Sunday, September 12, 2004

A few weeks ago, Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe was on PBS’ “Newshour” explaining why the hundreds

of Swift boat veterans’ allegations against John Kerry’s conduct in Vietnam was unworthy of his attention.

“The standard of clear and convincing evidence,” he said, talking to Swiftvet John O’Neill as if to a backward fourth-grader, “is what keeps this story in the tabloids — because it does not meet basic standards.”

Last week we got a good idea of what Mr. Oliphant’s “basic standards” are. Dan Rather and the elderly gentlemen at CBS’ “60 Minutes” were all a-twitter because they had come into possession of some hitherto undiscovered memos relating to whether George W. Bush failed to show up for his physical in the War of 1812. The media had been flogging this dead horse all spring, but these newly “discovered” memos had jump-started the old nag just enough to get him on his knees long enough for the media to flog him all over again.

Unfortunately for CBS, Mr. Rather’s hairdresser sucks up so much of the budget there was nothing left for any fact-checking, so the “60 Minutes” crew rushed on air with a damning National Guard memo conveniently called “CYA,” which Mr. Bush’s commanding officer had written to himself 32 years ago. “This was too hot not to push,” one producer told the American Spectator.

Hundreds of living Swiftvets who signed affidavits and are prepared to testify on camera — that’s way too cold to push; we would want to fact-check that one thoroughly, until, say, midway through John Kerry’s second term. But a handful of memos by one dead guy slipped to us by a Kerry campaign operative — that meets “basic standards” and we gotta get it out there right away.

The only problem was the memo. Amazingly, this guy at the Air National Guard base, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, had the only typewriter in Texas in 1973 using a prototype version of the default letter-writing program of Microsoft Word, complete with the tiny little superscript thingy that automatically changes July 4th to July 4th. To do that on most 1973 typewriters, you had to unscrew the keys, grab a hammer and give them a couple of thwacks to make the “t” and “h” squish up all tiny, and even then it looked a bit wonky.

You would think having such a unique typewriter, Lt. Col. Killian would have used a less easily traceable model for his devastating “CYA” memo. Also, he might have chosen a font other than Times New Roman, designed for The Times of London in the 1930s and not licensed to Microsoft by Rupert Murdoch (The Times’ owner) until the 1980s.

Lt. Col. Killian is no longer around to confirm his extraordinary Magic Typewriter, but his son denied the stuff was written by his dad and his widow said her late husband never typed. So, on the one hand, we have hundreds of living veterans with chapter and verse on John Kerry’s fantasy Christmas in Cambodia, and, on the other hand, we have a guy who has been dead 20 years but is still capable of operating Windows XP.

It took the savvy chappies at the Powerline Web site and Charles Johnson of “Little Green Footballs” about 20 minutes to spot the eerily 2004 look of the 1972 memo, and various Internet wallahs spent the rest of the day tracking down the country’s leading typewriter identification experts.

Bombarded with accusations CBS had fallen for an obvious hoax, Dan turned to his trusty Smith-Corona and bashed out a few e-mails: “For the umpteenth time,” he said angrily, “this is the kind of sleaze I had to put up with when they scoffed at ‘What’s the frequency, Kenneth?’ ”

Are Dan Rather and “60 Minutes” a bunch of patsies suckered by the Kerry campaign? Not exactly. According to the American Spectator, “The CBS producer said that 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, but producers chose to move ahead with the story.” Hey, why not? Who’s gonna spot it? If CBS says it’s so, that’s good enough for Thomas Oliphant’s Boston Globe, the New York Times and The Washington Post, all of whom rushed the story on to their front pages because it met their “basic standards.”

On Friday morning, Paul Krugman, the New York Times’ excitable economist, filed a column called, “The dishonesty thing,” and for one moment I thought he was about to upbraid CBS for rushing on air with their laughably fake memos. But no, he was droning on about how the National Guard story demonstrated George W. Bush’s “pattern of lies: his assertions that he fulfilled his obligations when he obviously didn’t. …”

The tragedy for Messrs. Rather, Oliphant, Krugman and Co. is that even if the memos were authentic nobody would care. Their boy John Kerry had a crummy August not because he didn’t hammer Mr. Bush for being AWOL in the Spanish-American War but because the senator is AWOL in the present war. Big Media are trashing their own reputations in service to a man who can never win.

After the 2002 election, I wrote, “Remind me never to complain about ‘liberal media bias’ again. Right now, liberal media bias is conspiring to assist the Democrats to sleepwalk over the cliff.” The media and the Democrats sustain each other’s make-believe land. Dan Rather tell his staff, “Kerry’s told me there’s nothing to this Swiftvet thing.” Mr. Kerry tells his staff, “Rather’s assured me this Swiftvet story’s going nowhere.” George W. Bush ought to wake up every morning and thank the Lord the media aren’t on his side.

Remember the Hitler Diaries? They turned up in the 1980s. The only problem is they weren’t by Adolf Hitler. But by then various prestige publications had paid a fortune to serialize them. Among them was the Sunday Times of London, owned by Mr. Murdoch, who wasn’t happy.

He called the editor, Frank Giles, into his office, and said, “Frank, I’m promoting you to editor emeritus.”

“I’ve always wondered, what ‘editor emeritus’ means,” murmured Frank. “The ‘e-‘ means you’ve been given the elbow and the ‘-meritus’ means you bloody deserve it,” said Mr. Murdoch.

I have a feeling after November CBS News will promote Dan Rather to editor emeritus. Either that, or next week’s “60 Minutes” — “Exclusive. Handwriting expert says Bush wrote the Hitler Diaries” — will have much better fact-checking.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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