Assume the Position

Friday, September 10, 2004
 
How Idiotic Are the People at Air America?

It might seem like a trick question, something so enormously incalculable that you wouldn't attempt to quantify it. If that's the case, you should probably score this however you like on the Lame-O Idiot Meter™: They apparently don't know their own website's URL.



 
CBS News Stealthy Update to Document Story

[A fourth and final update was added to this post after watching the CBS Evening News. I have no firm count of the actual number of times CBS News has updated their story.]

CBS News has updated their "New Scrutiny Of Bush's Service" story without plainly indicating the additions. The posting time of the web version appears in the <TITLE> tag of the HTML and thus on the browser title bar. Here is how the browser title bar and four paragraphs some two-thirds of the way through the story appeared earlier (emphasis in original).

CBS News | New Scrutiny Of Bush's Service | September 9, 2004 11:34:23

And in a memo from Aug. 18, 1973, Killian says Col. Buck Staudt, the man in charge of the Texas Air National Guard, is putting on pressure to "sugar coat" the evaluation of Lt. Bush.

The memo continues, with Killian saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job."

Staudt, a longtime supporter of the Bush family, would not speak to CBS News.

Killian died in 1984. 60 Minutes consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

Here is how they appear now, six paragraphs were added.

CBS News | New Scrutiny Of Bush's Service | September 9, 2004 22:50:09

And in a memo from Aug. 18, 1973, Killian says Col. Buck Staudt, the man in charge of the Texas Air National Guard, is putting on pressure to "sugar coat" the evaluation of Lt. Bush.

The memo continues, with Killian saying, "I'm having trouble running interference and doing my job."

The authenticity of at least one of the memos was questioned Thursday by the son of the late officer who reportedly wrote the memos.

"I am upset because I think it is a mixture of truth and fiction here," said Gary Killian, son of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian.

Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father and retired as a captain in 1991, said one of the memos, signed by his father, appeared legitimate. But he doubted his father would have written another, unsigned memo which said there was pressure to "sugar coat" Bush's performance review.

"It just wouldn't happen," he said. "The only thing that can happen when you keep secret files like that are bad things. ... No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that."

CBS stood by its reporting. "As is standard practice at CBS News, the documents in the 60 Minutes report were thoroughly examined and their authenticity vouched for by independent experts," CBS News said in a statement. "As importantly, 60 Minutes also interviewed close associates of Colonel Jerry Killian. They confirm that the documents reflect his opinions and actions at the time."

The White House distributed the four memos from 1972 and 1973 after obtaining them from CBS News. The White House did not question their accuracy.

Staudt, a longtime supporter of the Bush family, would not speak to CBS News.

Killian died in 1984. 60 Minutes consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

It's probably best that CBS News is updating the story at the URL that everybody would have linked to earlier, but if bloggers were to make such major revisions to their posts without plainly highlighting the change in some obvious fashion (either at the location of the change or in an opening or closing note), they'd be pilloried.

The Power Line crew broke the story of the documents probably being forged, and added 13 updates to that post before continuing the story in new posts. Their last post (as of my writing) concerns ABC News Nightline's touching on the forgery question.

[Minor addition: Power Line picked up the ball on the forgery angle after a tipoff from their readers. "Readers Tom Mortensen and Liz MacDougald direct us to the FreeRepublic post and thread (see post no. 47)…" Credit where credit is due -- lp.]


UPDATE: Now CBS News has completely rewritten the story at that URL, changing the headline and beginning the story with the questions about the documents being forged.

CBS News | Bush Guard Memos Questioned | September 10, 2004 07:29:37

Questions were raised Thursday about the authenticity of newly unearthed memos purporting to have been written by one of President Bush's National Guard commanders in 1972 and 1973.

The memos, which were publicized on CBS News' 60 Minutes, say Mr. Bush ignored a direct order from a superior officer and lost his status as a Guard pilot because he failed to meet military performance standards and undergo a required physical exam.

The network defended the memos, saying its experts who examined the memos concluded they were authentic documents produced by Lt. Col. Jerry Killian.

But Killian's son, one of Killian's fellow officers and an independent document examiner questioned the memos.

Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father and retired as a captain in 1991, said he doubted his father would have written an unsigned memo which said there was pressure to "sugar coat" Mr. Bush's performance review.

