Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"I'd Rather Not": CBS News Descends Rapidly From the Lofty Heights of the Edward R. Murrow Golden Era

CBS News, the great icon of left-leaning propagandistic reporting, is currently embroiled in a tremendous controversy over its use of sources, which evidence increasingly reveals as outright forgeries. In an attempt to bring down President Bush (or at least his high standings in recent polls), Dan Rather has been championing some "recently-discovered" documents which cast doubt on a young George W. Bush's character during his National Guard days.

After serious doubts as to authenticity have been expressed from many quarters, and suspicions raised in some environs about a smelly attempt between the CBS News division and high Democratic Party operatives to create a scandal to counterract the severe damage of examinations of Kerry's wartime service, Rather's boys have decided to adopt a fortress mentality. As of the Evening News tonight (Tuesday, September 14th), they were still standing by their story.

Ironies abound here. Rush Limbaugh has been pointing out that "CBS News has become what they hate: Richard Nixon." For those unfamiliar with the Watergate Scandal of 1972-1974 (the second favorite scandal of liberals after the McCarthy hearings), President Richard Nixon was caught taking part in illegal political dirty tricks during his campaign in 1972 against George McGovern. That was bad enough, but as the liberal media and all liberals have so fondly informed us for more than 30 years now: "the cover-up was far worse than the crime."

Showing scarcely little historical memory, Rather & Co. now have chosen the hubris-ridden, prideful Nixonian path of "never surrender no matter what." As evidence mounts that their sources were highly questionable, CBS News hunkers down and refuses to retract the story. Had they done so early on, it probably would have been a minor controversy which would have quickly died down. As it is, they are willing to stake their very reputation on this story. It has the potential to do irreparable harm to the journalistic integrity of this supposed factually-based, truth-telling organization. Rather than a minor explosion in the furnace room, this could now be a self-inflicted lethal wound: a sort of bizarre death wish.

Of course, conservatives like myself have known of the severe liberal bias of the "major media" for many years, but some of the public still seems unaware of it. A proof that such an outlet is "in bed" with those in the Kerry campaign, utilizing dirty tricks and lies in order to harm Bush, as the Kerry campaign desperately flails away with utter futility, would expose once and for all the sham of the "objective, fair-minded (liberal) reporter." It would be a fitting end to Rather's career: go out like Nixon in disgrace, and be remembered for this ridiculous cover-up by posterity, just as Bill Clinton is remembered chiefly as Monica Lewinsky's lover. Ah, the "poetic justice" of it. If ever one were tempted to embrace the eastern notion of karma, this is one such moment. :-) What you give out, comes back to you. Or, as Christians would say, "you reap what you sow."

Let's examine some recent analyses of the scandal. You make up your own mind about where the facts lie, and whether these documents should be trusted as reliable:

William Safire:
Rather ought to recognize the preponderance of doubt

New York Times
September 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Alert bloggers who knew the difference between the product of old typewriters and new word processors immediately suspected a hoax: The "documents" presented by CBS News suggesting preferential treatment in Lt. George W. Bush's National Guard service have all the earmarks of forgeries.

The copies of copies of copies that formed the basis for the latest charges were supposedly typed by Guard officer Jerry Killian three decades ago and placed in his "personal" file. But it is the default typeface of Microsoft Word, highly unlikely to have been used by that Texas colonel, who died in 1984 [see the exact evidence from one blog]. His widow says he could hardly type and his son warned CBS that the memos were not real.

When the mainstream press checked the sources mentioned or ignored by "60 Minutes II," the story, which aired on Wednesday, came apart.

The Los Angeles Times checked with Killian's former commander, the retired Guard general who a CBS executive had said would be the "trump card" in corroborating its charges. But it turns out CBS had only read Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges the purported memos on the phone, and did not trouble to show them to him. Hodges now says he was "misled" -- he thought the memos were handwritten -- and believes the machine-produced "documents" to be forgeries. (CBS accuses the officer of changing his story.)

The L.A. Times also checked out a handwriting analyst, Marcel Matley (of Vincent Foster suicide-note fame), who CBS had claimed vouched for the authenticity of four memos. It turns out he vouches for only one signature, and no scribbled initials, and has no opinion about the typography of any of the supposed memos.

The Dallas Morning News looked into the charge in one of the possible forgeries dated Aug. 18, 1973, that a commander of a Texas Air Guard squadron was trying to "sugarcoat" Bush's service record. It found that the commander had retired from the Guard 18 months before that.

