Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fisking Mary Mapes: Resisting the revision of RatherGate 

Like an instant replay review that will never end, apologists for CBS News, Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and the mainstream media in general insist on reconstructing the history of "RatherGate," the scandal that exploded more than a year ago when 60 Minutes II used obviously forged documents to attack George W. Bush and, perhaps, alter the course of the 2004 presidential election. Back in March, the New York Review of Books published an article by James Goodale, the former General Counsel of The New York Times, who tried to defend Mary Mapes and the rest of CBS News against the Thornburgh Panel's report. Goodale's article was so dishonest that virtually no paragraph survived close examination. Now, Mary Mapes, the fired producer who to this day insists that the forged documents at the heart of the scandal are in fact genuine, has written a book in her own defense (and for an advance reported in the "high six figures"), an excerpt of which Vanity Fair has graciously published in its December 2005 issue.

If the Vanity Fair excerpt is representative of the book, Mapes has no meaningful response to the questions raised by the bloggers who originally questioned the authenticity of the famous "Killian" memos or the Panel convened by CBS News to investigate the scandal in the aftermath. Since the Vanity Fair article is not available yet on line, this post will not attempt a full-blown soup-to-nuts paragraph-by-paragraph fisking -- I don't feel like re-typing vast excerpts of the excerpt -- but certain of Mapes assertions need to be refuted immediately, without waiting for the link.

Mapes begins by describing the documents at the heart of the controversy, and her own basis for concluding that they were authentic:
Our story also presented never-before-seen documents purportedly written in 1972 and 1973 by Bush's then commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who died in 1984. These documents appeared to show that Killian had not approved of Bush's departure from the Guard in 1972 to work on a U.S. Senate campaign for Republican Winton Blount in Alabama. They seemed to indicate that Killian had ordered Bush to take a physical that was never completed and that Killian had been pressured from higher up to write better reports on Bush than were merited by the future president's performance. The Killian memos, as they came to be called, challenged the version of George W. Bush's Guard career that the White House had presented.

I had spent weeks trying to get these pieces of paper and every waking hour since I had received them vetting each document for factual errors or red flags. I compared the new memos with Bush's official records, which I had been collecting since 1999, when it first became apparent that he would be running for president. They meshed in ways large and small.

Mapes builds her argument around a journalistic technique called "meshing." As I wrote last March in my discussion of James Goodale's defense of Mapes, "meshing" was never a rational basis for determining whether the Killian memos were authentic because the basic facts and arguments around Bush's Guard service were widely known.
Meshing analysis, as described by Goodale, the Panel, and Mapes, tries to determine whether documents "fit" an established narrative. The narrative is the lock, and the document is the key. If a document is not inconsistent with the narrative, then the key opens the lock and the authenticity of the key is established. The problem is obvious: if the basic facts of a narrative are widely known and publicly available as was the case with Bush's Guard service (anybody who argues that the memos are "accurate" even if fake essentially concedes this point), then it is relatively easy to manufacture a document that fits that narrative. Anybody can make a key if he has access to the lock, so "meshing" proves nothing in such a case.

Mapes also defends the use of the documents because experts saw nothing to indicate that the memos "had been doctored or had not been produced in the early 1970s." Specifically, Mapes cites Marcel Matley in the first instance, and claims that James Pierce "agreed."

Mapes characterization of the opinions rendered by Mapes and Pierce are so profoundly at odds with the Thornburgh Panel report it is shocking that Vanity Fair did not at least annotate Mapes claims. Matley, for his part, concluded nothing more than that a single signature on a photocopy of one of the Killian memos in question (three of the four had no signature) matched other signatures of Killian in the official record. That's it.

For his part, Pierce told Associate Producer Yvonne Miller (Panel Report p. 109) that the samples of Killian's signature on the photocopies he examined "appeared consistent" with those on official Bush records. Miller also told the Panel that Pierce had examined the typeface in the heavily photocopied Killian memos and that he had said that it "appeared consistent" with the typeface in authenticated official documents known to have been produced in 1972.

