Monday, 20 September 2004

CBS: “Misled”

Howard Kurtz reports that CBS is preparing to issue a statement that may (or may not) concede the documents are forgeries and may (or may not) apologize to the viewing public, the president, and/or Viacom shareholders for either (a) failing to properly vet the documents or (b) spending ten days stonewalling while all confidence the memos were real evaporated.

Meanwhile, Daniel Weiner advances a hypothesis about Memogate’s originsBaseball Crank) while Sean Hackbarth wonders why nobody’s asking questions about USA Today’s role in the affair.

Wednesday, 15 September 2004

FedEx Kinko's: When it absolutely, positively has to be forged overnight

The Washington Post reports that the Bush guard memos were faxed to CBS News from a Kinko’s location in Abilene, Texas, which just happens to be down the road from Bill Burkett’s home.

On the other hand, it’s possible that CBS producer Marla Mary Mapes (or some other person working on the story) faxed the documents to New York herself while in Abilene pursuing the story, and Burkett was uninvolved. So it’s hardly a smoking gun as to the source of the documents.

Also, the WaPo account quotes, on its jump page, a comment (attributed to Bill Burkett, although there’s no way to authenticate that it is genuine) from this comment thread at Steve Verdon’s weblog, Deinonychus antirrhopus. Interesting… (þ OTB)

Update: Via Jim Glass in comments at Tom Maguire’s place, WaPo writer Howie Kurtz has part of an interview with Rather:

"If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story," Rather said in an interview last night. "Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.' "

Glass says “It's a little late for that, Dan.” Six days and counting, I think.


“60 Minutes II” doesn’t air in Jackson until 1:35 a.m. overnight (in its place was some sort of TV movie). What does my TiVo program guide say is on the show?

A hoax some consider responsible for helping launch the war in Iraq; actors Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker talk about their life and marriage.

Signifying Nothing has obtained a copy of the “hoax” originally scheduled to be presented before Rathergate started:

Forged letter from Saddam Hussein to his personal file.

It’s all so obvious now.

Update: Here’s a genuine image from the CBS website that apparently comes from the “picture worth a thousand words” department:

Dig deeper, indeed.

Of course, that’s Dan’s boot on the shovel.

New spin

As anticipated, CBS’s new defense is that the sentiments expressed in the memos are real, even if the documents themselves are forgeries.

In other words, the memos were real before they were fake.

Plus, I think CBS and Dan Rather might be upset that George W. Bush outsourced their camels.

RatherGate explained

Now it all makes sense:

I’ll bet that Dan Rather didn’t get to sleep with Jennifer Garner.

Life is rough like that sometimes…

Denial isn't just a building on West 57th Street

Colby Cosh nominates a post by Evan Kirchhoff, no Bush fan, as “Best Thing Written On The Subject” of RatherGate. I tend to agree; go read the whole thing, as it’s absolutely merciless throughout. Meanwhile, Susanna Cornett dismisses the idea of Republican dirty tricks, apparently the “out” CBS is going to use for this scandal, as being rather (pardon the pun) lame:

As for the Republicans engineering it… please! Doesn’t CBS realize how thoroughly pathetic and childish that makes them sound? First, it’s very clear that the documents wouldn’t pass serious scrutiny at any time, so even if the Republicans did engineer it, I don’t think even they would have assumed CBS would actually take them seriously! They would have credited CBS with more intelligence, which would have obviously been a flagrant error. Second, if the Republicans were to have engineered this, they would have done a much better job of it. Finally, and actually most importantly, despite the efforts of the MSM to convey the opposite impression, I don’t think the Republicans play that dirty (at least in that arena).

Evan Kirchhoff also has some free advice for his fellow Democrats:

I’ll let you in on a secret: until the recent memo fiesta, I was 100% certain that Bush was AWOL in some sense from something at some point in Texas, since I vaguely remember this going around once or twice before (insert typical rumor about alternative service with Captain J. Daniels, if you know what I mean). Thanks to the CBS/DNC revisitation of the issue, I have boringly learned that there was some kind of flex-time system that operated with an annual “points” scale, and apparently (as I understand this) if you look at Bush’s attendance points, they line up adequately. So now I’m apathetic about AWOL at both the regular and the meta-level.