"It just wouldn't happen," he said. "No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that."

The personnel chief in Killian's unit at the time also said he believes the documents are fake.

"They looked to me like forgeries," said Rufus Martin. "I don't think Killian would do that, and I knew him for 17 years." Killian died in 1984.

Independent document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines said the memos looked like they had been produced on a computer using Microsoft Word software. Lines, a document expert and fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, pointed to a superscript — a smaller, raised "th" in "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron" — as evidence indicating forgery.

Microsoft Word automatically inserts superscripts in the same style as the two on the memos obtained by CBS, she said.

"I'm virtually certain these were computer generated," Lines said after reviewing copies of the documents at her office in Paradise Valley, Ariz. She produced a nearly identical document using her computer's Microsoft Word software.

In the Wednesday broadcast, 60 Minutes said the purported memos were "documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file. The program says it consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

"As is standard practice at CBS News, the documents in the 60 Minutes report were thoroughly examined and their authenticity vouched for by independent experts," CBS News said in a statement. "As importantly, 60 Minutes also interviewed close associates of Colonel Jerry Killian. They confirm that the documents reflect his opinions and actions at the time."

The White House distributed the four memos from 1972 and 1973 after obtaining them from CBS News. The White House did not question their accuracy.

Robert Strong was a friend and colleague of Killian who ran the Texas Air National Guard administrative office in the Vietnam era. Strong, now a college professor, also believes the documents are genuine.

"They are compatible with the way business was done at the time. They are compatible with the man that I remember Jerry Killian being," says Strong. "I don't see anything in the documents that is discordant with what were the times, what was the situation and what were the people involved."


UPDATE: Another revision at the same URL:

CBS News | Bush Guard Memos Questioned | September 10, 2004 13:20:51

Questions are being raised about the authenticity of newly unearthed memos that say President Bush's National Guard commander believed Mr. Bush was shirking his duties.

The memos, which were obtained by CBS News' 60 Minutes, say Mr. Bush ignored a direct order from a superior officer and lost his status as a Guard pilot because he failed to meet military performance standards and undergo a required physical exam.

So how far did they go in changing just those first two paragraphs? Aside from pushing the meme that "Bush was shirking his duties" up into the first paragraph, the second is the real dodge: no longer were the suspect documents "publicized on CBS News' 60 Minutes," now they were merely "obtained by CBS News' 60 Minutes."

By the time CBS News' gets done with what Beldar called their "stealth backpedal on Rathergate" in his much appreciated link to this post, I don't know if anybody has a clue what they'll be claiming. As noted by Beldar via Bryon York in NRO's The Corner, CBS News also replaced the two paragraphs beginning "In the Wednesday broadcast," with the following four paragraphs:

In the Wednesday broadcast, 60 Minutes said the memos were "documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file."

In a statement, CBS News said it stands by its story.

"This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking," the statement read.

"In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content," the statement continued. "Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned."

Yet the only forensic document examiner who allowed themselves to be named in the story is Sandra Ramsey Lines, who says "I'm virtually certain these were computer generated." CBS News and 60 Minutes haven't identified the "independent handwriting and forensic document experts" they claim back up the documents' authenticity.

Two notes:

1. The URL in question, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/ 2004/09/06/politics/main641481.shtml, originally headlined "New Scrutiny Of Bush's Service," and now "Bush Guard Memos Questioned," is not the URL directly associated to the 60 Minutes II broadcast. The latter, currently linked by Drudge as "THE CBSNEWS STORY THAT STARTED IT ALL..." is here. From the date and time that appear in the browser title bar — "CBS News | 60II | New Questions On Bush Guard Duty | September 10, 2004 14:39:15" — this story has been revised, also, possibly multiple times. At the least, the following note now heads the story:

(CBS) EDITOR'S NOTE: For the record, CBS News stands by the thoroughness and accuracy of the 60 Minutes report this Wednesday on President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Col. Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking.

In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content. Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned. We have complete confidence in our reporting and will continue to pursue the story.

Click here for the latest news on the document issue.

The "Click here" link is for the story this post examined.

