Saturday, September 11, 2004

CBS: almost as bad as Atrios

CBS gives an embarrassing defense of the documents here. Some points: they go to Robert Strong for confirmation:
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."
Notice anything missing? Like any questions for the man with the documents "specialty" what kind of typewriters they used at the base? They didn't ask him if he knew George Bush or ever discussed Bush with Killian. They quote a vague generalization that the documents were "compatible with the man I remember", but no specific questions as to whether he knows that Killian wrote personal memos, used a typewriter for personal memos, used a proportional-font typewriter for personal memos, or if he complained about higher-ups pressuring him for political favors. It isn't clear from this interview that Killian knew anything at all relevant to the authenticity of the documents. So why are they interviewing him? The only answer that comes to mind is that they are interviewing him because he is the only guy who knew Killian who will give them the answer they want.

They also quote from Matley, the "document expert" who really seems to be only a handwriting expert. They say he looked at the documents (he claims he only saw one document).
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 News have been photocopied, faxed, scanned and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS News started with.
Perhaps revealingly, he doesn't say how far removed the internet documents are from the ones CBS News started with. Did CBS photocopy, fax, and scan the documents to put them on-line (downloading is irrelevant, it doesn't cause any deterioration), or did they just scan them? How good were the documents that Matley examined? Did Matley find a font match with a typewriter available at the time? Did he verify that these documents match others that were known to be produced from that office at that time? Did he even consider all the features of the memo that would have been odd for that period? How did he verify that the signature was produced at the same time as the memo rather than pasted in later? They say that " Matley finds the signatures to be some of the most compelling evidence." but they don't give any other evidence. Is it the most compelling evidence because it is the only evidence he considered?

And then there's this bit
... there were reports that retired National Guard Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges - who corroborated the CBS News account - now says he believes the documents were not real, in part because of recent statements of Jerry Killian's relatives.

CBS News responded Saturday, saying, "We believed General Hodges the first time we spoke with him.
The snotty last sentence implies that Hodges has changed his story, but Hodges denies that he ever corroborated the documents. CBS doesn't bother to discuss that troubling point.

Then this
Dan Rather noted that 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, Rather reported. In fact, other Bush military records already released by the White House itself show the same superscript – including one from as far back as 1968.
What they don't say is whether those other memos were in a proportional font or whether the "th" was smaller than the rest of the letters or just raised a half-line. They also don't say whether those other memos matched in other stylistic areas such as use of ranks and names, date format, centering of titles, etc.

All in all, this article is a piece of defensive argument. It reports what will help CBS and ignores what will not. It would be a respectable bit of work from a defense lawyer. From a news organization it's disgraceful.

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