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September 9, 2004

Debunked Before the Workday's Out

I'm truly sorry not to have been able to follow the anti-Bush National Guard memo-forgery scandal as it unfolded throughout the day. Such are blogs that a highly visible mainstream media report is minutely proven (in my opinion) to include forged documents before the average man on the street had even heard the reports. (If pro newsies stay true to form, the story will run a bit longer in the mainstream before petering out without correction.)

You've probably seen the debunking all over the place, but I'll provide a few good places to start, if you haven't. I came across the story in the Corner (up from here). There, Jonah Goldberg links to Powerline's thorough coverage. An ill Glenn Reynolds has a roundup, and for the truth seared — seared — with humor, see Scrappleface.

Amazingly, although I've come to the pile-on late, I've found a point that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. Powerline notes a comparison of the Lt. Col. Jerry Killian's actual signature with one from one of the documents.

What's striking about this is that I had intended to mention that the two Killian signatures on the (probable) forgeries don't match, either (even accounting for the fact that one is just initials). Here's the full signature from the May 4, 1972 memo that CBS has on its Web site (PDF), followed by the initialed signature from the August 1, 1972 memo from the same set (PDF), followed by Lt. Col. Killian's signature on Bush's discharge papers (PDF):

Although I would tentatively suggest that the second one is a forgery of the first — Doesn't the "J" have the same wobbly, too-careful look as "dad's" signature on that third grade test that you failed and had to have signed? — what they have in common compared with the actual Killian signature is perhaps more noteworthy.

Note the delicacy of the "K," in the first two images, with the right-hand line starting with an inward hook at the top, curving toward the middle and then bouncing back into a downward curve. Although the two are visibly different, they are both entirely different from the sharp, barely curved lines — with an extra pen stroke for the bottom leg — in the actual signature. Consider also the utter lack of a bottom loop on Killian's actual, angular "J."

Not knowing much about typical office structures in the military, I don't know whether Lt. Col. Killian would have had a secretary whom he might have had sign his memos. (Although that might offer some justification for his using his "sloppy version" on somebody's discharge papers, while reserving his elegant signature for quick notes.) Even if he did, however, have such assistance, we've got three signatures that don't match, not just two.

Do you suppose there's at least one each of a Kerry ally and a CBS employee compulsively checking the blogosphere today wondering just how much we'll manage to observe and dig up?

An expert whom Stephen Hayes cites for a Weekly Standard piece on the subject offers an alternate explanation:

So can we say with absolute certainty that the documents were forged? Not yet. Xavier University's Polt, in an email, offers two possible scenarios. "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

That might explain why the second signature above — which is from the most damaging of the forged memos — looks like a forgery of a forgery: the first signature being from a transcription, and the second attempting to copy it. But that's about it.

Posted by Justin Katz at September 9, 2004 9:26 PM

There are so many ways to attack these documents I've lost count: proportional fonts, kerning, the superscript "th", the signatures, the absence of any printed letterhead, "CYA" as a subject line in a memo, the failure to identify people by rank, and the kind of informal gossipy stuff that no officer with any sense would put in a memo to file.

I find the writing style points quite persuasive. You don't become a colonel in the Air Force writing sloppy, dangerous stuff like that.

These documents are supposedly from the colonel's personal files. Where are the rest of his papers? Let's see a lifetime of memos to file that look like this.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at September 10, 2004 2:58 AM

I saw Jonah's first link to Powerline yesterday morning at work -- normally I'm at school and so don't have computers during the day the same way. It's one of the only times I can recall watching a story unfold in quite the same way -- with new information constantly coming throughout the day, updates posted to multiple blogs adding emails and commentary. You could feel the momentum building and I couldn't help but be amazed at the knowledge and experience of readers and participants in these blogs. I wrote last night about the Post's sentence ('After questions surfaced on the Internet, the Post did its own investigation') -- where would the mainstream media be if the blogosphere wasn't here, as it wasn't even three years ago? Cool to watch that unfold. And I hope you're wrong, Justin, that it won't run without correction in the media. Enough media types know that it really is a big story that they're printing some of the "questions" now. (Though the party line spin is already going in full force.)

Posted by: Kimberly at September 10, 2004 9:47 AM

Rather will eventually do a correction (probably sooner rather (no pun intended) than later). The unknown is whether we will find out who created the documents and gave them to CBS.

Posted by: Mike S. at September 10, 2004 11:22 AM

"Do you suppose there's at least one each of a Kerry ally and a CBS employee compulsively checking the blogosphere today wondering just how much we'll manage to observe and dig up?" One of each? No. One person in both roles.

Posted by: ELC at September 10, 2004 4:46 PM

This story's leading edge is that Killian's family was not brought in on the con. They don't think that the documents are real, and they didn't allow anyone to snoop around in the late colonel's personal papers. The liberal kool-aid drinkers tried to stop this one in the blogosphere, but they've been overwhelmed. Now the leading theory on the far left is that this was all an evil Republican plot.

More seriously, I'm wondering if yesterday will be viewed as a historic moment in news reporting. We have a venerable dino-media leader and a similarly venerable dino-media TV news show doing their usual partisan hatchet job posing as news. The blogosphere demolishes their entire story within 24 hours.

I imagine that nearly everyone who gets their news on the web pities the poor people who still rely on the old media. Perhaps this tale will play a key role in helping large numbers of those people understand just how ignorant they are choosing to remain.

Posted by: Ben Bateman at September 10, 2004 5:49 PM

I have been watching this unfold since it was first stated that there would be an interview on 60Minutes2. From the start it seemed like a setup because Dan "Kenneth" Rather was a key person at a Democratic fundraiser for the very person he interviewed.

I can't wait for the current Democratic party to self explode and we can get some honor back into politics.

Posted by: Allan at September 10, 2004 10:49 PM

I was in the Navy in the early seventies. Worked in supply dept office of Sub Tender. When an officer didn't actually sign a document, he would use a facsimily stamp which was just a rubber stamp with his actual signature on it. No one had a secy sign for them.

Also, I don't believe memos were EVER used to issue orders. Memos were for disseminatinf info, like maybe reminding someone of an upcoming physical, but not to order them to present themselves. Besides, even if that were the case, there would have had to be a "copy to:" followed by someone in pers dept (copies of orders MUST go in one's personnel file) and probably something to the Dr. who would give the exam.

i.e., there's more that's fishy here than just the typewriter that was used.

Finally, here's what an ex NASA flight sergeon has to say about this:
(Scroll down to "Thursday, September 09, 2004)

Posted by: Bob at September 12, 2004 3:13 PM

This is a minor point, but yet another reason for suspicion. The signature block on Bush's discharge papers is in the correct Air Force format: name, rank, and USAF on one line, and the position on the following line. The signature blocks on documents released by CBS have Army-style three-line signature blocks: name on line one, rank (normally followed by branch) on line two, and position on line three.

Now since I wasn't in the Air Force in 1973 (I served in the 80s and 90s), I can't state for a fact that three-line signature blocks weren't used in the Air Force back then, but the fact that the CBS documents' signature blocks are not consistent with the format of the documents that are known to be authentic only raises more questions. If indeed the CBS documents are forgeries, as it appears, the forger probably either had Army experience, or used Army documents as a model.

Posted by: Dan at September 14, 2004 11:55 AM