The idea that "authentication" of a photocopied signature was of any value at all is laughable. As I wrote last spring,
[t]hese were multi-generation photocopies, so there is no way to know whether the signatures, even if copies of Killian's actual handwriting, were afixed to the one memo with a signature by Killian. Indeed, the fact that only one of the documents had a signature suggests to this skeptic that the creator of the documents had access to only one copy of Killian's actual handwriting. If the creator of the documents wasn't Killian, he obviously could not insert Killian's signature on more than one document because identical signatures would have revealed the fraud.

This point is so absurdly obvious that Mapes failure at least to acknowledge and dispose of it is virtual proof that she knows she has no case.

But it gets worse for Mapes, because she ignored two other experts -- Emily Will and Linda James -- in 2004 (before she broadcast the fateful 60 Minutes II segment) and this year in the writing of her book. Me again:
[Emily] Will not only did not determine that the signatures matched, but she raised concerns about the font (including the famous "th") and the structure of the address on the memo. She also told Miller that the documents "could not have been prepared in 1972 and believed that they must have been prepared using a word processor." Indeed, Will had typed the two documents into Microsoft Word and "noticed they were very similar to the documents she had been provided," and she warned Mapes that if 60 Minutes Wednesday used the memos "every document expert in the country will be after you with hundreds of questions." (Panel Report at 107) Will in fact presaged the blogswarm that would erupt just a couple of days later. But the Panel Report is quite clear that Mapes blew off Will's warning, presumably because she was the bearer of bad tidings. Had Mapes assessed Will's concerns honestly and passed them on to her superiors, the report would not have aired.

Mapes also blew off Linda James, who detected "unexplainable differences" in the signature and also raised the superscript "th" issue.

It is one thing to have ignored Will and James ex ante, but it is profoundly dishonest to write a self-serving defense ex post and fail to acknowledge that they, it seems, were right.

Finally there remains Pierce's hearsay claim that the typeset in the Killian memos "appeared consistent" with typesets common thirty years ago. There has been endless analysis of this point, but the most compelling refutation came very early in the controversy. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs opened up Microsoft Word -- just as, unbeknownst to him, Emily Will had done -- and typed out the Killian memos using the Word default settings. They matched perfectly, lines breaking on Charles' computer exactly as Lt. Col. Killian's typewriter was alleged to have done more than thirty years earlier, before Bill Gates got out of high school. If there was an honest person in the world who still doubted that the Killian memos had been manufactured recently rather than discovered in some lost private archive, this flashing graphic adds up to game, set and match.

Of course, even if we give a Mapes a pass for blowing off Emily Will before the show aired -- most people tend to believe the experts that agree with them -- intellectual honesty requires that she address Charles Johnson's MS Word mimetic in her post hoc defense. That neither Mapes nor Vanity Fair even attempt to refute his experiment is proof of their intellectual dishonesty.

There are other long passages in Mapes' excerpt that walk through her "meshing" analysis and the absence of "telltale flaws," none of which respond to the most basic questions raised about the documents before the segment aired (by Emily Will in particular) and afterwards (by Power Line, Little Green Footballs, the Thornburgh Panel and countless others). When and if Vanity Fair puts up a link, the fiskings of those passages will no doubt be extensive and devestating.

Still, there are other bits of Mapes' self-defense that perhaps reveal more than she intended. Notwithstanding the post-hoc claim that it did not matter that the Killian memos were "fake" because the underlying story was essentially "accurate," Mapes slips up and tells us how important the memos were. Referring to one of the memos she received from Bill Burkett:
The memo said that Bush was being suspended not just for "failure to meet annual physical examination (flight) as ordered," but also for "failure to perform to USAF/TexAng standards." That was new. And it was big.

Indeed. The Killian memos were the sine qua non of the story.

