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September 11, 2004

Rather Pathetic

Sithery D summarizes the case against Rather and links to an awesome post by Shape of Days.

Rather's defense continues to be that there were some typewriters that maybe could have produce documents that kinda-sorta looked a little like the forgeries in question.

This is like a criminal defense attorney arguing that someone could have shot a man's wife and then planted fiber and DNA evidence implicating the husband at the crime. Yes, it's possible. It's pretty unlikely, though.

Shape of Days tells us just how unlikely:

Whenever the topic has turned to the Selectric Composer, it has been dismissed out-of-hand as being far too expensive an item to find in an office on an Air National Guard base: The machine sold for anywhere from $3,600 to $4,400, and fonts were extra and not cheap. Furthermore, the Composer was widely agreed to be far too complicated and slow a machine to use for typing up memoranda, especially ones that were destined to go into a file and not even be distributed.

$3,600-$4,4000. I assume that's in 1972 dollars, but even if it's not-- seems like a pretty expensive typewriter to be using to type routine memoranda and orders.

And this machine would be used for letters and documents that needed to look highly professional for distribution to the public. Why on earth would someone use this expensive, slow-to-use machine requiring special training to type a memorandum to file that not even a superior officer was supposed to see?

Who was Killian trying to impress?

Maybe Ben Barnes, as it turns out. Maybe he wanted the documents to look really good for when Ben Barnes revealed them thirty years later.

To be fair, Shape of Days does contact an expert on the Selectric Composer, who does compose a letter looking something like the forgery. (But the MS Word 97 version is still closer.)

And the Selectric Composer can even type out the superscripted "th."

But guess what? To type out that superscripted small-font "th," Shape of Days' expert actually had to switch out the ball -- the thing that actually does the character-striking -- in the middle of typing to a smaller 8-point font, then type the "th" after raising it by turning the cylinder a half-click, then switch back to te ball with the regular sized font to complete the letter.

Just to produce that small-font superscripted "th," mind you.

Let's recap:

To reproduce a document that looks something like the document in question (but not so much like it as an MS Word 97 version), one would need a high-end typewriter requiring special training to use costing $3,600-$4,400 and one would need, to type out a small-font superscripted "th," to manually take out the print-ball mid-letter and then replace it with a smaller-font ball, type the "th," then replace the original larger-font print ball to finish the letter.


Yes, yes-- I'm sure lots of military officers and/or their secretaries have typesetting machines and manually replace parts on their typesetting machines simply to type two letters so that they look nice and neat.

And even doing all that-- the MS Word 97 is still much closer to the document in question.

And then there's a little bit more at Shape of Days-- how on earth did the creator of these documents precisely center his top-caption on two different documents within a milimeter of true center?

Shape of Days' expert proposes an experiment to him:

Something that I think would be a good test for your website may be to reproduce the centered heading using MS Word and Times New Roman. If you can produce centered text that matches identically to the letterhead, it is, in my opinion, a true hoax. The reason is, because even if they were able to center text with a typesetting machine such as the composer, a PC (and good word processor), will center the text even more precisely, not at the "point" level, but rather on the twip level (1/1440th of an inch or 1/20th of a point).

Can you guess what the outcome of this experiment might have been?

Dan Rather Retirement Watch Update:

It actually gets worse now that we know precisely how difficult and expensive a process it would have been to even approximately duplicate the "documents" in question.

At the tone, the Dan Rather Retirement Watch displays a time of


11:51PM-- three minutes closer to midnight (retirement)

Reproducible Results Update: Chronically Biased also did the centering experiment.

Same result or vindication for Dan Rather?

Take a wild flipping guess. Or, just click on the link.

digg this
posted by Ace at 10:15 AM

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