Are CBS’s Documents Real?

Questions, credible ones, swirl about the authenticity and provenance of the Lt. Col. Jerry Killian documents revealed by CBS.

There are very odd things about these papers. Yet, the case for forgery is lessened, I think, by the White House's failure to claim the documents are not real. That said, I have no faith at all in arguments that claim 'if this were a forgery they surely would have done a better job'—carelessness is rampant in the world.

Document authentication not being my forte, I'm just going to link here to anything interesting I read on the subject. I'll update this post in the next day or two if I find more interesting stuff.

  • Powerline jumps all over them
  • CBS stands by its documents, and a former colleague of Col. Killian's thinks they are real. Col. Killian's son, however, doubts they are real.
  • Warblogging.com looks at the technical issues, the possible motivations for forgery
  • The Washington Post interviews experts dubious about the documents
  • At “The Blogging of the President: 2004”, Stirling Newberry summarizes the ways in which the documents look too modern and then offers and evaluates various hypotheses as to how they came to be that way. Most plausible:

    Any expert worth his salt would look at the signatures we see, and the difficulties in producing the documents contemporaneously, and scratch his head. However, if there are hard originals – that is typed or hand written originals – and these are the readable typed or “fair” copies, then the problem vanishes. CBS saw the real things, can't release them (off the record), but can release documents which, while not originals, are copies which have the same content in them, prepared by Killian (his signature on them). They are on solid ground, with provenence, and the holders of the originals – whoever they are – are not bothered by nagging questions of how they got those originals. CBS protects confidentiality, and if need be, can prove that yes, these things are legitimate.

Update1: The Spectator claims that 'a retired military officer' has been peddling these documents for weeks and that the Kerry campaign may have passed them on to CBS.

Update2: First Draft, Now I'm a 'Document Expert', Too finds superscripts in old National Guard documents

Also CBS News has reiterated its full confidence in the authenticity of the documents. Dan Rather said, “The story is true” and “no retraction has been discussed, nor should it be.”

This entry was posted in Politics: US: GW Bush Scandals. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Are CBS’s Documents Real?

  1. Pingback: Infothought

  2. John says:

    My tin foil hat theory: they are forgeries, prepared by the Bush campaign.

  3. You joke, but I think its a matter of time. Evidently the powers that be gauge elections these days to determine if we John Q’s are in a pro-hate or anti-hate campaign mood, and choose whether or not to go negative in response…not a huge leap to suggest a 527 against your own campaign in an anti-negative campaigning moment…not that anyone in America seems to have a problem with attack ads at the moment.

    The sad thing, I think, about the debate over the George Bush Hitler Diaries, is it detracts from the most obvious question of character to be brought up in this argument about conduct 3 decades old…this nation had a major shortage of pilots. GW was a pilot. How in the name of God do you justify going to work on a political campaign in Alabama?

    I have no doubt Kerry, given his background, would’ve had little trouble avoiding the conflict in Viet Nam and his active part in it. George Bush clearly and admittedly took advantage of every family contact he could find to do so. Now I quite frankly can’t see the relevance of any of this, but if they gave Kerry a medal for a papercut and he was the gilligan of the swift boat fleet, you still have the fact that one went and served and the other hid out. Where’s the character debate beyond that point?

  4. Deb Hendrickson says:

    In the memorandum suspending Bush from flying, the capital “v” in Vietnam is floating above the line. I’m inclined to question the competence of a “document expert” who didn’t notice that.

    A document off a word processor wouldn’t have offset characters lilke that, it’s something that only happens with mechanical printing.

    The unevenness of the ink also makes me think “typewriter”, unless the ink could have faded (but if they’re recent forgeries, it wouldn’t have had time).

    Didn’t see any other capital v’s in the documents, so I don’t know if all the documents were typed on the same machine, but the typeface is the same, so they likely were.

    Just some observations from a non-expert.

    Deb

  5. Ted says:

    Another non-expert observation. The memo Deb Hendrickson discusses suspending Bush from flying definitely looks typed. The thing that bothers me is how the “J” and “K” in signature to that memo looks totally, strikingly different from those in the memo ordering Bush to report for flight physical.

    Of course Prowler is non-credible, but I shudder to think that there might be some basis to the story you link to. This is just the kind of nightmare scenario that we Dems have been conditioned to dread.