The Associated Press focused on the suspicion first voiced by a blogger on the Web site Freerepublic.com. about modern "superscripts" that include a raised "th" after a number. CBS, on the defense, claimed that "some models" of typewriters of the '70s could do that trick, and some Texas Air National Guard documents released by the White House included it.

"That superscript, however," countered the AP, "is in a different typeface than the one used for the CBS memos." It consulted the document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines of Paradise Valley, Ariz., and reported, "She could testify in court that, beyond a reasonable doubt, her opinion was that the memos were written on a computer."

The Washington Post reported Dan Rather's response to questions about the documents' authenticity: "Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill" and questioned the critics' "motivation."

After leading with that response, Post media reporter Howard Kurtz noted that the handwriting expert Matley said that CBS had asked him not to give interviews, and that an unidentified CBS staff member who had examined the documents saw potential problems with them: "There's a lot of sentiment that we should do an internal investigation."

Newsweek (which likes the word "discredited") has apparently begun an external investigation: It names "a disgruntled former Guard officer" as a principal source for CBS, noting that "he suffered two nervous breakdowns" and "unsuccessfully sued for medical expenses."

It may be that CBS is the victim of a whopping journalistic hoax, besmearing a president to bring him down. What should a responsible news organization do?

To shut up sources and impugn the motives of serious critics -- from opinionated bloggers to straight journalists -- demeans the Murrow tradition. Nor is any angry demand that others prove them wrong acceptable, especially when no original documents are available to prove anything.

. . . Hey, Dan: On this, recognize the preponderance of doubt. Call for a panel of old CBS hands and independent editors to re-examine sources and papers. Courage.

Is It a Hoax?
Experts weigh in on the 60 Minutes documents. Says one: "I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but . . . I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

by Stephen F. Hayes 09/09/2004 7:20:00 PM
The Weekly Standard

DOCUMENTS CITED Wednesday by 60 Minutes in a widely-publicized expose of George W. Bush's National Guard Service are very likely forgeries, according to several experts on document authenticity and typography. The documents--four memos from Killian to himself or his files written in 1972 and 1973--appear to indicate that Bush refused or ignored orders to have a physical exam required to continue flying. CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported the segment and sourced the documents this way: "60 Minutes has obtained a number of documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file," he said. The 60 Minutes story served as the basis for follow-up news reports for dozens of news organizations across the country. The memos were almost immediately questioned in the blog world, with blog Power Line leading the charge.

And according to several forensic document experts contacted by THE WEEKLY STANDARD say the Killian memos appear to be forgeries. Although it is nearly impossible to establish with certainty the authenticity of documents without a careful examination of the originals, several irregularities in the Killian memos suggest that CBS may have been the victim of a hoax.

"These sure look like forgeries," says William Flynn, a forensic document expert widely considered the nation's top analyst of computer-generated documents. Flynn looked at copies of the documents posted on the CBS News website (here, here, here, and here). Flynn says, "I would say it looks very likely that these documents could not have existed" in the early 1970s, when they were allegedly written.

Several other experts agree. "They look mighty suspicious," says a veteran forensic document expert who asked not to be quoted by name. Richard Polt, a Xavier University philosophy professor who operates a website dedicated to typewriters, says that while he is not an expert on typesetting, the documents "look like typical word-processed documents."

There are several reasons these experts are skeptical of the authenticity of the Killian memos. First the typographic spacing is proportional, as is routine with professional typesetting and computer typography, not monospace, as was common in typewriters in the 1970s. (In proportional type, thin letters like "i" and "l" are spaced closer together than thick letters like "W" and "M". In monospace, all the letter widths are the same.)

Second, the font appears to be identical to the Times New Roman font that is the default typeface in Microsoft Word and other modern word processing programs. According to Flynn, the font is not listed in the Haas Atlas--the definitive encyclopedia of typewriter type fonts.

Third, the apostrophes are curlicues of the sort produced by word processors on personal computers, not the straight vertical hashmarks typical of typewriters. Finally, in some references to Bush's unit--the 111thFighter Interceptor Squadron--the "th" is a superscript in a smaller size than the other type. Again, this is typical (and often done automatically) in modern word processing programs. Although several experts allow that such a rendering might have been theoretically possible in the early 1970s, it would have been highly unlikely. Superscripts produced on typewriters--the numbers preceding footnotes in term papers, for example--were almost always in the same size as the regular type.

So can we say with absolute certainty that the documents were forged? Not yet. Xavier University's Polt, in an email, offers two possible scenarios. "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s." Says Flynn: "This looks pretty much like a hoax at this point in time."