Mapes recounts the early hours after the segment aired, and paints the blogswarm that followed as a disingenuous and coordinated political attack.
Just before midnight eastern time, a few hours after the broadcast, an anonymous writer calling himself Buckhead posted a long analysis of our memos based on what he claimed were facts about typography... Buckhead's conclusions and accusations were immediately echoed on a bouquet of other far-right Web sites -- particularly Power Line and Little Green Footballs -- places that most of the mainstream media had never heard of but would learn about in the hours, days and weeks ahead.

Mapes is undoubtedly correct that most of the mainstream media had never heard of Power Line or Little Green Footballs. Since both blogs even in September 2004 had larger actual readerships than most MSM reporters, Mapes is, in effect, conceding how profoundly out of touch the mainstream media was as recently as 14 months ago.

Mapes has few kind words for the Panel, which she views as an "inquisition" driven by "money":
I am convinced that CBS and Viacom did not want an angry administration making vindictive decisions that would cost them a single dollar... so the executives decided stage this upside-down, inside-out re-enactment of the famous face-off between Murrow and McCarthy. At this new CBS, the journalists were the bad guys. The corporate fat cats would cloak themselves as seekers of truth.

This is, of course, asinine. If, as Mapes disingenuously alleges, CBS and Viacom convened the Panel to suck up to the Bush Administration, then one is forced to ask why CBS did not just obviously and honestly retract the story before the election. Instead, they stuck to their guns in the face of overwhelming evidence that they had been hoodwinked at great cost to Bush's re-election campaign. No. CBS convened the Thornburgh Panel in a desperate attempt to restore some measure of credibility to the "Tiffany network's" humiliated news division.

Finally, Mapes (like James Goodale last spring) tries to wrap herself in the mantle of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein:
I had to laugh to myself at some of the panel's rigid, legalistic ideas of how reporting should work. With these guys running the newsroom, the details of Watergate would have stayed with Deep Throat in the parking garage. Based on their questioning, I'm convinced that Dick Thornburgh would have found Mark Felt an inadequate source, clearly a person with an agenda or political and personal motivations, something he and the panel thought was inappropriate.

Mapes, in the end, proves that she knows nothing of the history of her own profession. Mark Felt never gave Woodward and Bernstein a shred of evidence, fabricated or otherwise. He directed them in their search for genuine evidence, and in so doing gave Ben Bradlee the confidence he needed to pursue a very difficult story. Had Felt given Woodward and Bernstein forged documents that purported to tie Nixon to the break-in or any of the other depredations of that era and had the Washington Post printed those documents, the discovery of the fraud would have brought down that great paper and saved Nixon from impeachment. That Mapes thinks that her own actions were even remotely comparable to the revelation of Watergate proves that she has absolutely no idea what she did wrong. That Vanity Fair would print such trash proves that Graydon Carter remains deeply invested in discrediting George W. Bush, regardless of the cost to his own credibility.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 08:24:00 AM:

Have they no shame, or are they so absolutely convinced of their moral and intellectual superiority that reason and logic are unnecessary?

We who read bloggers committed to truth are growing in number. Beware the coming struggle for control of the internet.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 10:44:00 AM:

I just watched the Good Morning America interview of Mapes (high-brow television). The interviewer was actually decent and, in response to Mapes' claim that no one had ever proved to her that the documents were fake, asked "shouldn't you have to demonstrate that they were authentic?" She blew him off with a "that's what THEY'd say" response. She then laid into CBS. Interestingly, CBS issued a statement, read on air by the interviewer, basically calling Mapes a liar. Watching liberals bash each other on this one is quite fun (if CBS keeps it up I might give it credit for some integrity).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 03:08:00 PM:

Dear Tigerhawk,
Exceptional work on this
post. Sorry that between the Dem's victory laps, Levin's special treatment by
the DIA, and now the the
2 bombings in Amman Jordan,
it could be overlooked today.

I will email to all, but
hope you will move it to the
top at a later date - perhaps on the weekend when
you are not adding new posts.

Again, terrific work that
deserves to be read.

Thank you.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 05:02:00 PM:

As usual brilliant work...Im sure i speak for many of the lizardoids at LGF in acknowleging your excellent analysis.