  6. I’ve heard several thoughtful people advance the “Rove theory.” I’m not convinced. Rove knows all about source amnesia. People will remember what the memos said and forget any confusion about their authenticity. That’s more or less what happened in the Swift Boat scandal. Lingering doubts attach to Kerry even though the the entire episode was debunked thoroughly and repeatedly. In the case of the SwiftVets, the Republicans looked very bad for having incited people to lie. The Democrats won’t look nearly so venal if it turns out they believed false reports on 60 minutes.

  7. Michael says:

    I’ll leave aside the look of the documents. I’m trained as a linguist, and married to a former professional typesetter, and to be frank, I can’t decide either way , since my memory of Selectric typewriters isn’t telling me just what one could or couldn’t do in ’72/’73 (the ones I used seemed like magic compared to my good old Olympia portable), and pdf reproduction isn’t necessarily good enough to draw conclusions from. What I’d like to know is: has anyone given the same kind of attention to the documents that the White House disingenuously produced, without comment, within hours of the CBS broadcast (after having claimed that no further documents existed)? I haven’t seen them and am not clear as to what their contents are, but shouldn’t the level of scrutiny be just as intense? Anybody know where they are?

  8. John says:

    I’ve heard several thoughtful people advance the “Rove theory.” I’m not convinced. Rove knows all about source amnesia. People will remember what the memos said and forget any confusion about their authenticity. That’s more or less what happened in the Swift Boat scandal.

    *TINFOILHAT*

    While my first post was not entirely serious, I do think that the “Rove theory” does merit thoughtful consideration in part because this matter is distinguishable from the Swiftvet matter.

    There, the Swiftvets exist solely to peddle their claims, and continue to do so in the face of contrary evidence. In the mainstream media, the veracity of their claims was handled with kid gloves, as though it represented one valid side of a balanced debate. The evaluative process was so drawn out and shaped in such a way that the actual discrediting was an afterthought, hardly trumpeted, and by then the message to be drawn from the episode by the casual viewer was “Weren’t there questions about Kerry’s military service?” Thus, something is created from nothing.

    Here, unlike the made-up questions in the Swiftvet affair, Bush has definite issues with respect to 1972-73. Despite the fact that these memos do not really tell us anything that cannot already be confirmed by analysis of the available record, as the AWOL project shows, (and despite the fact that it appears the WH, in its doctored Press Gaggle transcript, has implicitly acknowledged the accuracy of the memos’ contents), we nevertheless have, one day after 60 Minutes airs the story, above-the-fold headlines regarding questions about the authenticity of the memos. Why does this discrediting process deserve immediate and extensive coverage, unlike the Swiftvets? Perhaps it is because the target of the discrediting is a major network and news outlet – media outlets have a competitive interest in covering this enthusiastically. The story is now about falsified evidence and the duping of a major network, not Bush’s failures to complete service requirements. I submit that the focus of the coverage on the question about the memos’ authenticity will generate a “content amnesia” or at least “content blurring”, so that the message casual viewers will draw from this episode will not be “Weren’t there questions about Bush’s service?” but rather “Wasn’t it shown that questions about Bush’s service were falsified?” Thus, something is rendered to nothing.

    */TINFOILHAT*

  9. Dem says:

    Michael: What the W.H. produced were copies of what they got from CBS. The early stories made it sound like they found the same docs on their own … they didn’t.

    Still don’t know whether these were forgeries, but I’m starting to warm to the tinfoil theory that they are Republican plants. Listening to how Clear Channel news (always a reliable source for the RNC view of the news) dealt with them today made me realize just how powerful this will be for Bush.

    First, even without these docs the case that Bush was AWOL in 1972 is solid, but it requires a detailed reading of the docs. However, if a set of “smoking gun” documents hailed by CBS turn out to be forgeries, Bush will be forever innoculated from this issue in the public’s perception. Second, Bush’s minions have been hammering Kerry with mud slinging and Kerry has been trying to position himself as “above the negativity”. Well, regardless of the source of this the public will blame Kerry. Suddenly he will be seen as the one throwing mud. (Don’t think so? Check out 2000 exit polls on the questions of whether the public blamed Gore for the last-minute Bush DWI charges that came up.)

    The impression created, combined with the Swift Boat story and the never-ending theme of “Kerry is a flip-flopper” is that Kerry lies and is untrustworthy.

    Do I have any evidence that Bush/Rove did such a thing, but if it turns out the docs are forgeries it won’t really matter who planted them. The damage to Kerry’s campaign will be as described above.

    Regarding Lindsay’s comment: People will remember what the memos said and forget any confusion about their authenticity. Not true in this case. Yes, that was true with the Swift Boat case, because of how the media handled it and because disproving the Swift Boat story was complex. But in this case THE story will be that the docs are forgeries, if it turns out to be true. And you can count on the media spending weeks talking about this issue, and speculating on who was behind it. The right wing media in particular will advance all sorts of speculative theories.

