Sunday, September 12, 2004

AWOL: Document diversion

The louder they squeal, the more direct the score.

The Rabid Right is positively foaming over CBS News' story detailing George W. Bush's misadventures in the Texas Air National Guard. They are insisting -- no, demanding -- no, ranting with absolute maddened certainty that the documents CBS produced from Jerry Killian's files are frauds, dammit, frauds, I tell you!

The frantic nature of these claims is essentially a concession to the deeply damning nature of the documents in question. What all their frothing is intended to do, of course, is give them something, anything, to talk about other than the contents of the Killian memos. (See, for instance, the preoccupation of certain bloggers with the "forgery" claims, and the distinct lack of interest in the documents' actual content.)

I was especially amused by tuning in to local right-wing radio in Seattle. When Kirby Wilbur of KVI-AM denounced the documents Friday as "a fraud" and "a scam," you could practically hear the veins popping in his forehead. Dori "I never heard right-wing bullshit yet that I wouldn't swallow whole" Monson of KIRO rhapsodized at length about how blogs had done such a great job of "fact checking" the story, while of course neglecting to mention that it was blogs like this one that had kept the story about Bush's Guard service alive in the first place. Funny, too, how quickly guys like Monson were willing to pick up on data from right wing blogs regarding this story, while those on the left side of the aisle who've been blogging about this matter for more than a year have gone largely unnoticed.

In typical right-wing fashion, their insistence that the documents are forged has metastasized into a conspiracy theory linking the Kerry campaign to the CBS report, what some bloggers are calling "Forgerygate." Rush Limbaugh went on the air and declared that CBS was "coordinat[ing] dirty tricks with the Democrat National Committee and the Kerry campaign," and theorized:
Now, what has happened here, if these documents are indeed forgeries, what has happened here is that CBS's own friends have set them up.

CBS's own friends have used them. The Democrats, the Kerry campaign, have used CBS, have used Dan Rather in an effort to smear George W. Bush with lies, with forgeries.

Then he went on the air again and declared flatly: "These documents are forged."

Rather hilariously, all of these critics are doing themselves exactly what they're accusing CBS of doing: Running with "facts" and "analysis" that are materially false and ultimately bogus, and rushing them out without double-checking them.

Mark Steyn's column for the Sun-Times was a classic case of this:
Unfortunately for CBS, Dan Rather's hairdresser sucks up so much of the budget that there was nothing left for any fact-checking, so the ''60 Minutes'' crew rushed on air with a damning National Guard memo conveniently called ''CYA'' that Bush's commanding officer had written to himself 32 years ago. ''This was too hot not to push,'' one producer told the American Spectator. Hundreds of living Swiftvets who've signed affidavits and are prepared to testify on camera -- that's way too cold to push; we'd want to fact-check that one thoroughly, till, say, midway through John Kerry's second term. But a handful of memos by one dead guy slipped to us by a Kerry campaign operative -- that meets ''basic standards'' and we gotta get it out there right away.

The only problem was the memo. Amazingly, this guy at the Air National Guard base, Lt. Col. Killian, had the only typewriter in Texas in 1973 using a prototype version of the default letter writing program of Microsoft Word, complete with the tiny little superscript thingy that automatically changes July 4th to July 4th. To do that on most 1973 typewriters, you had to unscrew the keys, grab a hammer and give them a couple of thwacks to make the ''t'' and ''h'' squish up all tiny, and even think it looked a bit wonky. You'd think having such a unique typewriter Killian would have used a less easily traceable model for his devastating ''CYA'' memo. Also, he might have chosen a font other than Times New Roman, designed for the Times of London in the 1930s and not licensed to Microsoft by Rupert Murdoch (the Times' owner) until the 1980s.

Of course, CBS stands by its story, and for good cause. As their story explains, it is folks like Steyn, and not CBS, who have adopted information that simply doesn't hold water:
In a report on Friday night's "CBS News Evening News," Dan Rather noted that many of those raising questions about the documents have focused on something called superscript, a key that automatically types a raised "th."

Critics claim typewriters didn't have that ability in the 1970s. But some models did, Rather reported. In fact, other Bush military records already released by the White House itself show the same superscript -- including one from as far back as 1968.

Some analysts outside CBS News say they believe the typeface on these memos is New Times Roman, which they claim was not available in the 1970s.

But the owner of the company that distributes this typing style told CBS News that it has been available since 1931.

There's a great deal more available on the Web that utterly demolishes the "forged documents" theories. Of course, I haven't heard any of CBS' accusers rush to interview the people posting this material, but perhaps we should just wait until hell freezes over.

In the meantime, do be sure to check out Hunter's excellent compilation of information at Daily Kos. Also, check out (via Atrios) the debunking in PC Magazine of the notion that the ability to recreate a Selectric document with Word is anything exceptional, since Word was specifically designed to mimic a typewriter.

One of the problems with the critics' claims that really leaps out at anyone familiar with document authentication is the fact that every single one of the "experts" they cite has only been able to work from computer-generated copies of the documents available on the Web. That these "experts" are willing to make these condemnatory pronouncements of "forgery" without examining the original documents from which CBS worked is just a stunning piece of unprofessional behavior, and strongly suggestive of a partisan motivation. As Lambert at Corrente points out, these "experts" are clearly stepping beyond the ethical code governing their profession.

