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September 14, 2004

A Straussian Analysis of the Sept 13 CBS-AP Article on Rathergate

This September 13 story may show that CBS's united front is crumbling. My comments are in italics. ...


(CBS/AP) Amid challenges from other news organizations and partisans, CBS News
continued to defend itself over criticism stemming from documents it obtained
that questioned President Bush's service in the Air National Guard.

Notice that this is joint with the AP, also known for its false reporting-- recall the recent "Republicans boo" story that the AP withdrew without comment after witnesses and videos noted that it was false.

On "The CBS Evening News" Monday night, Dan Rather said his original report on
"60 Minutes" used several different techniques to make sure the memos were
genuine, including talking to handwriting and document analysts and other
experts who strongly insist that the documents could have been created on a
typewriter in the 1970s -- as opposed to a modern-day word-processing software
program, as some have charged.

He didn't name any names, and till this report, I've seen only one name-- that of Marcel Matley, a signature expert. And what's with this "strongly insist"?

"Everything that's in those documents, that people are saying can't be done, as
you said, 32 years ago, is just totally false. Not true. Proportional spacing
was available. Superscripts were available as a custom feature. Proportional
spacing between lines was available. You can order that any way you'd like,"
said document expert Bill Glennon.

Note what he *doesn't* say-- that this document could have been written on one typewriter.

Richard Katz, a software designer, found some other indications in the
documents. He noted that the letter "L" is used in those documents, instead of
the numeral "one." That would be difficult to reproduce on a computer today.

l2345, 5432l, l2345, 5432l,l2345, 5432l,1111,l l l l, 1111, llll. Was this paragraph put here as sabotage, to make the reader guffaw at this point and say, "Well, it looks like other people are CBS are having some fun at Dan Rather's expense." ? Maybe Katz had some more subtle point, but...

In addition to the forensic evidence, Monday's "Evening News" story said the
original report relied on an analysis of the contents of the documents
themselves and interviews with colleague's of the author to determine their
authenticity. The new papers are in line with what is known about the
president's service assignments and dates.

"colleague's of the author"? Well, there's another possibility, that the CBS people are falling to pieces, their minds breaking under the strain. In this case, that goes for the author of this piece, the editor, and the lawyer who I hope they had looking over everything they publish on it.

(That mistake is fixed by now-- the next morning, Sept 14. The story you read at the link is not quite the same as this one. If CBS reads this weblog, it may be even more different by the time you are reading this. Right now, the two paragraphs I call the funniest are still there, though.)

Others have remarked on how you can't verify a document's authenticity by asking people whether it *sounds* realistic. And someone has suggested that the reason it sounds realistic to some people might be that CBS had been going around for weeks saying something like, "We are the mighty, all-knowing CBS, and everyone else is saying that there was political pressure to do favors for Bush. All we need is to find the documents we are sure exist. We would be very grateful if such documents suddenly appeared. Do you know anybody who can forge some?" (Oops-- "find some").

For instance, the official record shows that Mr. Bush was suspended from flying
on Aug. 1, 1972. That date matches the one on a memo given to CBS News, ordering
that Mr. Bush be suspended.

This is the second funniest paragraph. The document is authentic, because it uses one of the same dates available on the real documents you can get via the Bush campaign! I suppose the forger, none too smart, is proud of how he went to the trouble to get the dates right, even though he thought using a real typewriter, carefully imitating the signature, and figuring out whether General Staudt had retired or not would have been excessive care.

At question are memos that carry the signature of the late Lt. Col. Jerry
Killian, who was the commander of Mr. Bush's Texas Air National Guard fighter
squadron. They say Killian was under pressure to "sugar coat" Mr. Bush's record,
and Mr. Bush refused a direct order to take a required medical examination and
discussed how he could skip drills.

"At question"?

This may be stylistic nitpicking, but wouldn't the New York Times, despite its declining standards, have said, "They say that Killian was under pressure to "sugar coat" Mr. Bush's record,
and that Mr. Bush refused a direct order to take a required medical examination and
discussed how he could skip drills." Relevant here as another sign of stress at CBS, and poor quality control even on important documents sure to be zoomed in on by people like me.

By September 14, 9:30 a.m., this last paragraph is deleted.

