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September 10, 2004

Dispensing (?) of Three Nits

There are three arguments made by those who wish to claim these documents are genuine:

1) There is a superscripted "th" in a contemporary document in Bush's record that we know for a fact is genuine.

This just isn't really true, even though Josh Marshall says it is.

The document in question is here. It's on page 3, a page that is vertically-aligned (i.e., up and down, the wrong way; you have to flip it to read it properly). The
"superscripted th" which Dan Rather will presumably be claiming proves the genuineness of his documents later tonight can be found on the second line, beginning "4Sep68." Scan along that line and you will find the alleged "superscripted th" in the ordinal "111th."

First of all, that character is not clearly anything. Look closely. It's a badly-distorted character. What it actually looks like is a square with a vertical line through it.

Could it be a "superscripted th"? Yes, it could, except independent experts keep telling us that such a character was not available on typewriters.

It could just be a folded-up bit of paper. It could be some sort of distortion in the photocopying process.

What else could it be? For crying out loud, it could be typo. The typist might have typed up the "111th" as "111t" or "111h," omitting one character, and leaving no room to squeeze it in without retyping the whole line; so he might have whited-out the character and drawn in a little "th" by hand.

Is that "reaching"? Well, it would be "reaching," I suppose, if we were just making this business up about the superscript th. But actual experts who deal with questioned-documents day in, day out, and who have entire bibles of available typefaces, tell us that this is either an extremely rare feature or something simply not available.

So, we can either decide to junk 50 or so years of document-verification science, or we can decide that maybe that unclear character is hand-drawn or some distortion caused by age and repeated photocopying.

2. When Little Green Footballs created his Word 97 version of one memo, he had to shrink it (or expand it) slightly to get it to overlay.

This one's pretty simple. The forged document has obviously been photocopied and re-photocopied a whole bunch of times to make it appear aged.

I'm not a photocopying expert, but I imagine that the platten (glass) on a photocopier is intended to lie a precise distance from whatever device is snapping a picture of the document. If that platten is just a little bit too far from the photocopying device, it will produce a slightly smaller reproduction. If it's a little too close, it will produce a slightly smaller reproduction.

You probably couldn't notice this if you took one photocopy, but if you repeatedly photocopied a document -- photocopying the new photocopy each time, as a forger would do -- that .1% difference would begin to multiply through successive runs through the copier. If a copy is only 99.9% the size of the original for a first-generation document, it becomes more than 1% smaller by the tenth generation (you just keep multiplying .999 by .999 ten times).

A .1% difference isn't noticeable; a 1% difference is quite noticeable, particularly on close (one laid over the other) inspection.

3. The White House did not declare the documents to be hoaxes when they released their copies (obtained from CBSNews) to the press.

Well, there are four reasons they might not have raised objections:

a) Because Bush knows the documents are real.

This is Dan Rather's interpretation, we must assume.

b) Because Bush knows the documents are forgeries, but the "story" the documents tell -- Bush was ordered to undergo a physical, which he refused -- is true. In other words, the forger framed a guilty man. Bush didn't object to the veracity of the documents because he knows he's actually guilty of the charges they suggest. He can't quite deny the validity of the documents without having to answer tricky questions about the "facts" they allege. So he stays mum.

This is Josh Marshall's hope.

c) Because Bush had no idea if the documents were authentic or not, particularly since most of them were memos to files that he would never have been shown. How the heck does the press expect Bush to know with certainty whether or not Killian's "secret personal files" contained derogatory information about him? They were, you know, "secret" and "personal."

The document ordering him to take a physical is trickier, but it's possible Bush thought this might just be some sort of miscommunication. He thought he'd been granted an exemption due to his non-flying status by one officer; now he was confronted with a document he didn't remember from Killian telling him to take a physical. He might be genuinely unsure if this document were real or forged, and yet still be sure he did what his commanding officer told him to do.

d) Karl Rove and the White House knew damn well they documents were forgeries -- how could they not? -- and they let CBS and Kerry swing on their own rope.

I don't say this is necessarily the most likely -- it's a risky maneuver; how do you know that the press will actually admit the docs are forgeries when evidence is presented -- but it does seem to be a live possibility. From the looks of things, these were extremely crude forgeries, so they would have a high degree of confidence they could prove their case after Rather hanged himself.

I honestly can't say which is true. Obviously, I don't want a) or b) to be true, but they could be, for all I know. My evidence that they're probably not true is my assumption that the documents are, in fact, forgeries-- can I direct your attention once again to the smoking gun?

I don't expect Dan Rather will even address the smoking gun tonight, except obliquely.

At any rate: we begin from the likelihood that these documents are forgeries. That's not some self-pleasing wild-eyed partisan surmise; that seems to be what all of the real experts are saying-- these documents are, to close to a 100% certainty, fake.

There's no need to go repealing years of document-authentication science and everything that's known about common 1970's typewriters in order to explain an unclear character on a single document. Yes, it could be that all of the experts are wrong and that superscripted-th's were common in typewriters.

Or it could just be a written-over white-out.

If the latter seems to easy, it also seems too hard to go abandoning all we know about document-authentication to explain one stray smudge.

And there are are many problems with the documents besides supescripted th's. There are smart quotes; there is proportional horizontal spacing;
there are proportional vertical spacing, again only available on word-processors; there is kerning; there is a dubious provenance, since the records did not come from the Pentagon or the man's family but some anonymous operative.

How exactly did that supposedly work, by the way? Did Killian take these papers from his base-files, where we'd imagine they're supposed to be, thus protecting Bush from exposure from them, but then give them to a secret friend (not his wife or son) with instructions, "Should I die, and, years later, should Lieutenant 'Sugar-Coat' Bush ever be up for re-election as President (not simple election; I'll give him four years-- gratis), then I want you, my good secret friend, to anonymously leak my private papers to the press and expose him for the chimpresident I expect he will be"?

And, oh yeah, there's the tiny little problem it's an identical copy of a document typed up in Windows 97 just yesterday.

digg this
posted by Ace at 05:06 PM

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