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Friday, September 10, 2004

Carnival of the Commies: Memogate edition 

Yesterday we surveyed the big lefty blogs to look for coverage -- snarky and sincere -- of the Killian documents controversy, and we're going to do it again tonight. I like reading the lefty blogs, even if some of them are extremely annoying, because you can't only drink your own Kool-Ade. Not only is it useful to see the other guy's arguments, sometimes the other guy is actually right. And when he isn't right, it is still fun to make fun of him.

Of course, if you need to catch up on the controversy, go to Instapundit and Power Line, scroll back to the early morning of September 9, and read forward for an hour or so. Click through some of the links. Then come back here.

Looking for that perfect balance between thoughtful consideration of alternative views and Friday night snarkiness, here we go with the TigerHawk Memogate edition of Carnival of the Commies:

Before we get to the blogs, be absolutely clear that CBS News is digging in, insisting that the Killian memos are legitimate.
"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.

The "preponderance of the evidence?" CBS has tagged plenty of its targets for less. Does this mean that there is a 49% chance that the documents are fake?

The Democratic National Committee is running with the story, too, beseeching its email list to push the media to run with the "insubordination" story, which is dependant upon the very Killian memos in question.
New investigations from multiple media sources have revealed the truth about President Bush's service. New military documents show that Bush disobeyed a direct order from his commander to take a flight physical and "failed to perform to U.S. Air Force/Texas Air National Guard standards" -- and was grounded as a result.

The DNC email went out Friday morning, 24 hours after Power Line first questioned the authenticity of the Killian memos, and at least a few hours after the Washington Post raised the issue in a front page article. Point is, the DNC flogged the story after it was on notice that the documents might be forged. If CBS cannot sustain its stonewall -- and by failing to disclose the chain of custody and release the original documents for analysis it is stonewalling -- the DNC is going to have some egg on its face. The risk of egg, I suppose, is a small price to pay for a shot at swinging the presidency.

Atrios has been on a roll, and if you can get beyond the politics some of it is pretty funny. He's found a 1998 interview of George Bush in the National Guard Review and quotes Bush here (no link to the underlying source):
I can remember walking up to my F-102 fighter and seeing the mechanics there. I was on the same team as them, and I relied on them to make sure that I wasn't jumping out of an airplane. There was a sense of shared responsibility in that case. The responsibility to get the airplane down. The responsibility to show up and do your job.

You have to admit, this is a good candidate for Glenn's "dripping-with-irony quote for the day," except that he's already given it today.

And if you don't like the Bush quote, Atrios offers Robert Novak's demand that CBS reveal its source. Even a humorless guy like Joseph Wilson ought to get a good chuckle out of that.

Finally, he offers up a photo of an IBM promotional letter from the 1940s that promotes a machine that Atrios seems to think might have manufactured the Killian memos, nonetheless protesting that "he's not going to spend the day arguing about fonts and typewriters, because the whole thing is so goddamn stupid."

He's right. The whole thing is stupid. But not in the way he means.

It's Kos's birthday weekend so he is taking it easy, but he's still got some good stuff up. In the snarkiness department, Kos posts an old quotation from Bush 41's campaign chairman, John Sununu:
Sununu specifically claimed Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) had improperly helped get his son into the Texas National Guard during Vietnam. Bentsen's son served in the very same National Guard unit at the very same time as George W. Bush. The Bush campaign's attacks came just days after Bush's allies on Capitol Hill launched a vicious attack on Gov. Michael Dukakis (D-MA) for receiving a draft deferment during the Korean War.

"Goose. Gander. And all that." Says. Kos.

And just to prove that we shouldn't fail to notice his sense of humor, Kos links to this (if you're over 40, click on the lower right corner to make the text larger). Heh.

Finally, Kos's co-blogger Hunter devotes himself to the dissection of typefaces and the etiology of IBM's typewriters. It is an extensive fisking of the fonts and spacing line of attack, and worth a response from the righty blogosphere. I haven't run it against all the arguments made on Power Line and elsewhere, but if anybody else has I would appreciate the link.

Kevin Drum wrapped up today about noon today with a very open-minded post:
Bottom line: these memos might be 100% genuine. But there are lots of legitimate questions about their origin and authenticity, and at a minimum CBS ought to make its own copies available for inspection and also ought to disclose the names of the typographic experts it consulted. Better yet would be convincing their source to either go public, allow inspection of the original memos, or at least allow a more thorough discussion of exactly where the documents came from.