Raising one question, The Dallas Morning News said in a report for its Saturday
editions that the officer named in a memo as exerting pressure to "sugar coat"
Mr. Bush's record had left the Texas Air National Guard 1 years before the memo
was dated.

The newspaper said it obtained an order showing that Walter B. Staudt, former
commander of the Texas Guard, retired on March 1, 1972. The memo was dated Aug.
18, 1973. A telephone call to Staudt's home Friday night was not answered.

New York Times columnist William Safire wrote Monday that Newsweek magazine had
apparently begun an external investigation: it names "a disgruntled former Guard
officer" as a principal source for CBS, noting "he suffered two nervous
breakdowns" and "unsuccessfully sued for medical expenses."

The L.A. Times reported that handwriting analyst, Marcel Matley, who CBS had
claimed vouched for the authenticity of four memos, vouched for only one
signature, and no scribbled initials. The Times reports he has no opinion about
the typography of any of the supposed memos.

CBS is giving the other side's story in these last four paragraphs! This is very interesting. That's good journalism, of course, but it's inconsistent with what CBS has been doing. These details also contrast with the lack of detail in describing the original problems with the document itself.

"who CBS had
claimed vouched for the authenticity of four memos" ought to be "whom CBS had claimed". This is the most amazing detail. That clause could have been left out of the paragraph, since its contribution is to note that CBS is making false claims about what even its own experts say. More honesty!

"60 Minutes" relied on the documents as part of a Wednesday segment-- reported
by Rather --on Mr. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to

Former colleagues of Killian have since offered differing views on the
authenticity of the documents.

Robert Strong, who appeared in the original segment, said after it aired that
still did not see anything in the memos that made him think they were forgeries.
Robert Strong noted he's not a forensic expert and isn't vouching for the

"I didn't see anything that was inconsistent with how we did business," Strong
said in an interview. "It looked like the sort of thing that Jerry Killian would
have done or said. He was a very professional guy."

Robert Strong is an English professor who never met George Bush and had no involvement in National Guard Administration. He is just somebody who had met Jerry Killian and who is anti-Bush.

Retired Col. Maurice Udell, the unit's instructor pilot who helped train Mr.
Bush, said Friday he thought the documents were fake.

"I completely am disgusted with this (report) I saw on 60 Minutes,"' Udell said.
"That's not true. I was there. I knew Jerry Killian. I went to Vietnam with
Jerry Killian in 1968."

Killian's son also questioned some of the documents, saying his father would
never write a memo like the "sugar coat" one.

Several of the document examiners said one clue that the documents may be
forgeries was the presence of superscripts -- in this case, a raised, smaller
"th" in two references to Guard units.

But Katz, the software expert, pointed out that the documents have both the so-
called "superscript" th (where the letters are slightly higher than the rest of
the sentence, such as 6th ) and a regular-sized "th". That would be common on a
typewriter, not a computer.

"There's one document from May 1972 that contains a normal "th" on the top. To
produce that in Microsoft Word, you would have to go out of your way to type the
letters and then turn the "th" setting off, or back up and then type it again,"
said Katz.

Another funny paragraph. Forgers *do* go to some trouble to forge documents. I myself, a hater of all those automatic features in MS-Word, have done what Katz describes. I don't remember details-- and now I've somehow turned off that obnoxious feature-- but I'd be going along typing and MS-Word would automatically superscript something and I'd have to go back and fiddle with it to turn the superscripting off. I bet I even forgot to turn it off sometimes and left an inappropriate "th" here and there.

There must be an interesting story behind the writing of this article. Sloppiness? Tension? Committee work? Someone rushing out an article that is not uniformly pro-Dan-Rather, rushing so the Rather faction won't see it in time? I ought to go back and read Leo Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing. This document definitely calls for a Straussian reading, the essentials of which are:

1. Ask why seeming mistakes might have been purposely put in the article.

2. Look not at what the author seems to say, but at the effect that it leaves on the reader. The author may have intended that effect.

3. In particular, look for very weak arguments, arguments so weak they seem to support the opposite of the author's stated position.

4. Look at the ordering and structure of the article for clues as to its intent.

5. Remember that in many times and places, an author gets in trouble if he says what he means directly, but censors tend to be not very bright and an author may "write between the lines".

Posted by erasmuse at September 14, 2004 09:38 AM

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