April 16, 2012

Ah, the Killian memos

Texas Monthly takes 10,000 words to tell us absolutely nothing new of consequence about George Bush's Air National Guard service and the controversy around them. Stories about Bush's spotty military service basically stopped after Dan Rather aired a poorly vetted story based on obviously forged documents ("The Killian memos") and destroyed his reputation. As the story rightly points out, that meant all the questionable military service allegations about challenger John Kerry effectively went unanswered in the press. But the nut graphs of the assessment of the Killian memo forgeries is very misleading:

But the man officially credited with inspiring a fusillade of blog attacks was Harry MacDougald, known on message boards as Buckhead, a GOP lawyer in Atlanta... He specifically claimed that the memos used proportional spacing and superscripts that didnít exist on typewriters of the early seventies...

In any case, MacDougaldís arguments about the documents turned out to be inaccurate. He acknowledged as much in an interview with me in 2008. And in a speech given that same year, Mike Missal, a lawyer for the firm that CBS hired to investigate its own report, said, "Itís ironic that the blogs were actually wrong. . . . We actually did find typewriters that did have the superscript, did have proportional spacing. And on the fonts, given that these are copies, itís really hard to say, but there were some typewriters that looked like they could have some similar fonts there. So the initial concerns didnít seem as though they would hold up."

The story does take pains to point out that the source's explanation of the memos relied on imaginary people, that no one else would offer any evidence supporting the memos' provenance, and that the man the memos named as Bush's commander was no longer in command on the date they were "written." Really, that should be enough to confirm this was a clear (and successful) attempt to fox CBS News.

But just to be clear, there has never been, nor ever will be, a plausible scenario where regular office memos in a small air force national guard office would have been created on the high-end printing house equipment that would have been necessary in 1973 to give the exact look of a Microsoft Word document from 2004, that was typed in on just any old PC lying around. But that was, and apparently remains, Rather's position, and Missal's, above. It's crazy talk, though, and any article that cited it as anything other than crazy talk, like this one, is just being wishywashy and dishonest.

UPDATE: See also Kevin Drum.

Posted by BruceR at 03:50 PM