Until then, I'm afraid skepticism is warranted. I hope CBS hasn't gotten burned by crude forgeries, but like they say, hope is not a plan.

I almost regret including Kevin among the C of the Cs.

The spirit of Howard Dean is silent, as is This Modern World, which seems to be offended that one of its bloggers got the third degree from airport security in a mysteriously unidentified foreign country, for which apparently the United States is to blame. But that's a topic for another post.

Amygdala seems to be one of the Leftosphere's early sources on typewriter technology.

LiberalOasis has lots of links to the Left's reaction to the attack on the Killian memos. One of those links goes to Salon.com, which tracks the spoor of right-wing PR firms in the challenge to the memos:
Creative Response Concepts, the Arlington, Va., Republican public relations firm run by former Pat Buchanan communications director Greg Mueller, with help from former Pat Robertson communications director Mike Russell, sent out a media advisory Thursday to hawk a right-wing news dispatch: "60 Minutes' Documents on Bush Might Be Fake." Creative Response Concepts has played a crucial role in hyping the inaccurate, secondhand Swift Boat allegations, with Russell serving as the group's official spokesman. A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.

I didn't want to watch the ad that would permit me to read the whole thing for free, but I'm not sure that I understand this argument. Nobody who has followed the work of Power Line and other blogs can possibly believe that this story came from any public relations firm. The investigation of these memos -- whether they turn out to be genuine or fraudulent -- is obviously, obviously, the distributed work of dozens of blogs and thousands of readers.

John Aravosis is convinced, convinced, that CBS is right. Go here, start scrolling, and have your faith in Dan Rather restored. Aravosis is particularly taken with the continued refusal of the White House to denounce the memos as fakes:
'We don't know if the documents are fabricated or authentic,' McClellan told reporters...

AGAIN the White House today refused to say the memos are fakes. Which can only mean that the content in the memos is true, whether or not the memos themselves are real. That's the only reason the White House would not come out and call the documents a fake. If Bush didn't receive a direct order to get a physical, then he'd have known it and could easily say "that document is a fake." If you produced a memo saying I'm really an Irish Setter, then I could quite easily tell you the memo is a fake, or at the very least the memo is a lie (i.e., perhaps the memo is real but the guy who wrote it is nuts). But the White House isn't going there. They refuse to even say if THE CONTENT OF THE MEMO is wrong. And the only reason for that is because they either fear the content is correct or because they KNOW the content is correct.

This is the fact people should be rallying around. Why won't the White House confirm or deny the facts as stated in those memos? Simply ask Bush the question: Are the facts in the memos true or false?

Of course, he basically answered the question before he asked it:
There's been a lot of back and forth over whether the controversy over the CBS memoes spells doom and gloom for our side. Hardly. First, it appears now that pro-forgery arguments have all been answered. But more importantly, the entire US has spent the last 48 hours discussing whether GW Bush was or wasn't AWOL, whether he did or didn't disobey a direct order. Bush would rather the entire nation be discussing why John Kerry sucks, or why we're all going to die soon in a fireball unless he's re-elected. The last thing the Bush campaign needs is everyone focused on whether or not there's enough evidence to prove Bush went AWOL. This discussion is a net-gain for us no matter how it's resolved. Everyone now knows about these documents and the doubt about Bush's character will forever be in the back of their heads. (emphasis added)

The memos may or may not be genuine, and the facts in those memos may or may not be true, but a direct claim by the White House that the documents are forgeries would extend the story rather than put it to rest. If you buy Aravosis's argument that the Killian memo kerfuffle has been damaging for Bush, then you have to concede that he may not want to extend the controversy by issuing a denial he can't prove (insofar as proving a negative is a damned difficult thing to do).

Scrutiny Hooligans is silent on the story, but I mention them because they write the most entertaining lefty blog out there, and it has a cool name that I wish I had thought of.

Brendan, the easy-to-amuse author of The Facts Machine, points us to this snarky little bit of fantasy parchment. A sample:
Look at this enlargement from Section 2: Clause 4. If we magnify the image we see that the "h" in When and the are identical. This cannot be possible because at the time the framers of the constitution were using a Johnson-Matlock Quill pen, this was a very messy pen and did not allow for uniform letters. The earliest a uniform quill pen was invented was in 1793. Four years after this document was purported to be written.

