Columbia Journalism Review on CBS and the forged documents.

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has a story by Corey Pein on Rathergate that seems to leave out quite a lot that might seem relevant to his argument.

CJR came under early criticism for sticking its head in the sand when the story was breaking, thus missing one of the biggest stories of the year about the media and its coverage–what would seem to be CJR’s beat. Now CJR is dismissing those who got the story essentially right.

Among the more amazing passages is its attempt to resurrect David Hailey and his discredited report. Kevin Aylward of Wizbang, who first exposed David Hailey’s report, has comments on the new CJR story, calling it “spectacularly inept.” You can follow some of Wizbang’s other stories on Hailey’s study by doing a search on their site here.

CJR tells us that the key to Rathergate is Haileygate:

In order to understand “Memogate,” you need to understand “Haileygate.” David Hailey, a Ph.D. who teaches tech writing at Utah State University — not a professional document examiner, but a former Army illustrator — studied the CBS memos. His typographic analysis found that, contrary to widespread assumptions, the document may have been typed. (He points out, meanwhile, that because the documents are typed does not necessarily mean they are genuine.) Someone found a draft of his work on a publicly accessible university Web site, and it wound up on a conservative blog, Wizbang. The blog, citing “evidence” that it had misinterpreted, called Hailey a “liar, fraud, and charlatan.” [Aylward says that Wizbang retracted the three quoted words-JL]
Soon Hailey’s e-mail box was flooded. Anonymous callers demanded his dismissal.

Hailey is more restrained in his comments than other document examiners more widely quoted in the press. Of course, cautious voices tend to be quieter than confident ones.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 2, I also criticized the tone of many of the criticisms of Hailey, a concern that seemed to contribute to an almost immediate change in tone in the debate. Indeed, Hailey said that his hostile emails “ended abruptly on Saturday afternoon,” Oct. 2.

Unfortunately, Hailey himself ended up engaging in intemperate attacks on Wizbang’s site. Here is part of Hailey’s apology to Wizbang:

Instead, I produced an incoherent diatribe. I apologize to you and your community for defacing your site with my postings.

Worse, I woke still drunk and wrote you a letter hoping to deceive you. Actually, at that point I should have simply apologized. And so now I apologize to you for attempting to deceive you.

My behavior was inexcusable. My only excuse is I had (am still having) a complete emotional breakdown. I am still not in control of my emotions. [Hailey authorized public posting of his apology-JL]

While Hailey’s earlier report was certainly appropriately temperate, it was not (as CJR characterizes it) cautious. I agree with CJR that Haileygate is indeed helpful for understanding Rathergate. Understanding Haileygate is also important for understanding just how deficient CJR’s reporting is. My earlier analysis of the Hailey memo is here. Hailey asserts that he is confident that the memos were typed, but he has not been able to locate any typewriter that could have done it, nor has he been able to identify a computer font that could have done it. None of the computer font candidates he suggests, including particularly his favored font, ITC American Typewriter Condensed, comes even close to matching the forged memos. Times New Roman in MS Word does.

UPDATE: Meryl Yourish has an excellent post on typesetting and the CJR story (tip to Instapundit). As she nicely points out, it is virtually impossible that a typed document could be matched by a computer font on the first try. As I’ve said, it’s partly a generational thing; those too young to have used typewriters much do not realize that the forged Killian memos looked nothing like typed documents, including other documents in the Bush TANG files.

2D UPDATE: Charles Johnson points out just how cavalier or willfully obtuse Pein is in this passage from the CJR article. Pein is discussing part of Joseph Newcomer’s expert report:

The accompanying analysis was long and technical, discouraging close examination. Still, his method was simple to replicate, and the results were easy to understand:

Based on the fact that I was able, in less than five minutes . . . to type in the text of the 01-August-1972 memo into Microsoft Word and get a document so close that you can hold my document in front of the `authentic’ document and see virtually no errors, I can assert without any doubt (as have many others) that this document is a modern forgery. Any other position is indefensible.

Red flags wave here, or should have. Newcomer begins with the presumption that the documents are forgeries, and as evidence submits that he can create a very similar document on his computer. This proves nothing — you could make a replica of almost any document using Word. Yet Newcomer’s aggressive conclusion is based on this logical error.

As Yourish and Johnson make clear, Pein doesn’t understand just how devastating this is to the authenticity of the forged memos. Pein makes fun of the fact that it took Newcomer (and everyone else) only 5 minutes in MS Word to duplicate the spacing and typeface of the forged memos. Pein says, “This proves nothing — you could make a replica of almost any document using Word.” And with this Pein claims to have found a “logical error.”

Johnson says to Pein: Prove it. Take a real Bush TANG memo and duplicate it in a few minutes using MS Word. Johnson tried for about an hour and he didn’t get very close. With a full day, one might get sort of close, but in a few minutes, I don’t think that Pein could do it. (Note that Pein doesn’t actually say that it can be done in 5 minutes, but he implies that it can be done easily; otherwise, even Pein would have recognized that it would be relevant that it took Newcomer only 5 minutes.) Further, Johnson previously posted his own attempt to duplicate a real memo in MS Word:

[Click to enlarge]

The above picture is from Little Green Footballs.

Go to LGF for the original, as well as this failed attempt to do what Mr. Pein seems to think anyone could do. With the original memo on LGF, it should be easy for Pein to back up his claim and quickly do what he says can be done.

Comments are closed.