Ted from LGF  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 05:57:00 PM:

The one thing that bugs me with the dismissal as forgery is the comparison test. When you create a font based on an older typeset, than wouldn't it have the same spacing, size letters, offsets, etc?

But then, she couldn't even adequately respond to the questions so it's a moot point. What did she expect, everyone to accept and no one take a close look at her "evidence"?

But still, that still nags me...  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 06:14:00 PM:

Jason asked:

When you create a font based on an older typeset, then wouldn't it have the same spacing, size letters, offsets, etc?

How do you account for the fact that the MARGINS matched the default Word margins?
Tab spacing being equal? Kerning being equal?

No way that it is all just coincidence. It was created in Word.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 06:30:00 PM:

I can only think of one reason to explain Mape's continued denial of reality - she new the documents and the story were fake long before she ran the story.

I think I have a pretty good idea who Lucy Ramirez really is.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 06:34:00 PM:

Apparently the Times New Roman font was never used on a proportional spacing typewriter during that era. In any case a $50,000 reward was offered to anyone that could reproduce the documents on a typewriter which was never claimed. (If memory serves)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 06:42:00 PM:

Yes, the margins wouldn't be covered by a font set, and relying on arguments of "default settings reflect the most common use" is still too much to accept.

At worst it's a horrible attempt at fabricating a story to bolster your carreer while destroying another. At best it's another shining example of the death of the investigative journalist (cue the Jimmy Massen reference).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 06:57:00 PM:

By John Cunningham, at Wed Nov 09, 05:54:50 PM

The one thing that bugs me with the dismissal as forgery is the comparison test. When you create a font based on an older typeset, than wouldn't it have the same spacing, size letters, offsets, etc?

Try typing the memo on another word processor in the same font, e.g., on StarOffice in Linux. I did that. You'll see BIG DIFFERENCES in the output.

The match at the bitmap level due to the algorithms that determine character spacing, etc. is quite a watermark of fabrication with MS Word.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 07:11:00 PM:

Mapes is either being disingenuous, or is ill.

Dorland's Medical Dictionary:

delusional disorder. [DSM-IV]

a mental disorder marked by well-organized, logically consistent delusions but lacking other psychotic symptoms. Most functioning is not markedly impaired, the criteria for schizophrenia have never been satisfied, and symptoms of a major mood disorder have been present only briefly if at all.

Also see:


Delusional Disorders - Behavioral Pattern Characteristics:

firm fixed system of delusion in otherwise well-balanced personality

delusional system centers around feelings of persecution and grandiosity

major areas of delusional activity most frequently involved: religion, politics, another person

delusional system slowly develops after false interpretation of an actual occurrence

no hallucinations involved-individual simply becomes convinced that a certain thing or situation is true - individual will accept no proof, regardless of how convincing it is that his/her concept is wrong  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 07:34:00 PM:

I wonder if there is a test to determine the age of paper that would be applicable to a 30 year timeframe. Not that any further proof is needed--anyone who still claims the docs to be authentic 1) is unaware of the scope of the evidence; 2) is incapable of understanding the evidence; or 3) understands the evidence and willfully (or delusionally) disregards the inevitable conclusion.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 08:03:00 PM:

My recollection is that Mapes was given copies by Burkett so there is no need to try to determine the age. There never were any 'originals'
and there never will be.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 08:20:00 PM:

I've thought much the same thing as Stephen Macklin, that Mapes might have known from the very beginning that the documents were fakes. That would certainly explain the lengths she's going to with this book to try and exhonerate herself. Had she made an honest mistake, she probably could have survived both at CBS and in the court of public opinion by simply admitting it was a mistake. But she would have had to openly admit it. Now she just looks like she's protesting too much. And that's what a guilty person would do. It's what Joe Wilson is doing. Just keep repeating the same crap and maybe someone will believe you and not believe the preponderance of the evidence that clearly points to another conclusion.  