    Frankly, this would be a bloody brilliant campaign move. Just imagine if the Swift Boat Liars were caught advancing a forged document to support their case. It would have shut them down cold, and made it clear to the public that Kerry was a victim of a smear attack.

  10. Dem says:

    Michael: What the W.H. produced were copies of what they got from CBS. The early stories made it sound like they found the same docs on their own … they didn’t.

    Still don’t know whether these were forgeries, but I’m starting to warm to the tinfoil theory that they are Republican plants. Listening to how Clear Channel news (always a reliable source for the RNC view of the news) dealt with them today made me realize just how powerful this will be for Bush.

    First, even without these docs the case that Bush was AWOL in 1972 is solid, but it requires a detailed reading of the docs. However, if a set of “smoking gun” documents hailed by CBS turn out to be forgeries, Bush will be forever innoculated from this issue in the public’s perception. Second, Bush’s minions have been hammering Kerry with mud slinging and Kerry has been trying to position himself as “above the negativity”. Well, regardless of the source of this the public will blame Kerry. Suddenly he will be seen as the one throwing mud. (Don’t think so? Check out 2000 exit polls on the questions of whether the public blamed Gore for the last-minute Bush DWI charges that came up.)

    The impression created, combined with the Swift Boat story and the never-ending theme of “Kerry is a flip-flopper” is that Kerry lies and is untrustworthy.

    Do I have any evidence that Bush/Rove did such a thing, but if it turns out the docs are forgeries it won’t really matter who planted them. The damage to Kerry’s campaign will be as described above.

    Regarding Lindsay’s comment: People will remember what the memos said and forget any confusion about their authenticity. Not true in this case. Yes, that was true with the Swift Boat case, because of how the media handled it and because disproving the Swift Boat story was complex. But in this case THE story will be that the docs are forgeries, if it turns out to be true. And you can count on the media spending weeks talking about this issue, and speculating on who was behind it. The right wing media in particular will advance all sorts of speculative theories.

    Frankly, this would be a bloody brilliant campaign move. Just imagine if the Swift Boat Liars were caught advancing a forged document to support their case. It would have shut them down cold, and made it clear to the public that Kerry was a victim of a smear attack.

  11. Dem says:

    Sorry about the double post … got an internal server error 500 and refreshed the screen.

  12. anon says:

    If these docs are forgeries it is because the White House forged them because the real ones make an even more compelling case that Chimpy is a f-up.

  13. Deb Hendrickson says:

    Following up on the “floating letters” saw this on the Daily Kos:

    For instance: In the original CBS document, some letters “float” above or below the baseline. For example, in the original document, lowercase ‘e’ is very frequently — but not always — above the baseline. Look at the word “interference”, or even “me”. Typewriters do this; computers don’t.
    Posted by Hunter

    So I went back and looked at the documents again. It’s hard for me to see the floating “e”, but I did notice that the “v” consistently floats above the line, in both upper and lower cases. As does the “w”. Those two letters are quite noticeable.

    Other pointers to “typewriter” lie in the numbers. There is excessive space between the number 147 and the “th” in 147th and between 9921 and “st” in 9921st. This also is consistent throughout the documents. Typewriters do this because the kerning for numbers is different from that for letters, word processors don’t, as you can see from my post.

    Typed. And a simple proof that they are typed. You don’t have to get into a complex discussion of fonts and typewriter history here. It’s clear from the face of the documents.

    Don’t buy the Karl Rove theory. The White House was clearly flummoxed when these documents came out, and the Drudge Report as the original source of the forgery story points to the Republican lie machine moving into action.

    Deb
    No question, the documents were t

  14. Dem says:

    CBS says they will address this in tonight’s newcast (which already aired on the east coast). But their web site provides some more data.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/06/politics/main641481.shtml

    Some key quotes:

    Document and handwriting examiner Marcel Matley analyzed the documents for CBS News. He says he believes they are real. But he is concerned about exactly what is being examined by some of the people questioning the documents, because deterioration occurs each time a document is reproduced. And the documents being analyzed outside of CBS have been photocopied, faxed, scanned and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS started with.

    As we commented above, CBS needs to let some of the other independent experts look at the originals.

    “We look basically at what’s called significant or insignificant features to determine whether it’s the same person or not,” Matley said. “I have no problem identifying them. I would say based on our available handwriting evidence, yes, this is the same person.”

