Saturday, September 11, 2004

Typewriter Science

Update: Below, where I reposted Slate Fray messages, I say in two places that independent experts should examine CBS's original Killian documents. However, CBS doesn't have the originals, according to this excerpt from the end of an LA Times story on the controversy:

Howard Rile of Long Beach, former president of the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, cautioned against feverish vetting of the memos without seeing the originals and other documents produced at the same time and place.

That could be difficult because CBS says it does not have the original memos.

"We shouldn't have to be be doing this over the Internet," Rile said. "This sounds like a case that could be resolved very quickly if you get the evidence and examine it; if you get the original."

CBS has made the same mistake so many blogs and conservative radio talkers are making -- coming to conclusions about a document's authenticity (and it's only one document of the four that that is being challenged) without looking at the original. With the original, one could assess the age of the paper, perhaps test the ink, see the way the letters are embedded into the paper by the typewriter's keys, and so on.

Where is the original? Without it, we're stuck in a rounds of circumstantial analysis and counterarguments, which no doubt is part of the point with Bush backers. Because even without the one memo, there are enough facts to clearly show that George Bush got into the guard because of his connections, and that as time went on, he became increasingly indifferent to his obligation. He was a spoiled and aimless rich kid from one of the most politically connected families in the country.

I just read a summary of the Killian memo debate in a Slate piece by Josh Levin. I've posted a response to that article, followed by a reply to a Fray poster who responded to my response. Here are those posts, edited a bit for clarity (changes appear in italics), with links to the originals I put up in Slate.
Subject:Further Updates: Or More You Need to Know
Date:Sep 11 2004 5:23AM

From The Boston Globe, "Authenticity backed on Bush documents" By Francie Latour and Michael Rezendes, September 11, 2004:

After CBS News on Wednesday trumpeted newly discovered documents that referred to a 1973 effort to "sugar coat" President Bush's service record in the Texas Air National Guard, the network almost immediately faced charges that the documents were forgeries, with typography that was not available on typewriters used at that time.

But specialists interviewed by the Globe and some other news organizations say the specialized characters used in the documents, and the type format, were common to electric typewriters in wide use in the early 1970s, when Bush was a first lieutenant.

Read More at:

See also, Daily Kos

Unless and until an expert examines the original documents in CBS's possession, and not PDF's downloaded from the Net, the forgery claims have little basis in anything but speculation. And many of the bloggers who jump-started the discussion are getting their facts wrong (for example claiming that no typewriter existed at that time that could create superscripted "th" of the type found in the documents), and are making observations that are beside the point (They can replicate the layout and font with Microsoft Word. Well yeah, that's what a font is supposed to do, look the same whenever it's used. So what's the point?)

Slate Fray Link:

Reply to a Fray Post by gadfly19

Subject:RE: Further Updates: Or More You Need to Know
Date:Sep 11 2004 6:30AM

I agree with your observations, generally. A few thoughts:

I think the best way, perhaps the only way, to help settle it --there will be groups that are never satified-- is for CBS News to share the original documents with independent examiners.

As for Killian's family, I feel for them. It's got to be painful to have someone you love, who has beed deceased for so long, cast posthumously into this debate about events from over 30 years ago. That said, it's very possible that they're wrong. Or put another way, as much as you love and know a person, there's often a lot you don't know about their day-to-day lives at work. I know my wife, for example, whom I'm very close to, doesn't know everything I do at work, what I write, and so on. I know the family claims aren't that simple, but I can see where it's possible that they might believe to the point of absolute certitude that the Killian wouldn't have held or written the views in the documents, but they could well be wrong.

And yet, for all that, here's where I agree with you most: Even if the documents are proved indisputedly genuine or undoubtedly forged, we're still not left with a serious discussion of current issues. I'd rather have that discussion than this campaign coverage reduced to a bad episode of Cold Case.

Can some reporter, any reporter, just ask each candidate this: You've said we're at war with terror, but terror is a tactic. And to say we're at war with terrorists, people who commit terror acts, is circular. Who are these people? What is their ideology? And how do we successfully end this war with them?

Slate Fray Link:

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