2. The story in question is organizationally bylined "CBS/AP." That's displayed in a popup with the appropriate browser when your cursor hovers over the links in the post, but I should have mentioned it in the text. The Associated Press involvement may not be a plus.


UPDATE: Another addition, this new paragraph follows the denial that an investigation is underway:

CBS News | Bush Guard Memos Questioned | September 10, 2004 16:48:04

"In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content," the statement continued. "Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned."

Friday afternoon, CBS News addressed one of the authenticity issues raised, whether typewriters in the 1960s had the "th" superscript key. "CBS News states with absolute certainty that the ability to produce the "th" superscript mentioned in reports about the documents did exist on typewriters as early as 1968, and in fact is in President Bush's official military records released by the White House, CBS said in a statement. The issue will be addressed in Friday's Evening News broadcast, 6:30 p.m. ET.


UPDATE: Following Dan Rather's Evening News broadcast segment on the documents (which I watched), the article at the subject URL changes once again. New title, "CBS Stands By Bush-Guard Memos," and nearly a complete rewrite with mostly new information to go along with it.

CBS News | CBS Stands By Bush-Guard Memos | September 10, 2004 18:41:45

The Machine

CBS News Anchor Dan Rather says many of those raising questions about the documents have focused on something called superscript, a key that automatically types a raised "th."

Critics claim typewriters didn't have that ability in the 1970s. But some models did. In fact, other Bush military records already released by the White House itself show the same superscript – including one from 1968.

Some analysts outside CBS say they believe the typeface on these memos is New Times Roman, which they claim was not available in the 1970s.

But the owner of the company that distributes this typing style says it has been available since 1931.

What isn't said is whether any company, anywhere, ever produced a typewriter element in New Times Roman with a superscripted "th" character. The line on the "other Bush military [record]…from 1968" they showed as an example containing a superscripted "th" did not appear to be New Times Roman. To produce the suspect documents, the typewriter element would have to be both, or the typist would have to switch elements just to get the superscripted "th" and then switch back to finish the line.

The People

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.

Matley did this interview with us prior to Wednesday's "60 Minutes" broadcast. He looked at the documents and the signatures of Col. Killian, comparing known documents with the colonel's signature on the newly discovered ones.

"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.

Reached Friday by satellite, Matley said, "Since it is represented that some of them are definitely his, then we can conclude they are his signatures."

Matley said he's not surprised that questions about the documents have come up.

"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."

Robert Strong was an administrative officer for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years. He knew Jerry Killian, the man credited with writing the documents. And paper work, like these documents, was Strong's specialty. He is standing by his judgment that the documents are real.

"They are compatible with the way business was done at that time," Strong said. "They are compatible with the man I remember Jerry Killian being. I don't see anything in the documents that's discordant with what were the times, the situation or the people involved."

Killian died in 1984.

Strong says the highly charged political atmosphere of the National Guard at the time was perfectly represented in the new documents.

"It verged on outright corruption in terms of the favors that were done, the power that was traded. And it was unconscionable from a moral and ethical standpoint. It was unconscionable," Strong said.

So, now we have the name of one document and handwriting examiner and one TANG official familar with Killian. But what has CBS been saying to defend the documents?

"This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking," the statement read.

"In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content," the statement continued.

Not a expert, but "experts"; not a friend and peer of Killian's, but "former Texas National Guard officials and individuals."

Taking a harsh view, I suspect CBS could parse that as follows:

  1. Documents provided by unimpeachable sources = the official TANG records used by the expert to compare to the suspect documents.

  2. Handwriting and forensic document expert = Marcel Matley.

  3. Former Texas National Guard official who worked closely with Killian = No-Rank-Identified Robert Strong.

  4. Former Texas National Guard individual who worked closely with Killian = No-Rank-Identified Robert Strong.

  5. Source familiar with the documents' content = No-Rank-Identified Robert Strong.
With two names they can pluralize each category.

A more charitable view of CBS pluralizing experts, officials and individuals is that they had more than the two who are named, but ignored all who disagreed with them.

Most charitable of all, is that they actually had multiple " handwriting and forensic document experts" and multiple "former Texas National Guard officials and individuals" who agreed the documents were legitimate. At the moment, however, that's more charity than I think they deserve.

If you read Beldar's post on Marcel Matley and this Instapundit post and follow the links, you might agree.




Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.