By Blogger jinnderella, at Wed Nov 09, 08:35:00 PM:

Meshing is not the only tactic used. See this old comment from Joe Katzman--
"What you've described has become a standard tactic for politicians and political movements generally. The frequency of its use will increase in direct proportion to their desperation... or, as Steven Pressfield describes it in Gates of Fire, katalepsis. It's a Greek word with no exact English translation, but apparently "possession," derangement," and "hysteria" all have aspects of it."

This is also used by lawyers, and used to perpetuate the "no-WMD" myth. Once a meme is learned, it is extremely difficult to unlearn it, and especially if it is constantly reinforced by the media. In other terms, repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 08:55:00 PM:

One minor point: why call them forgeries? There's no evidence that they are based on any real documents. They are fakes.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 10:31:00 PM:

One of the truly frightening aspects of Ms. Mapes' rationale for her actions is that it is up to others to prove that the documents were fake, not for her to determine their authenticity. This rationale means that a reporter, just because he or she is a reporter, can state in a story what they believe is true and what is not true without having to produce confirmable support for the story. I think that is called "fiction" writing.

It is one thing for an identifiable partisan hack to take this type of position, but for a supposed journalist to do so, with impunity is very dangerous for our constitutional republic.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Nov 09, 11:18:00 PM:

Jason, regarding your concern:
For fun, check out a real c.1970's document, for example, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/when_nixon_met_elvis/chapin.html
(A memo to H.R. Haldeman about Nixon meeting with Elvis.) Open up a word document and type the first line or two and compare to the archival document. You'll understand then and your nagging worry will be gone!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 12:58:00 AM:

What's the difference between intellectual dishonesty & just regular old plain-vanilla standard B-flat ordinary everyday dishonesty?

Just asking.

-- Alan Cole, McLean (Fairfax County), Virginia, USA.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 09:21:00 AM:

Excellent analysis! How many spankings does one have to take before behavior changes?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 09:49:00 AM:

When you create a font based on an older typeset, than wouldn't it have the same spacing, size letters, offsets, etc?

It should, but the way a program like Word is going to lay out text in the Times typeface is different than, say, the way the New York Times sets type.

Back in 73 there was Wordstar and dot matrix printers. I'm not sure laser printers were even invented at that point. Personally, I can't imagine, back then, doing a memo on anything but a typewriter.

(Typesetting does *not* look like Word. Try typing out a page from a book in Word and see how many things Word does wrong. Even the famous "th" superscript is rendered poorly.)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 10:04:00 AM:

The Rosenbergs went to their deaths claiming complete innocence. Alger Hiss went to his grave claiming he was innocent as well. There are leftists out there today who will repeat these lies, that the Rosenbergs were not Soviet spies and that Hiss was not a communist. Still. Today. In spite of all the evidence.

There are no limits, no outer boundaries that define a leftist's willingness to lie if its in support of "the cause".


Mapes will go to her grave claiming that this story was true and these documents were authentic. To.Her.Grave.

Count on it.  

By Blogger Pat, at Thu Nov 10, 11:35:00 AM:

Back in 73 there was Wordstar and dot matrix printers.

Actually, WordStar 1.0 (running on CP/M only) was not released until 1978. And according to this history, the laser printer was invented in 1969, a year before Centronics introduced the first dot-matrix printer.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 11:41:00 AM:

"delusional disorder - individual will accept no proof, regardless of how convincing it is that his/her concept is wrong"

Seems like most leftist liberals have this malaise.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Nov 10, 11:55:00 PM:

Mary Mapes spent FIVE YEARS investigating Bush's Air National Guard service. The psychological term for that condition is "monomania."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Nov 11, 08:43:00 AM:

Re: "Back in 73 .... Personally, I can't imagine, back then, doing a memo on anything but a typewriter."

I joined the Air Force in 1974. I didn't even see a wordprocessor until I arrived at the Pentagon in 1985, and that was a Z100. While stationed in Texas from 1981-1983, long after the memo was supposedly written, we always used IBM typewriters for everything. When a friend alerted me to the ccontroversy in the beginning, I looked at the memo and concluded--based on the typing and the use of language--that it was a fake. It's still a fake, regardless of what Mapes might think.  

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