Thursday, September 09, 2004

Bush AWOL: Is there a typographer in the house? 

About Those CBS memos from Killian (back):


The Standard...



The Standard frames the issue this way:

There are several reasons these experts are skeptical of the authenticity of the Killian memos. First the typographic spacing is proportional, as is routine with professional typesetting and computer typography, not monospace, as was common in typewriters in the 1970s. (In proportional type, thin letters like "i" and "l" are spaced closer together than thick letters like "W" and "M". In monospace, all the letter widths are the same.)

Second, the font appears to be identical to the Times New Roman font that is the default typeface in Microsoft Word and other modern word processing programs. According to Flynn, the font is not listed in the Haas Atlas--the definitive encyclopedia of typewriter type fonts.

Third, the apostrophes are curlicues of the sort produced by word processors on personal computers, not the straight vertical hashmarks typical of typewriters. Finally, in some references to Bush's unit--the 111thFighter Interceptor Squadron--the "th" is a superscript in a smaller size than the other type.
(via The Standard)

And there are also several reasons to be skeptical of what the Standard is saying:

1. Proportional fonts were used in the 1970s. IBM made typewriters that had not only proportional fonts but interchangeable ones; I know, because I bought and used a second-hand one around 1975.

2. I don't see how anyone could say the font is identical to Times New Roman. Look at the half-size image or download the PDFs (back) , type out some lines of the memoes for yourself, and compare. The digitized images are simply too coarse and too aliased for a definitive judgement to me made. Proportional, however, the fonts are.

3. The apostrophes issue is dealt with in point 1.

4. The superscripting is also dealt with in point 1. See also Josh Marshall.

Issues not raised by the Standard:

1. The baselines of the memoes certainly vary. That is, some of the letters are a little higher than others, some a little lower. This is characteristic of the typewriter, a mechanical device. Though this effect could be duplicated with a typesetting package, it's hard to imagine someone working hard on a sophisticated effect like that, and then messing up a simple issue like fonts.

2. The "counters" of the letters (for example, the hole in the donut of an "o") are filled in, at least as far as I can tell in the digital reproduction). This too is characteristic of the typewriter, and a sophisticated effect.


3. The winger scenario—the CBS memos were "crude forgeries" ginned up in Word—would depend on the documents being laser printed, yes? But a laser printed letter, with toner laid down on top of the paper, and a typewritten letter, which shows the physical impact of keys striking the paper, would take a layperson about two seconds to distinguish. (There would probably also be carbon paper smears on the paper as well.) Presumably, someone at CBS took two seconds to look at the letters, and saw that they weren't laser printed, but were done on a typewriter. (Incompetent as they are, they can hardly be that incompetent.) The alternative theory is that CBS knew they were forgeries and went ahead anyhow, but that enters Protocols of the Elders of Zion territory.

Kevin Drum notes that CBS is very confident of the authenticity of the memos. It would be nice if we all could share that same confidence, if only because the wingers are dragging the debate back into "he said/she said" territory. The Standard has a series of suggestions that boil down to setting up people so that that Karl Rove can put horse's heads in their beds. I don't think so. It would be nice to know that the age of the ink on the memoes had been tested.

NOTE Interestingly, the White House didn't claim they were forged, and indeed released copies of them—that is, copies of CBS's copies (here). It would be like Rove to plant forgeries for CBS to find; perhaps through an associate of Killian that they got to. If that is so, CBS is in possession of an even bigger story.

UPDATE Then again, I'm no Photoshop expert. See Stirling Newbery at Kos.

UPDATE What Kerry should say:

If asked, only if asked:

"These are VERY serious charges. If there is any doubt if these documents are authentic, CBS needs to let us hear from the experts authenticating these memos. Because there is nothing more scurilous than degrading an honorable soldier's service record."
(via alert reader SusanG at

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