Currently there are about 7 weeks remaining until the election. If you like, you can spend another two or three of them trying to reverse this conclusion, and if you dig hard enough you might discover that Bill Gates has a time machine he hasn’t previously disclosed to shareholders. But I really think you ought to consider the pure opportunity cost of that project, because with the month nearly half over, it’s starting to look like the entire campaign plan for September consisted of a handful of pseudo-kerned .doc files and Kitty Kelley’s Bush the Coke-Huffing Monkey.

While they’re at it, the DNC might also want to look into finding some campaign workers who actually know what John Kerry stands for. Now, granted, that’s perhaps difficult given Kerry’s own Heisenbergian tendencies, but at least some minor effort on that front would be nice.

Monday, 13 September 2004


I could have sworn I linked Michael Totten last night. Grr… Michael Munger has thoughts in a similar vein today, although I think the more likely explanation (here comes Occam again) is that some deranged, historically clueless anti-Bush person produced the documents—and they’d have gone nowhere if 60 Minutes had done anything approaching due diligence. To believe that anyone planted the documents to discredit the AWOL charges (something that I find nearly impossible to believe could be done, given the other uncertainties in Bush’s records during the era anyway) requires the following assumptions on the part of the forger:

  • The person who gave the documents to CBS could never be traced back to the forger (i.e. Bush operatives).
  • Someone (CBS) would believe the documents were genuine at first glance, despite all the anachronistic features of the documents.
  • CBS would not consult any experts in document authenticity, or even if they did, the experts would be too stupid (or too in hock to CBS) to figure out the documents were anachronistic.
  • Other people, with fewer resources than CBS, would figure out the documents were fake.

The first three steps require some sort of Jedi mind control on the part of (presumably) Karl Rove, which is a completely idiotic belief on the basis of Lawrence’s Rule (if nothing else).

Anyway, I think the truth about Bush’s National Guard assignment—and the truth about a lot of things that go on in elite politics and in the South—is embodied in this statement by Virginia Postrel:

I also think that Bush got special treatment, probably without anyone having to ask for it. Given his family's connections and the way Texas operates like a small town, people would have looked out for him.

I made a similar point about Clinton during all of his scandals: he didn’t “suborn perjury” from his supporters—they’d have lied for him without his asking, or his (or anyone else’s) needing to ask. There are limits; this sort of thing wouldn’t happen if you killed someone in cold blood, for example,* but it’s a cornerstone of small-town dynamics that many fail to appreciate.


Dean Esmay is right; anyone speculating in public over the identity of the “memo forger” without evidence is (a) an idiot and more importantly (b) doing the exact same crap CBS pulled in the first place—making charges based on stuff that could just be made up. Sheesh. (þ OTB)

Saturday, 11 September 2004

The Torricelli Option

In comments at The Captain’s Quarters, “Judge Crater” writes:

There seems to be no amount of time that is too small (at least in New Jersey) to invoke the “Torricelli Option”.
With the RNC so late, Bush had problems as it was in Illinois. I can’t imagine trying to pull the “Torricelli Option” off in 50 states.

To effectively replace a presidential candidate, you don’t have to exercise the “Torricelli Option”; all that has to happen is the Democratic electors have to agree to support a single candidate when the Electoral College meets in December. A few electors might run foul of “faithless elector” laws if they supported someone other than Kerry, but (to my knowledge) nobody has ever been seriously punished for violating them—and, besides, the deed will have been done, as there’s no way to revoke the vote of a faithless elector.

Besides which, the odds of this happening are about zero; even if Kerry melts down due to blowback from Rathergate (a prospect that’s dubious at best, unless it turns out some higher-up in the campaign typed the memos himself), it’s hard to believe any Democrat consensus candidate could emerge other than Edwards, who’s already on record as lending credence to the memos.