CBS, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said it stands by the story. The network claims that its own document expert concluded the memos were authentic. There are several things CBS could do to clear up any confusion:

(1) Provide the name of the expert who authenticated the documents for Sixty Minutes.

(2) Provide the original documents to outside experts--William Flynn, Gerald Reynolds, and Peter Tytell seem to be the consensus top three in the United States--for further analysis.

(3) Provide more information on the source of the documents.

(A spokeswoman for CBS, Kelly Edwards, said she was overwhelmed with phone calls and did not respond to specific requests for comment.)

Stanley Kurtz
National Review Online
September 13, 2004, 10:46 a.m.

From Biased to Partisan
The mainstream media moves left.
. . . Why did Dan Rather and CBS News, against all expectations, impeach their own credibility to defend the authenticity of memos that are almost certainly forgeries? The obvious answer is that they did it to save the faltering Kerry campaign from a final and decisive blow. If CBS were to admit that the documents were forgeries, it would have no grounds for protecting its sources. In fact, CBS would have a positive obligation to do everything in its power to expose the malefactors behind the forgeries. If the trail led back to the Kerry campaign, president Bush's reelection would be assured. Dan Rather has been at pains to derogate those who are interested in where the documents came from. This sounds suspiciously like Rather is concerned about what a revelation of his sources might mean. Certainly, if Rather personally received the forgeries from a Kerry operative, it would be a disaster for Rather. That alone might seem to be sufficient to explain CBS's refusal to admit its error. (It now appears that CBS News may well have received the documents from a partisan and highly questionable source.)

. . . By standing behind a story that is so obviously flawed, Rather and CBS News are setting themselves up to become laughing stocks. . . .

. . . Gradually, with the exit of moderates and conservatives to other networks and the alternative media, CBS's audience is probably now composed largely of liberal Democrats. In the middle of the most divisive presidential election in years, we have to assume that the CBS audience itself is far more interested in helping John Kerry than in getting to the bottom of the forgery issue. So as the country increasingly divides into two media camps, the "mainstream media" is becoming more openly partisan. And it's the audience that's driving this — not only, or even primarily, the journalists, liberal though journalists may be.

No matter how much the media scene has changed, many of us carry an image in our minds of the old CBS News. In the days when the country had only three network newscasts to watch, CBS was the most prestigious of all. Back then, CBS News would certainly have repudiated the forgeries (in the unlikely event that they would have fallen for them in the first place). Had they not repudiated the documents, CBS News would have risked the loss, along with its reputation for fairness, of half or more of its audience. But nowadays, toughing it out on behalf of John Kerry is only likely to reinforce audience loyalty among CBS's partisan viewers. The CBS audience might find its enthusiasm for Dan Rather dampened considerably if an admission from Rather ended up bringing down their candidate.

We conservatives can talk all we want about CBS putting its credibility at risk. But the truth is, we ceased to take the word of Dan Rather or CBS a long time ago. What's more, CBS knows this. And that is why they're sticking with their story. In other words, the exit of increasing numbers of conservatives and moderates from the mainstream-media audience is pushing mainstream outlets to the left.

. . . What all this means is that, given its audience, CBS News is no longer concerned about preserving it reputation for fairness. On the contrary, CBS now wants and needs to preserve its reputation for liberalism.

We are still in transition. Mainstream (i.e., liberal) outlets are still bigger. That means they still get more attention from voters in the middle. The mainstream media cannot entirely ignore accusations of bias, and still needs to maintain a veneer of neutrality and professionalism. Up to now, the media's liberalism was most unambiguously evident on social issues. Political coverage was the one place where real efforts at balance were made. But in this election, we have seen a major shift toward bias even in political coverage. The mainstream media are now working for the Democratic party with all the enthusiasm of Wendy's "unofficial spokesman." In reality, of course, Wendy's unofficial spokesman is their most official and important representative. The mainstream media's relationship to the Democratic party is now about the same.

For further reading:

Wizbang!: Rather's Trent Lott Moment?

Ace of Spades HQ: Newsweek Suggests Possible Source For CBSNews "Documents"

The Burden of Belief A list of what you need to believe in order to conclude that CBS's documents aren't forgeries, by Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard, 09/13/2004 12:55:00 PM

Anatomy of a Forgery, The American Spectator, 9-10-04

John Fund, I'd Rather be Blogging: CBS Stonewalls as "guys in pajamas" uncover a fraud, Wall Street Journal, 9-13-04

RatherBiased.com: Documenting Dan Rather and CBS News [website with links to many pieces on the scandal]

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