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Dan Rather: Expert Shop-A-Holic! | Main | Rather's "Expert" Wrong about 1's, Part 2: Flat-Topped Ones Just an Artifact of Faxing
September 14, 2004

Rather's Partisan Political Internet "Expert" Wrong About 1's and l's

(Mini-exclusive-- contains some new information.)

Rather's newest "expert" claims that the "1's" shown in the forged documents are actually lower-case L's ("l's" -- I know, they look very similar). He says this is more consistent with a typewriter than a computer-generated document.

Corante shows that in fact the two characters are extraodinarily similar, making it hard to tell one from the other. Except for one thing-- numbers on a computer-generated document are mono-spaced for readablility (i.e., so that the digits line up when doing column math), while lower-case "l's" would, like any other letter, be variably proportionately spaced.

Furthermore, the characters are nearly identical in Times New Roman anyway. In fact, I don't see any difference, although experts say the 1's are slightly taller than lower-case L's.

He presents .gifs to show the characters in question seem to be mono-spaced, indicating they are most likely not, in fact, lower-case L's, but rather normal computer-generated 1's.

But there's another objection to this newest of Dan Rather's defenses.

Dan Rather has been claiming these documents may be authentic because of the rather fanciful possibility that Jerry Killian had access to, for unknown reasons, a very high-end quasi-typesetting machine called the IBM Selectric Composer which could produce proportionally spaced characters (but, alas, not the same variably-proportionally spaced characters actually shown in the forged documents).

So Rather's entire defense is predicated on the Jerry Killian typing these documents on machine costing $3600-$4400 in 1972 dollars.

His expert asserts that it's more common for typical typewriters to use an l in place of a true 1 than for a computer word-processing program to do the same.

Well, Mr. Katz-- perhaps that was more common in normal typewriters.

It was not, however, true of the IBM Selectric Composer-- the very machine Rather's defenders insist the documents are actually typed in.

Shape of Days consulted an expert on the IBM Selectric Composer, and had him type out the text of the forgeries. This is what the IBM Selectric Composer typed, using the Press Roman ball:

Notice that the 1's for this type are very similar (if not identical to) the New Times Roman 1's on Word 97. Also note that, in fact, the Selectric Composer apparently has both 1's and l's -- the characters are clearly spaced differently. 1's are mono-spaced, as they are on Word 97. l's are proportionately spaced, again as they are on Word 97 -- check out how spaced out the "111" is, compared to the double-l's in "Ellington."

So which is it, Mr. Rather? If Killian had the sort of typical typewriter we'd expect to see on a TANG base, we probably would see l's rather than 1's.

But you're not claiming he had such a typical typewriter. You're claiming he had a high-end quasi-typesetting machine capable of producing variably-spaced Roman text-- and in the example we have, this high-end machine in fact has, as one would expect, distinct 1's and l's.

You can't claim that the documents were typed on a typical typewriter which would produce lower-case L's for 1's and also that they were typed on a high-end quasi-typesetting machine with distinct L's and 1's.

Or perhaps this really is Rather's latest claim-- that Killian typed out the bulk of the text using a high-end quasi-typesetting machine, but then, just to type the 1's (and nothing else!), switched over to one of the more primitive typewriters available at the base.

By the Way Update: If you're troubled by the superscripted "th" in the Selectric Composer sample-- don't be. In order to get that small-font superscript, the expert had to manually switch from an 11-point font ball to an 8-point font ball -- unscrewing one, screwing in the other -- and then switch back again to the 11 point font ball in order to finish the document.

Seems unlikely. Although they say there were custom-order balls that had small-font superscript available on them. The expert Shape of Days questioned didn't have one, though, making one wonder how common such balls were.

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posted by Ace at 12:25 PM

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