Friday, 10 September 2004

Worst. Forgery. Ever?

Bruce Rolston notes that all four memos raising questions about George W. Bush’s service reproduce exactly in Microsoft Word (þ Colby Cosh). As he says, one could buy one memo looking exactly like a Word document on the basis of coincidence… but four? That seems pretty implausible to me, at least.

What about the Selectric Composer—could Killian have used it? That’s not very likely either. And, you too can be a handwriting expert for the day. (Both links to Jeff Harrell’s The Shape of Days.)

Update: Surely if CBS lies to its interview subjects they would’t also lie to the American people, would they? And surely CBS would tell us if the guy allegedly pressuring Killian had retired 18 months before the memo was allegedly written? Right? Bueller?


A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network's sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents' alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. He said a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone and Hodges replied that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."

"These documents represent what Killian not only was putting in memoranda, but was telling other people," the CBS News official said. "Journalistically, we've gone several extra miles."

The official said the network regarded Hodges's comments as "the trump card" on the question of authenticity, as he is a Republican who acknowledged that he did not want to hurt Bush. Hodges, who declined to grant an on-camera interview to CBS, did not respond to messages left on his home answering machine in Texas.

So the “trump card,” Hodges, didn’t actually verify the documents’ authenticity (and CBS went out of its way to tell him the memos were in Killian’s handwriting), and Staudt was apparently only able to influence the Guard in 1973 via telepathy.

I suppose the good news is they didn't rig anything to explode (yet). And it's not like 60 Minutes has a record of basing stories on fake memos or anything:

In 1999, "60 Minutes" apologized, as part of a legal settlement with a Customs Service official, for reporting on a memo that was later found to be fake."

Oh, scratch that one then.


I think this whole “forged documents” thing is taking off.

Meanwhile, Occam’s Razor suggests that the theory that the documents might not be forged (discussed by Gary Farber) is unlikely. I find it difficult to believe that by coincidence, someone would produce a document with a 1973 typewriter that would look essentially identical to the output of the copy of Microsoft Word 2002 on my desk, down to the inter-letter spacing [not the kerning - Ed.], superscripting of the ordinal “th,” and margins, or that someone would go to the trouble of purchasing a non-standard typewriter ball for a military-issue typewriter (were these golfballs even in the GSA contract with IBM?) and install it just to write memos about a particular officer for filing—but switch back to the standard one for other correspondence. (But Gary is to be commended for at least taking the time to seriously think about this, something a lot of people haven’t done.)

I think Colby Cosh nails it in a sentence:

If the reports are accurate, CBS—estimated annual news budget: one squillion dollars—has been taken in by a fraud that, roughly speaking, anybody over the age of 30 in the industrialized world could have spotted.

Of course, I strongly suspect the people doing the real legwork on this story either (a) are like my students and don’t remember an era before ubiquitous computing or (b) are folks like Dan Rather who haven’t touched a typewriter in 30 years. Speaking of Dan, CBS News is saying we don’t need no—investigation. That stand, er, does not seem wise.

Thursday, 9 September 2004

Forge it real good

This post is by request from a reader. Never let it be said that Signifying Nothing is indifferent to its audience.

Interesting: it seems that at least some of the documents that are raising questions about George W. Bush’s service (or lack thereof) in the National Guard are forgeries (☣ Little Green Footballs).

Incidentally, I duplicated the experiment here with my copy of Word 2002 SP 3 at work, and also came up with an identically laid-out memo. (The date is indented four inches, if you want to try it yourself.) What may be most interesting about this experiment is not the typeface*—although the “smart ordinal” feature is something of a giveaway—but the default margins, which are 1.25 inches on each side in Word, a size that is relatively atypical.

Does this mean the whole story is fake? Probably not. But it does mean that Democratic operatives need to catch up in the forgery department to the French intelligence services.