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September 15, 2004

Debunking the CBS Memos

One key difference between the blogging community and mainstream journalists is that your average blogger is a lot more technology savvy than your average print or TV journalist. Never has this been more clear than in the past week since CBS first released memos from the early 70s suggesting that then Lt. George W. Bush defied a direct order from the Texas Air National Guard to take his physical exam. Numerous bloggers were quick to perform their own document analysis and eventually came to the consensus that the memos could not have been generated by any typewriter available at the time. The most striking evidence of this seems to be that the default settings in Microsoft Word seem to produce documents basically identical to the CBS memos -- a fact distinctly underreported in traditional media outlets.

The supposed document experts retained by CBS correctly pointed out that some typewriters at the time were able to produce the proportional text and superscripts seen in the memos. Although true, other more subtle difference basically rule out such typewriters. Here is a thorough analysis of why the IBM Selectric Composer could not have done it and here is an analysis of why the IBM Executive could not have done it. Nonetheless, CBS seems to be sticking to its guns on the legitimacy of the memos. They continue to point out that the signatures appear to confirm the authenticity of the documents despite the ease with which a genuine signature can be composited onto a fake document. Then, today, CBS has taken the slightly baffling position of continuing to defend the authenticity of the memos, yet simultaneously interviewing Marian Knox on 60 Minutes II, who claims it would have been her responsibility to type the memos at the time, and she is sure these memos did not come from her. So is CBS saying they believe her or not? My respect for CBS has gone down dramatically in the last few days, and my opinion was further cemented today as they continue to take such nonsensical positions. The interview with Knox was particularly frustrating to watch, as Dan Rather allowed her to ramble on about how much she dislikes Bush, but he refused to probe deeper into her assertion that she knows Bush refused an order to take a physical. How does she know this? Did she ever put it in writing? Did anyone ever put it in writing? Would it be so hard for Rather to ask any of these questions?

Several blogs have pointed out in more detail than I the ridiculousness of CBS's reporting.

Posted by davemoore at September 15, 2004 11:06 PM