September 12, 2004

Down From The Mountain


From today's Los Angeles Times: No Disputing It: Blogs Are Major Players.

Soon Charles Johnson, a Los Angeles musician-turned-conservative-blogger who hosts the site, posted the results of his own investigation [of the CBS Bush memos]. He wrote that he had opened Microsoft Word, set the font to Times New Roman and used the program's default settings to retype a purported Killian memo from August 1973.

"My Microsoft Word version, typed in 2004, is an exact match for the documents trumpeted by CBS News as 'authentic,' " Johnson wrote, posting images of his creation and the CBS document. (The Times New Roman font itself predates computers; it was designed in 1932.)

Within 90 minutes of that post, the Power Line site was linked to perhaps the best-known conservative site of all -- the Drudge Report, made famous when Matt Drudge took a lead role in the first reports on the relationship between then-President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

"That was a quantum jump in awareness," said [Power Line's] Scott Johnson. "It was wildly circulating in the blogosphere until Drudge linked us. Then it was instantly known to a million people, and it was all of a sudden a legitimate story."

The article is very grudging in giving credit to blogs, going as far as to cast doubt on their legitimacy, but bloggers Scott Johnson (Power Line) and Charles Johnson (Little Green Footballs) are acknowledged for their breakthroughs in the faked memos story. (Power Line analyzes the article.)

Other bloggers closely following the story include: INDC Journal, and InstaPundit.

Mark Steyn ponders media bias (and bloggers Power Line and LGF get more national credit): CBS falls for Kerry campaign's fake memo.

The only problem was the memo. Amazingly, this guy at the Air National Guard base, Lt. Col. Killian, had the only typewriter in Texas in 1973 using a prototype version of the default letter writing program of Microsoft Word, complete with the tiny little superscript thingy that automatically changes July 4th to July 4th. To do that on most 1973 typewriters, you had to unscrew the keys, grab a hammer and give them a couple of thwacks to make the ''t'' and ''h'' squish up all tiny, and even think it looked a bit wonky. You'd think having such a unique typewriter Killian would have used a less easily traceable model for his devastating ''CYA'' memo. Also, he might have chosen a font other than Times New Roman, designed for the Times of London in the 1930s and not licensed to Microsoft by Rupert Murdoch (the Times' owner) until the 1980s.

Killian is no longer around to confirm his extraordinary Magic Typewriter, but his son denied the stuff was written by his dad, and his widow said her late husband never typed. So, on the one hand, we have hundreds of living veterans with chapter and verse on Kerry's fantasy Christmas in Cambodia, and, on the other hand, we have a guy who's been dead 20 years but is still capable of operating Windows XP. It took the savvy chappies at the Powerline Web site and Charles Johnson of ''Little Green Footballs'' about 20 minutes to spot the eerily 2004 look of the 1972 memo, and various Internet wallahs spent the rest of the day tracking down the country's leading typewriter identification experts.

UPDATE I: AllahPundit has lots of info on the fake memos. And Investor's Business Daily has some advise for CBS:

It now appears CBS made a grievous mistake or knowingly relayed false information. If so, what credibility does it have left? Even an on-air correction won't undo the damage.

CBS would go a lot further in restoring its credibility if it at least checked into the source and authenticity of the memos.

If it's shown that Democrats or the Kerry campaign are the source -- as suggested by comments to the American Spectator by an unnamed Kerry staffer -- CBS better say so.

If the documents prove to be forgeries, resignations from Rather and CBS News President Andrew Heyward would be in order along with a sweeping review of ethical practices at a once-proud news organization.

UPDATE II -- September 13: The Wall Street Journal's John Fund: I'd Rather Be Blogging: CBS stonewalls as "guys in pajamas" uncover a fraud. And The New York Times's William Safire: Those Discredited Memos. From the latter:

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.

Years ago, Kurdish friends slipped me amateur film taken of Saddam's poison-gas attack that killed thousands in Halabja. I gave it to Dan Rather, who trusted my word on sources. Despite objections from queasy colleagues, he put it on the air.

Hey, Dan: On this, recognize the preponderance of doubt. Call for a panel of old CBS hands and independent editors to re-examine sources and papers. Courage.

UPDATE III: Glenn Reynolds has a good recap of this whole affair, including a link to the cartoon, which he perfectly summarizes in this observation: "But, as I've noted elsewhere, one thing that distinguishes bloggers from Old Media guys like Dan Rather is that they don't expect you to take them on faith. Instead, they try to get things right. Which may be why some people are starting to trust blogs more than they trust Dan Rather."

UPDATE IV -- September 14: This cartoon appears in today's (Tuesday's) Investor's Business Daily and The Detroit News.

UPDATE V -- September 15: Investor's Business Daily has a good article by Ed Carson: Blogs Take Lead Role In CBS Memo Furor.

Posted by Forkum at September 12, 2004 10:25 AM