Moreover, there really shouldn't even be any reason to doubt the existence of certain of the CBS documents in question, especially the document showing the orders for Bush's suspension dated Aug. 1. This document almost certainly should exist, since previously released documents (referrring, in fact, to "verbal orders of the Comdr on 1 Aug 72") demonstrate with utter clarity that Bush was suspended from flying early August, including paperwork generated by the suspension.

Another of the documents shows that Killian issued a direct order to Bush to obtain his physical. Again, the existence of this document shouldn't be controversial, since obtaining such an exam is in fact a standing direct order for all Guardsmen anyway, and Killian was obligated to issue a direct order of this sort when Bush failed to do so.

Bush's handlers (especially spokesman Dan Bartlett) have had several different stories regarding why Bush skipped the physical, including the claim that Bush didn't go because his personal physician was unavailable. When this was definitively debunked (Air Force regs require the exams be administered by an Air Force flight physician) they shifted to their current position, the claim that Bush didn't show up because "he knew he wasn't going to be flying." But as I long ago pointed out, Bartlett's story doesn't add up: Even if Bush had permission to transfer, he decidedly did not have permission to ignore a direct standing order by skipping his physical, which in military-pilot culture is nearly a sacred annual rite. Moreover, Guardsmen simply don't have the option of deciding unilaterally to terminate their sworn obligation, particularly not such valuable assets as expensively trained pilots; had Bush actively sought to do so, he'd have been required to seek waivers and file for a reassignment of duties, no record of which is indicated anywhere in any of his records.

These aspects of the case have long been known, and the CBS documents not only fully confirm them, they also fill in some rich detail, particularly the way they make clear the turmoil that followed Lt. Bush's callow and irresponsible behavior and the difficult position in which he had placed Killian. However, the press has been missing in action on this story all along; and while one wonders why it took so long for CBS to dig into this case in the first place, they certainly deserve real credit for tackling it thoroughly.

Weighing all the evidence, I'll even venture to make a prediction:
The questioned documents will be thoroughly authenticated by independent analysts examining the actual copies used by CBS, and the news network will be vindicated.

And when that happens, I'll even make two more:
Not one of CBS' accusers or critics, especially those accusing it of falling for a "hoax" and conspiring with the Kerry campaign, will apologize to CBS, Dan Rather or any of the many other people they've smeared in this outburst.

The vast majority of right-wing True Believers will continue to claim, regardless of the evidence, that the documents are fraudulent.

Unsurprisingly, these same ideologues are already testing out their fresh memes for that eventuality, including Mark Steyn in the column above, who says this:
The tragedy for Rather, Oliphant, Krugman and Co. is that even if the memos were authentic nobody would care.

The main thrust of this meme is that Bush, unlike Kerry, isn't talking about what he did in Vietnam -- what matters is the "war on terror." Right. So why exactly were we hearing about Swift Boat Veterans for three consecutive weeks?

In any event, John-Paul at everythingsruined puts it best:
Perhaps "Bush doesn’t give much credence at all to his NG experience" because he can't. Again, there's the whole combat issue there. This is why the military doesn't make the barber at Fort Dix into a division commander, even though he may have been serving for 25 years. Kerry's military experience isn't just "I served in the military," it's "I've seen war up close, and I've shown leadership in extremely difficult situations." Bush's military experience is, "I flew some planes, until I found better things to do." Duh.

Tony Snow tried out a variation of the "who cares?" meme on his radio show Friday night, saying that it didn't matter, because what mattered was that we already know what kind of war president Bush is -- a "strong" one, of course.

Well, as I've explained previously, the whole question of Bush's Guard record is entirely relevant to the election:
The problem ... isn't George W. Bush's behavior in 1972. It is his behavior, and that of his administration and his campaign officials, in the very recent past that is at issue here.

Because the AWOL matter, first of all, demonstrates clearly that Bush has been lying to the American public about his behavior then, in an attempt to cover it up; and secondarily, in an extension of the first behavior, his military records appear to have been tampered with. The latter, we hardly need remind the critics, is a violation of federal law.

At the same time, the gross character flaw that the AWOL matter reveals is also very much part of what we have gotten from this presidency. There is no sense of accountability to the public anywhere in this administration; if something goes wrong [Can you say, "Weapons of mass destruction?" I knew you could.] it places the blame elsewhere. It falsifies budget figures and misleads the public about the grotesque debt load its deficits are placing on future generations. And it distorts intelligence estimates so that it can convince the public to participate in a war it had planned even before winning election. It bullies its opponents, and traffics in the most transparent way in keeping the public in line by fanning its fears of terrorist attack.

This is a presidency sold to the public on the phony image of Bush as a man of superior character -- a straight shooter, a veteran, a man who understands and respects duty and honor. (This was meant to contrast with Bill Clinton and, by extension, Al Gore.) But as we have explored at length previously, Bush's family connections are not any source of superior character; and as the AWOL episode demonstrates rather starkly, his personal history gives no evidence of having developed it either.

As we saw at the GOP National Convention, in fact, Bush's whole re-election campaign is predicated on the notion that he is a straight shooter: "You know where I stand." What the Texas Air National Guard episode makes clear, beyond any serious doubt, is that the man is mendacious manipulator -- one willing to falsify (perhaps criminally) the record about not only his own conduct in the military, but also his war-hero opponent's -- and there is no reason any of us should believe a word that comes out of his mouth. We know where he stands, all right: on the side of George W. Bush, and everyone and everything else is fair game.

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