Have you been following the news lately? If not, let me sum up last week. On Wednesday, Dan Rather interviewed former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Governor Ben Barnes. Barnes said, “First of all, I want to say that I’m not here to bring any harm to George Bush’s reputation or his career.” (Yeah, right.) “It’s been a long time ago, but [Sid Adger, common friend of Barnes and then-Congressman George Bush] said basically would I help young George Bush get in the Air National Guard,” said Barnes. President Bush countered this revelation: “Any allegation that my dad asked for special favors is simply not true. And the former president of the United States has said that he in no way, shape or form helped me get into the National Guard. I didn’t ask anyone to help me get into the Guard either.”
Here we have two groups with completely different stories, and they can’t both be telling the truth. So how do you tell which group is lying? Well, who has something to gain if their story is believed? The Bushes, both father and son, would lose politically if it shows up that their denials are incorrect. But CBS News failed to mention that Barnes is a major Kerry supporter and donator. If Barnes’ story succeeds in blackening Bush and getting Kerry into office, Barnes stands to be rewarded with sweet political plums.
Both sides have something to gain and lose, so we must look at the facts and evidence surrounding the claims. Both Presidents Bush have denied these charges, but here’s another interesting quote from Barnes in May of this year: “I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard when I was lieutenant governor of Texas, and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it.” But Barnes wasn’t lieutenant governor in 1968, the year George W. entered the Texas Air National Guard. It could have been a slip of the tongue, but since this quote was used in a TV commercial, you’d think Barnes would have done a retake for a simple slip. He must have believed it when he said it.
Then CBS begins to wave around some memos apparently written by President Bush’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. These memos purport to show that people like Brigadier General “Buck” Staudt were pressuring Killian about Bush’s service and lack thereof. For now, let’s ignore the glaring fact that Gen. Staudt had retired in 1972 and would have had no say in the Guard’s business, and focus on a bigger problem with these memos: they are fakes.
Within twelve hours of the documents being aired on the 60 Minutes II program, Internet blogging sites like Free Republic, Powerline and Little Green Footballs had dissected the memos and showed how exactly the same documents could be produced with a current copy of Microsoft Word for Windows. And you don’t have to change any of Word’s default settings to do so. What is the likelihood that a 1972-era typewriter could center, kern, line space, tab, and superscript in a way that is literally identical to the workings of a high-tech word processor used three decades later? Not likely at all. In fact, several of the bloggers have produced animated images to show how closely the documents from 1973 and modern documents relate. If you’re interested, I suggest spending some time at Little Green Footballs’ memo logs..
As a former Air Force brat, I can recognize that some of the formatting in these memos is highly suspect. Look at a stack of real military documents, and notice that the typewritten documents are all in non-proportional fonts, exactly what you’d expect from a typewriter. Notice, too, that the names and ranks show up in the same format all throughout the documents: name, rank, organization. Here’s a few examples:
MATTHEW F. HEIMAN, Lt Col, TEXANG
G B GREENE, JR, MAJGEN, USAF
WILLIE J HOOPER JR, Capt, TEXANG
JOSEPH R. JELINEK, Colonel, NGB
But none of the four memos show this format. The two with signatures are formatted thus:
JERRY B. KILLIAN
No TEXANG, and with a period after Lt. This doesn’t fit the standard military format. Incidentally, where are the initials of the secretary who typed these memos? I don’t know if it is standard operating procedure for the military to leave the typist’s initials off memos, but if a civilian memo is typed by anyone other than the person who signs it, those initials show up. Killian’s widow has stated that he could barely type, and his son said, “It was not the nature of my father to keep private files like this, nor would it have been in his own interest to do so.” Can you believe that a man whose wife said that he did not type would create memos – casual business documents – with fancy superscripts and perfect centering, and keep them for no practical purpose? I don’t believe it either.
William Safire weighs in with his opinion that these memos “have all the earmarks of forgeries.”
It may be that CBS is the victim of a whopping journalistic hoax, besmearing a president to bring him down. What should a responsible news organization do?
To shut up sources and impugn the motives of serious critics – from opinionated bloggers to straight journalists – demeans the Murrow tradition. Nor is any angry demand that others prove them wrong acceptable, especially when no original documents are available to prove anything.
Despite all the evidence brought to light by bloggers, CBS stands behind the memos. But when the evidence can no longer be ignored that they are fake, will CBS fall by its memos? The blogosphere’s work is a legion of Davids to Dan Rather’s Goliath.
Step back, folks. He’s coming down.
Addendum (9/14/2004): Power Line has a good summation of Rathergate.
Jonah Goldberg sees Dan Rather being dealt a mortal blow with this memogate issue. And he brings up a good point: President Bush had information many times more concrete about Iraqi WMD. But Bush lied, says Rather. “Dan Rather had a couple shoddy Xeroxes – not all of which were examined thoroughly or at all. He interviewed a partisan – Ben Barnes – a huge backer of Kerry whose story has changed several times. But because many who hate Bush believe he lied, they are willing to believe any lies that confirm what they already know to be true.”
Addendum (9/15/2004): CBS releases their excuse, and Captain Ed correctly sums CBS’ stand that the memos are “accurate” but not “authentic”.
Little Green Footballs weighs in with an expanded statement on the memos.
Deacon of Power Line Blog ponders whither the major media.
The sound you hear is the flogging of a dead horse. The memos are fakes, and the allegations are, too, but this won’t stop both Dan Rather and CBS from busily rearranging the deck chairs of their own Titanic.
Addendum (3/9/2005): It’s the last day for Dan Rather as he ends on the same day he started 24 years ago. If this were a planned retirement, why end at 24 years and not a much better sounding 25 years? So long, Dan. Don’t let the screen door smack you on the butt as you leave.