friday that the critics are just “partisan political operatives.” In the same segment, Mr. Rather added, “The 60 Minutes report was based not solely on the recovered documents, but on a preponderance of evidence … If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far there is none.”

Wrong, Mr. Rather. Instead of a “preponderance of evidence” suggesting these memos are authentic, there is in fact clear and convincing evidence that they are forgeries. CBS is willfully ignoring the good investigative work of the blogosphere, from which we have detailed the various arguments. If CBS and Mr. Rather continue to do so, then they will have undermined the public’s trust in their objective reporting and dishonored the journalism profession.

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