    Matley finds the signatures to be some of the most compelling evidence.

    One gets the sense from the limited discussion that the focus of his validation was the signatures, not the typewriting. He may have done no analysis of the typewriting at all.

    “I knew going in that this was dynamite one way or the other. And I knew that potentially it could do far more potential damage to me professionally than benefit me,” he said. “But we seek the truth. That’s what we do. You’re supposed to put yourself out, to seek the truth and take what comes from it.”

    Yes, Marcel, welcome to American politics, 2004. Now that your name is out there expect the full freeper treatment. Hope your phone number and address are unlisted.

  15. Dem says:

    More on Marcel Matley: he’s an extremely well-credentialed handwriting expert with 20+ years of experience.

    However, he did once appear on Unsolved Mysteries to vouch for Vince Foster’s suicide note. Somehow I knew they’d tie this back to Clinton.

  16. Dem says:

    From someone who watched CBS news tonight:

    Dan Rather just came out swinging on The CBS Evening News. He had the handwriting expert and the guy stood by his analysis. He had the blogging news and put that to rest with the official document with the th raised. He had the typewritter inventor who said it was widely available in the late 40’s. He said something else, he repeated the charges from last night and had another author on very familiar with Bush and said the questions had gone from was the President responsible during his guard years to whether the docs were forged and trying to prove they were. He also said if it turns out the docs were forged, he would be the first to say so on his program.

    This could get interesting.

  17. Alexander says:

    Deb: Regarding the numbers — the documents also contain numbers with no space between numbers and letters (3244754FG), so it has to be the typist who inserted the space. Regarding floating letters — the quality of the document and its digital reproduction is extremely poor. Several letters look like they are horizontally condensed or extended which is something neither typewriters nor ordinary word processing software can produce. I don’t think we can judge floating from these copies.

    It looks like the IBM Executive Composer was at that time the only typewriter capable of proportional spacing and superscript. Interestingly, the May 4 document has a blacked out but legible part that reads “5000 Longmont #8”. There is no # on the standard IBM Selectric Composer keyboard, both according to the manual (page 9) and keyboard photos. To type a #, you had to change the typeball to “Greek Symbols” and back again afterwards (manual, page 67).

    Dem: If CBS only had the signature tested, not the typewriting, that would seem to be a rather stupid mistake. And I’m definitely not with the freepers.

  18. Dem says:

    Alexander: I agree, that’s why I made the observation. I try to be fair. When I noticed their expert only talked about the signature it raised a red flag with me. Of course, CBS is now claiming that they’ve also verified the typewriter, but didn’t have an expert on to talk about that.

    The current AP article cites a forensic expert, Sandra Ramsey Lines, who says she would testify that the docs were written on a computer. I tried to get info on her background but could find nothing on line. I did find that she contributed to a Republican 527, however. (Talk about a tangled web.) The article does not mention whether she saw the originals or copies.

    At some point someone is going to have to drag out a typewriter that existed at the time and recreate that document.

  19. ej says:

    Re: Superscripts – haven’t seen this pointed out anywhere yet, but typewriters I used in the 70s had special keys for fractions (1/2 and 1/4) that printed in small superscript. I don’t remember seeing a typewriter that had a special key for “th” or “nd” but they could have existed. I do remember using a typewriter that had a superscript degree sign. Typewriter manufacturerers would make special keys if enough machines were ordered. Seems to me that typewriters for the 111th would want to have a key with a superscript “th” on it.

    ej

  20. Alexander says:

    By the way: CBS does a lousy job of defending itself. They don’t distinguish between the date of the typeface’s availability for newspaper machine printing and its use for typewriters, they don’t address the simultaneous use of superscript and proportional spacing and they don’t even get the typeface name right.

  21. Alexander says:

    ej: Absolutely correct — in Nazi Germany, they even had the SS runes on typewriter keys. But the typeface really narrows down the number of typewriters, and some people have already dragged out their old IBMs.

  22. Mojo says:

    The superscript “th” can’t possibly be evidence of a forgery. It also exists on other documents released by the White House from Bush’s military records. Other issues are up for debate but that issue can’t be argued by anyone who can’t answer how the forgers managed to sneak other forgeries (that happened to support Bush) into his military records years ago. I think the fact that the copy everybody has been commenting on was faxed, copied, then scanned at fairly low resolution has also led some people to see “evidence” that isn’t really there.
    BTW, the “expert” quoted by the WaPo article (William Flynn) completely destroyed his credibility by citing the superscript “th” as evidence that the docs were forgeries.
    My bottom line view? I have no idea whether or not they’re real. CBS would be stupid to use forged documents in a story that could have stood without them, but the CIA was stupid about the Nigerian Yellowcake forgeries so I guess anything’s possible.