Finally, Media Matters gives us the most detailed fisking of the rightosphere's memo critique that I have seen, posted just three hours ago. So far, it looks like the argument to beat, so I'll give it a shot (deferring, of course, to the real mavens on the subject). Here are the key points:

The memos exhibit attributes that would be difficult to generate on a computer.
For example, Salon.com's Eric Boehlert noted in a September 10 article that a close examination of the documents reveals characteristics not found in word processing documents. Marty Heldt, an independent researcher Boehlert cited, "notes that when [Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B.] Killian's [alleged author of the documents] Aug. 14, 1973, memo is enlarged and the word 'interference' is examined, it's clear the two middle e's rest higher on the page than the other two e's; that is not something a modern-day word processor would likely do."

True, a moden-day word processor would not push some e's higher on the page than others in ordinary useage, but if one were trying to force a word processor to generate output that looks typewritten, would it be possible? Of course, especially on a version of the document that had been repeatedly photocopied.

CBS went to Killian's commanding officer and compared his memories to the content of the memos.

Media Matters quotes the WaPo:
A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network's sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents' alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. He said a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone, and Hodges replied that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."

This, of course, is not very probative of the authenticity of the memos, although it supports the underlying criticism of Bush's Guard service. That is, Hodges might have made this argument without any physical evidence. The physical evidence, if genuine, would support Hodge's testimony, but it is hard to understand how his testimony proves the authenticity of the documents.

However, none of my legalistic validation theory counts for a hill of beans in this crazy world, because Hodges just sand-bagged CBS:
HODGES SAID HE WAS MISLED BY CBS: Retired Maj. General Hodges, Killian's supervisor at the Grd, tells ABC News that he feels CBS misled him about the documents they uncovered. According to Hodges, CBS told him the documents were "handwritten" and after CBS read him excerpts he said, "well if he wrote them that's what he felt."

Hodges also said he did not see the documents in the 70's and he cannot authenticate the documents or the contents. His personal belief is that the documents have been "computer generated" and are a "fraud".

Superscript, proportional spacing, apostrophe and font were, in fact, all available.

Candidly, the ins and outs of the forensic arguments are beyond my ken, but Media Matters and others on the left have generated a lot of factoids that suggest that it would have been possible to assemble the memos from machines available in 1972. It is not clear even from the Media Matters post, though, whether there is any reasonable chance that an officer sloppily typing casual file memos would have switched balls and taken the other steps necessary just to create the right superscripts, spacing, apostrophes and fonts. If there was a typewriter and a single ball in reasonably widespread use that combined all of these features, then Media Matters' argument gets more persuasive.

The Republicans are the source of the Killian memos.

At this stage in the post, Media Matters goes entirely moonbat insane and suggests that Karl Rove is behind the whole thing.
The Democrats' suggestion that the Republicans may be behind the documents is not outlandish when considering that Karl Rove, chief political aide to Bush, was suspected of bugging his own office during the 1986 Texas gubernatorial race in an effort to smear Democratic Governor Mark White (the opponent of the candidate for whom he was working, Bill Clements).

As a lawyer would say, this is argument in the alternative taken to a ridiculous extreme. Is this meant as a back-up smear in case the Killian memos are revealed as forgeries? Or is the claim that Karl Rove engineered the leak of genuine documents that discredit his own president, and then is engineering a confusing PR effort to spin them as forgeries?

If Karl Rove is that smart, why is everybody wasting so much time and money campaigning against him? Maybe there is an even more nepharious explanation. Heh. (CWCID to Allah on that last one.)

That's it for now.

UPDATE: OK, It is now 12:40 on September 11, and I'm going to bed. But not without pointing out that Saturday's New York Times discusses the memos, ignoring, of course, some of the most trenchant criticisms of them.

6 Comments:

By Blogger Rain, at Sat Sep 11, 08:03:00 AM:

I couldn't really agree more on the entertainment factor of reading the other side. But not all leftists obsess over some existant or non-existant bit of document. Some of us would rather be out trying to accomplish things.  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Sat Sep 11, 10:41:00 AM:

Thanks for the shout out, Mr. Hawk.

We Hooligans skipped the typewriting controversy because it reeked of Rovian silliness - that is, injecting doubt with no evidence. You've seen it in the questioning of Clarke and other former administration officials turned tellallers, you've seen it with the SBV. Simply by having to refute the ridiculous claims that the documents were forged lends creedence to the tinfoil hat crowd.

Hooligans are hoping to have extensive conversations about Bush's credibility, yes. But we don't doubt his patriotism. We're fairly sure that he's loving America to death.  

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