  23. Dem says:

    A bit more insight comes from the NY Times:

    Mr. Matley, the documents expert, said in an interview after the program, that he had examined documents and handwriting since 1985 and had testified in 65 trials. Mr. Matley said the documents the network sent him were so deteriorated from copying that it was impossible to identify the typeface.

    So, this means that CBS never had an original, or anything like an original. This clears up a couple things:

    1) Their approach to verification now makes sense. First, handwriting analysis. Second, research contemporary sources to see if this memo is consistent with the activities at the time. Typeset analysis, as many people have pointed out on both sides of this issue in the past few days, is highly inexact if docs are not the original, and the more they are copied the less precise the analysis can be.

    As a correlary, I think we can now eliminate Sandra Ramsey Lines from any future expert testimony. She is the AP “expert” willing to testify with certainty that this document was created on a computer. Given that she read a copy, and given that it has been proven that typewriters were available at the time with the necessary features, her “certainty” cannot be warranted. I could understand her stating it was “highly probable” (although I’d want to see her rationale), but without the original “certainty” is not possible.

    2) This means that all the analysis in the world won’t prove without doubt the document’s accuracy one way or another. Again, I ask, where is the original?

  24. Deb Hendrickson says:

    Alexander said:

    Yep. Notice that the space isn’t inserted in “1st” and the letters appeared “crowded” against the one. Notice that the “st” does not appear crowded against the “1” in this post. Typists had two esthetically unappealling options for dealing with the kerning of letters and numbers in this situation: leave the space out, and make it look “crowded” or insert a space and have the additional letters look like they were hanging out in space.

    You don’t have to do either on a word processor, which indicates that the typist was working on a typewriter. QED.

    True. This is a second, third or later generation copy. Which is why I am focussed on the “w”s and “v”s, which clearly float well above the line of text. They aren’t compressed or extended and the amount of float is both consistent and large. This points to a typewriter with a mechanical problem. It is possible to reproduce this on a word processor but you have to know how to manipulate fonts. These kinds of characteristic errata are used forensically to “fingerprint” typewriters.

    As other posters have pointed out, the evidence is quite otherwise. I note that the “expert” who claimed these documents had to have been created by word processor merely speculated on whether “all this technology” was available in 1973. A real expert would not have expressed an opinion without knowing. It’s not that hard to find out if you know where to look and a real document expert would know where to look.

    Not really. There is the logistical problem of getting the genuine signature of a 10-years deceased individual on a recently created forgery. If Killian signed the memos, he either did so contemporaneously with their creation, as dated, or deliberately engaged in the creation of false documents sometime before his death in around 1994. But for what purpose would Killian have deliberately created a string of false documents in the 1990s?

    The fact that no one questioning the documents has questioned the authenticity of the signatures is to me the strongest evidence that these documents are genuine, and the whole “proportional font” issue is a smokescreen.

    Deb

  25. Greg Roth says:

    There wasn’t a typewriter made at the time these memos were allegedly written that can reproduce the documents in exact a fashion as Microsoft Word. There may be have been typewriters that could do supercripts and Times New Roman but they were an extreme rarity themselves and there is no physical way they could produce that kind of type.

    I can’t believe anyone can seriously believe these documents are authentic. There is a substantial amount of technical analysis easily available on the Internet that establishes without any doubt that these things are forgeries.

  26. Pingback: Infothought

  27. See my post on contemporaneous documents:

    CBS (60 Minutes) Forged Memos Comparision Evidence
    http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/000695.html

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

  28. Greg says:

    While it may well be true that an IBM typewriter costing some $20,000.00 at the time was capable of creating documents with proportional spacing and superscripts, there is no possible way those documents could exactly match the documents that were produced by CBS. Those typewriters could not possibly physically create an exact duplicate of those memos because they did not have a typeface on the interchangeable balls that would match the typeface in Microsoft Word because that computer typeface HAD NOT BEEN INVENTED YET. Is that so hard to understand? Really!!

    Also, Killian, according to his wife who lived with him until the day he died says

    1. He didn’t type. Not surprising. I remember that era well. Very few men could or would type.
    2. He didn’t keep ANY personal files.
    3. He had expressed to her that he thought highly of Bush.

    It’s just entirely surprising how people can still try to defend this stuff. Amazing!!!!!

    —–

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *