UPDATE September 22, 2004
A complete update of this posting can be found here: Incompetent AND Unethical: The Story of CBS News' Response to Criticism of the Killian Memo Forgeries - Part One.
When the Rathergate story broke, I studied it with interest and amusement. I did not post anything on this blog about it, because I generally stay "on-topic," which means that I focus on technology law and policy. However, I am also very concerned about freedom of experession issues and the development of blogging as a new media form. I initiated the first, as far as I am aware, blog conference at an academic institution: Revenge of the Blog at Yale Law School.
By this past Monday evening, however, the story had clearly become one involving serious questions about the future of news reporting and I decided to join the conversation on this blog. This story is important because the blatant flouting of basic and fundamental journalistic practices by one of the largest and prominent news organizations in the country is undermining the credibility of journalism as a whole. Jay Rosen has asked how the press can "win" during this election season (Campaign Puzzler: How the Press Comes Out with a Win). Well, I think that right now, the press is falling farther and farther behind in points. If major news organizations think that their credibility is not tarnished by a rogue CBS, they are sadly mistaken.
It is disappointing to me that the major media has been mostly silent in their condemnation of CBS's response to this scandal. Even granting, against reason, that there remains a serious debate about the authenticity of the documents, and that CBS's "checks and balances" for vetting this story were sufficient, the response of CBS to its critics has been outrageous. Where are the outraged calls for more transparency on the part of CBS News from the editorial boards of the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune or Wall Street Journal? Why haven't anchors of the other networks called for CBS to establish an internal, or better yet, an external investigation into the issue? Any profession that won't police its own when members egregiously violate the fundamental tenets of that profession will very quickly lose all credibility.
More importantly, the press plays a vital and critical role in forcing transparency on government. How effectively will the press be able to play that role if it adopts the stonewalling tactics of the government when it is subject to criticism? If our watchdogs cannot even watch themselves, the Fourth Estate will become ever more ineffective.
Many of my most important criticisms aren't about content, but about process. Many stories will lead to valid disagreements over nuance, omissions, and etc. However, there are fundamental aspects of process that virtually all can agree upon. CBS News has violated many of these. And, even where I criticize CBS News content, it is generally with the belief that a news organizations should be especially fair and even-handed in responding to criticism.
I should also note that this isn't about Dan Rather. I couldn't care less about Dan Rather. This is about CBS News as an organization. Although Dan Rather has been the focus for attention for many, the majority of my criticisms are directed at CBS News as a whole.
Whether you agree that the documents are forged, clearly credible and legitimate questions about their authenticity have been raised. CBS News has not responded to criticisms with transparency and responsibility we should expect from any news organization, let alone such a large and important one.
The following is an analysis and timeline of CBS's response to their critics. It is abundantly clear that CBS's actions when questioned about the validity of their reporting are a breach of what should be fundamental journalistic practice. Either that, or CBS News is hopelessly incompetent.
If I've missed something or erred, please let me know.
Thursday, September 9th
Weblogs such as Power Line (The sixty-first minute), LittleGreenFootballs (Bush Guard Documents: Forged), and INDC Journal (Are the CBS National Guard Documents Fake?) raise serious, credible questions about the authenticity of the documents. There were other blogs involved, but this isn't an exhaustive history of the blogger's role. In any case, although not all the arguments and questions raised were ultimately found valid, many remain unanswered. In particular, INDC Journal is to be commended for seeking and obtaining the opinion of a recognized expert in the field of document examination. I should also note that CBS News should be commended for putting the documents on the web in the first place, though apparently they put real cruddy copies up, as we will see below.
Later that day, several major news organizations begin developing stories based on the concerns with the memos' authenticity raised by bloggers. When contacted, CBS stood by its story and spokesperson Kelli Edwards made the following claim in an email according to WorldNetDaily (CBS News denies Bush docs forged):
"CBS verified the authenticity of the documents by talking to individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written. These individuals were close associates of [Bush commander] Colonel Jerry Killian and confirm that the documents reflect his opinions at the time the documents were written." [emphasis added]
This is a remarkable claim and, if true, would do much to prove the authenticity of the documents. Note that CBS claims not one contemporaneous witness but at least two "individuals." Of course, these sources may desire to remain anonymous. However, there is plenty of evidence that these sources, who saw the documents written, could provide about how they were created in order to answer critic's charges. For example, the sources may remember the type of equipment used to create the document, or whether it was written by Killian himself, or typed for him by another individual or even by one of the sources themselves. Unfortunately, to date, CBS has not named the individuals who saw the documents at the time they were written, nor has CBS provided any additional information that such sources could provide to clear up questions about the authenticity of the documents. Furthermore, CBS no longer reiterates this claim.
This is particularly odd in light of the fact that CBS has reported the views of Killian's secretary, Marian Knox, who denies that Killian would have typed the documents himself or that the CBS memos were consistent with documents from Killian's National Guard offices. CBS has not addressed the question of how their claim of sources "who had seen the documents at the time they were written" is consistent with the claim of Killian's secretary, which would shed much light on the matter.
Does CBS stand by this remarkable claim of more than one source who saw the documents at the time they were written? If not, why not? If this was a mistatement, it would be quite significant and hardly in keeping with the standards of a major news organization.
The Washington Post, which has been a leading light in the investigation also approached CBS with the testimony of experts consulted by the Post (Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush):
Documents unearthed by CBS News that raise doubts about whether President Bush fulfilled his obligations to the Texas Air National Guard include several features suggesting that they were generated by a computer or word processor rather than a Vietnam War-era typewriter, experts said yesterday.
Experts consulted by a range of news organizations pointed out typographical and formatting questions about four documents as they considered the possibility that they were forged. The widow of the National Guard officer whose signature is on the bottom of the documents also disputed their authenticity.
It was here that CBS began to stonewall investigators:
CBS spokeswoman Kelli Edwards declined to respond to questions raised by experts who examined copies of the papers at the request of The Washington Post, or to provide the names of the experts CBS consulted.
Why not name the experts? Why did it take CBS an entire week to provide the names of those it consulted? What valid reaons could CBS have in not identifying those who identified their documents? CBS has never said. Their behavior here was a brazen and conspicuous flouting of elementary considerations of transparency. Compare this with the Washington Post, which named and provided at least some background for two of their experts.
The Washington Post goes on to provide another remarkable claim by CBS:
CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks. The senior CBS official said the network had talked to four typewriting and handwriting experts "who put our concerns to rest" and confirmed the authenticity of Killian's signature.
Now, this isn't a direct quote but, if true, it seems to be at the very least misleading given later revelations. By CBS's own claim, two of the experts were "peripheral" to the investigation. However, on the day after the 60 Minutes II
report, they didn't seem too peripheral to mention to the Washington Post. Furthermore, at least three of the experts now claim they did not authenticate the documents. CBS claims they are mispresenting their discussions with CBS.
We do know that CBS was being misleading when they said the experts authenticated the "documents" as opposed to authenticating only photocopies of the documents. You might think that was worth mentioning.
Interestingly, three of the experts have been willing to talk directly to the press about what they told CBS. No individual from CBS who spoke to the experts has come forward to dispute the claims in person, or to provide a detailed accounting of what the two "peripheral" experts told CBS.
Call me suspicious, but I think CBS should provide more information about the "six weeks" claim given that statements from some of the experts disputing CBS's claims about them indicate that CBS did not involve experts for the entire six weeks claim.
The Weekly Standard even made recommendations on how CBS should respond to criticism (Is it a Hoax?):
CBS, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said it stands by the story. The network claims that its own document expert concluded the memos were authentic. There are several things CBS could do to clear up any confusion:
(1) Provide the name of the expert who authenticated the documents for Sixty Minutes.
(2) Provide the original documents to outside experts--William Flynn, Gerald Reynolds, and Peter Tytell seem to be the consensus top three in the United States--for further analysis.
(3) Provide more information on the source of the documents.
(A spokeswoman for CBS, Kelly Edwards, said she was overwhelmed with phone calls and did not respond to specific requests for comment.)
The recommendations were, of course, ignored.
Friday, September 10th
MSNBC reports that CBS calls their source for the documents, "unimpeachable" (CBS stands by documents on Bushs Guard service). Well, I guess we will have to see, now won't we? However, if it turns out that the documents are falsified, this will have been shown to be quite the overblown claim.
Blog O'Ram begins maintaing a list of experts named in various news stories who question or support the authenticity of the documents (A Scorecard). Perhaps someone at CBS might have thought to consider something like this. We will see later how CBS chooses additional experts to examine the documents.
Dan Rather himself responds to the criticism's during the broadcast of that evening's CBS Evening News in a particularly unprincipled way. Of course, I doubt it likely that he writes his material entirely alone or without review of an editor. There are other individuals at CBS News responsible for this debacle. Furthermore, having broadcast this report, failing to reconsider or correct the same broadens responsibility for this unprincipled broadcast even further. CBS News' vaunted ethics are seriously challenged here.
Let us go to the transcript, as provided by KerrySpot on the National Review (This is a Defense?). I've removed and borrowed from many of Jim Geraghty's excellent annotations of the transcript to make my own points. Read his as well. Some people may consider some of my comments nit-picky, but when your journalistic integrity is being challenged, one would expect you to pick a few nits defending yourself. One shouldn't defend shoddy reporting with more shoddiness.
There were attacks today on the CBS News 60 Minutes report this week, raising questions about President Bush's Vietnam era time in the Texas Air National Guard. The questions included in our report were: Did a wealthy Texas oilman, friend of the Bush family, use his influence with the then speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to get George W. Bush a coveted slot in the National Guard, keeping him out of the draft and in the probable service in Vietnam? Did Lieutenant Bush refuse a direct order from his commanding officer? Was Lieutenant Bush suspended for failure to perform up to Air Force standards? Did Lieutenant Bush ever take a physical he was required and ordered to take? If not, why not? And did Lieutenant Bush, in fact, complete his commitment to the Guard?
This appears to be the beginning of the answer-a-question-with-a-question-game. A tactic that CBS continues to use to divert attention from the concerns its own behavior and the evidence has raised. One might have excused it if this was the only example, but it has become a mainstay of CBS's rhetorical arsenal, limited as that arsenal may be.
This is clearly and even explicitly meant to distract attention from the very serious questions being raised about the CBS documents. Is this proper behavior for a news organization? Politicians and others may use this tactic to distract questioners and avoid giving a direct answer. Wouldn't it have been much more appropriate for CBS to simply say they reported about certain allegations and then move directly into answering the questions that had been raised? When will other news organizations tell CBS that this is really not acceptable behavior when your evidence is being questioned?
These questions grew out of new witnesses and new evidence, including documents written by Lieutenant Bush's squadron commander.
As Geraghty puts it, "This would be a fine place to use the word 'allegedly.'"
Today on the Internet and elsewhere,
Again, from Geraghty, "Where is elsewhere? Would this be the Washington Post or ABC News you're referring to?" Indeed. To many people, the "Internet" (with some justification) means an arena where wild and unsubstantiated allegations roam free. Why did CBS not mention the very prominent and respected organization bringing the questions. One might think this was inadvertant, perhaps, until you consider the rest of the statement.
some people, including many who are partisan political operatives,
Motivation is frequently a valid element in judging claims that are subjective. However, most of the criticisms of the documents, particularly the typographical evidence is fairly objective in nature. How important is motivation regarding these claims? Furthermore, this also casts aspersions on the reporting of other news organizations without any basis. Is this journalistic ethics?
concentrated not on the key questions of the overall story, but on the documents that were part of the support of the story.
The answer-a-question-with-a-question-game continues (to this day). The documents were clearly an important and central part of the story when broadcast. Whether these documents are authentic is
a key question of the overall story. If Dan Rather and CBS News cannot see that, at some point, their blindness crosses the line into either professionally incompetent or unethical behavior.
They allege that the documents are fake.
"They," the mysterious "they." A confident (did I almost write "competent"?) news organization might have said "Experts allege" or something similar. Shouldn't a news organization confront challenges directly, rather than use rhetorical tricks to undermine the case for their critics? It would seem that CBS News was acting more as an advocate than an objective seeker of truth. If there is anything less "journalistic" than acting as an advocate for a particular position, I don't know what it is. Lawyers are supposed to be advocates. Journalists are supposed to seek something close to the truth.
Those raising questions about the CBS 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.
"Those raising questions," the mysterious tribe of "those." Will CBS ever dignify its critics by referring to them with anything other than a pronoun or partisan label?
Of course, the superscripting claim was only one of many. Furthermore, only the least sophisticated critics were still arguing that there were no ligature "th"s by Friday morning. In fact, most of the experts were arguing that it was uncommon, especially considering that this ligature was "superscripted", that is, printed immediately next to and slightly above another character.
More importantly, this ignores the argument that all the experts were making, that this was remarkably consistent with the output of a wordprocessing program. Indeed, many consider the most compelling demonstration of this the "smoking memo," which had been made available the day before on LittleGreenFootballs. Could it possibly be that CBS didn't notice this? Now it might be that somethings just can't make the cut in the limited time of 30-minute news show. However, isn't there any obligation to provide your critics strongest arguments?
In fact, other Bush military records already officially released by the White House itself, show the same superscript. Here's one from 1968.
Uh, no it doesn't. Anyone looking at the two documents will clearly see that ligature isn't anything like the ligature in the disputed memos. See the original on page three of this document: Miscellaneous Bush National Guard Documents [PDF]
First, it isn't superscripted. Like the vast majority of ligatures on typewriters it prints inline with the other characters. Second, it is clearly a different typeface. It is monospaced for gosh sakes.
Incompetent, blind, and/or unethical? You be the judge.
Some analysts outside CBS 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 says it has been available since 1931.
Geraghty says it well, "Yes, for printing books. Was New Times Roman available for typewriters for that era? Again, if it was, it was highly uncommon. And why has no other document from Bush's records from that era been printed in that font? And has anyone found any other document written in than font, by Killian, relating to anything else but Bush?" Indeed. At least they refer to "analysts."
Incompetent and/or unethical? You be the judge.
Document and handwriting examiner Marcel Matley analyzed the documents for CBS News. He says he believes they are real, but he is concerned about exactly what is being examined by some of the people now questioning the documents.
Actually, Matley didn't analyze the documents, only photocopies of the documents. A minor, but critical point - as even Matley acknowledges that it is impossible to conclusively authenticate a signature from a photocopy, but that it is possible to falsify it.
Strangely, Matley now claims that he didn't analyze the "documents," but only a single signature. Indeed, his speciality is handwriting, not typeface identification. Is CBS lying or Matley? There are people who claim that everyone else is lying, but they aren't. We generally call these people "liars."
And how nice that Matley expresses his concern about what "people" (aka document authentication experts hired by other news organizations) are examining.
Because deterioration occurs each time a document is reproduced and the documents being analyzed outside of CBS have been photocopied, faxed, scanned, and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS started with, which were also photocopies.
Nice of CBS to mention that. They didn't mention it on Wednesday during the first report or, more importantly, when questioned on Thursday.
They might have also mentioned that if all you have is a photocopy that makes it impossible to conclusively authenticate a document based on analysis of the document alone.
Of course, this claim is absolutely shameless. The only reason that other experts were not analyzing pristine copies is because CBS had not made them available. Give me a break! Is this even a close ethical call or a gross violation?
Document and handwriting examiner Marcel Matley did this interview with us prior to the 60 Minutes broadcast. He looked at the documents and the signatures of Colonel Jerry Killian, comparing known documents with the colonel's signature on the newly discovered ones.
Mr. MARCEL MATLEY (document and handwriting expert): We look, basically, at what's called significant or insignificant features to determine whether it's the same person or not. See I have no problem identifying them. I would say, based on our available handwriting evidence, yes, this is the same person.
Of course, Matley now claims that he only authenticated a single signature. Indeed, CBS itself has put on its website a letter from Matley attesting to this claim without a disclaimer that it is misleading or a lie (Letter to 60 Minutes Wednesday from Marcel Matley [PDF]
). I guess this would mean that CBS News' defense was the misleading claim.
RATHER: Matley finds the signatures to be some of the most compelling evidence.
They were the only
evidence Matley considered.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
We talked to him again today by satellite.
Are you surprised that questions come about these? We're not.....but I wondered if you were surprised.
If CBS wasn't surprised, then that means they knew they would have to be especially careful in authenticating these documents. It also means that they should have been prepared to answer questions. Interestingly, neither appears to be the case.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
Mr. MATLEY: I knew going in that this was dynamite one way or the other, and I knew that potentially it was far more potential damage to me professionally than benefit to me, and I knew that. And but we seek the truth, that's what we do. And, you know, you're supposed to put yourself out to seek the truth and take what comes from it.
Once again, Geraghty hits it on the head: "Poor Matley. Oddly, instead of asking Matley to explain in greater detail why he thinks the documents are genuine to address the criticism head-on Rather asks him whether he is surprised that some people question the validity of the documents. And Matley is lamenting that his work for CBS in this could do potential damage to him professionally. This exchange is almost a non sequitur." Indeed. Ignoring the question on point. Is this what passes for journalism nowadays?
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Robert Strong was an administrative officer for the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam years. He knew Colonel Jerry Killian, the man credited with writing the documents. And paperwork, like these documents, was his specialty. He is standing by his judgment that the documents are real.
When you read through these documents, is there any doubt in your mind that these are genuine?
Mr. ROBERT STRONG (former administrator, Texas Air National Guard): Well, they are compatible with the way business was done at that time. They are compatible with the man that I remember Jerry Killian being. I don't see anything in the documents that are discordant with what were the times, what were the situation and what were the people that were involved.
RATHER: Strong says the highly charged political atmosphere of the Guard at the time was perfectly represented in the newly revealed documents.
Mr. STRONG: It verged on outright corruption in terms of the favors that were done, the power that was traded, and it was unconscionable. From a moral and ethical standpoint, it was unconscionable.
Geraghty again, "This is a nice supporting witness contending that it is possible Killian would write this memo. It would be nice if he addressed the claims that Killian didn't type and didn't keep memos at home, and spoke to whether the document looks like any other document generated in a National Guard office in the early 1970s."
RATHER: It is the information in the new documents that is most compelling for people familiar with President Bush's record in the National Guard. Author Jim Moore has written two books critical of President Bush and his service in the Guard.
Mr. JIM MOORE (Author): So there's no doubt in my mind that these documents are stating accurately what we know took place from the records that are available.
One supporting witness to the documents is probably okay. However, the vast majority of criticism of the documents, certainly on Thursday and Friday had to do with technical details regarding the type and etc. Wouldn't it have made more sense to put on another technical expert, perhaps the one non-peripheral expert CBS also relied on?
Furthermore, there are a number of Killian's contemporaries, including his wife and son who dispute the story. Are they not as credible as Moore? Or were they unavailable for the show?
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Put it in context and perspective for us, the story and the what we'll call the counterattack on the story. Where are we right now?
Well, to have a counterattack you have to have an attack in the first place. CBS News seems to be making an admission here that the original story was an attack. Is journalism supposed to be about attacks?
Furthermore, when people question your evidence, is it really fair to characterize that as an "attack"? And, moreover, even if it was a "counterattack," it wasn't on the story but on the evidence for the story. There is a crucial difference there. One the CBS News doesn't seem to grasp.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
Mr. MOORE: Well, I think what has happened is that some incriminating documents have come out. The White House, I should you should remember, has not discredited the documents.
Geraghty, "So what? How on earth would the White House know whether or not Killian kept personal documents?"
This is also one of the earlier examples of CBS News attempting to shift the burden of proof and play the answer-a-question-with-a-question-game. Go question the White House, CBS News is saying, don't question us.
RATHER: The 60 Minutes report was based not solely on the recovered documents, but on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by what we consider to be solid sources, and interviews with former officials of the Texas National Guard. If any definitive evidence to the contrary of our story is found, we will report it. So far there is none.
Preponderance vs. definitive. Double-standards, a mainstay of journalistic ethics courses it would seem.
As far as there being no "definitive" evidence ...... Incompetent or unethical? You be the judge.
Saturday, September 11th
Joseph Newcomer posts his devastating expert critique of the CBS Memos (The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries!). I'd call it definitive, but CBS certainly apparently doesn't think so, as they haven't reported it.
Incompetent or unethical? You decide.
The New York Post notes that CBS is acting like it has something to hide (Rather Mysterious). Doesn't CBS pay any attention to critiques from other media sources?
The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz scores an interview with Dan Rather (Rather Defends CBS Over Memos on Bush):
"Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill," the CBS anchor said. "My colleagues and I at '60 Minutes' made great efforts to authenticate these documents and to corroborate the story as best we could. . . . I think the public is smart enough to see from whom some of this criticism is coming and draw judgments about what the motivations are."
Way to approach the issue with an open, inquiring, journalistic mind. Several responsible news organizations, many certified experts, and some excellent logic is "the professonal rumor mill." Furthermore, he implies the criticims should be judged based on their motivations. Here is a clue: the motivation is getting at the truth, something journalists are supposed to do. No question, this is clearly incompetency.
A new bit of information:
Rather said that CBS's lead expert was Marcel Matley of San Francisco, a member of the National Association of Document Examiners who has taught, lectured and written about his field, testified in numerous trials, and consulted for government agencies. Matley said last night that a "60 Minutes" executive had asked him not to give interviews.
Huh? Yet another flagrant, blatant example of what journalists are not supposed to do. Will someone please explain the concept of "journalism" to the "60 Minutes" executives? Thank you.
Beyond that, Rather said, CBS consulted with military experts about Killian's language and the documents' format and compared them to other Bush service records previously released by the White House. "We decided there was a preponderance of evidence that they are what they purport to be," he said.
Yet more anonymous experts whose names have yet to be released. Sure would be nice if someone independent of CBS was allowed to talk to them, especially given the concerns over military language and format raised in the recent Knox interview.
"It's hard to separate legitimate concern from political blowback and propaganda," Heyward [President of CBS News] said.
It may be difficult, but that is part of the job description, I would imagine. In any case, days after legitimate concerns have been raised, your star anchor is blaming partisans.
Incompetence or unethical? You decide.
The LA Times also has some interesting responses from CBS (Amid Skepticism, CBS Sticks to Bush Guard Story)
Although many others helped report and corroborate the story, Rather said, "I'm of the school, my name is on it, I'm responsible."
That is good to know. One wonders what "school" casts aspersions on critics, refuses to name experts, witholds high-quality copies, and engages in advocacy as opposed to objective reporting when legitimate criticism is raised.
The LA Times article continues:
A CBS official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the network had two other document experts [other than Matley], who CBS did not identify, examine the documents, which were copies of the originals.
The experts studied the type font or style, spacing and other variables and deemed the memos legitimate, said the official.
Two? I thought there turns out only to be one. After all weren't two of the other three CBS has named "peripheral"? And, of course, this complete ignores the fact that two of three have said they didn't authenticate.
Incompetent of unethical? It is up to you.
The Boston Globe runs a story with a misleading headline (Authenticity backed on Bush documents). In fact, the article essentially supports the position that there are serious questions about the authenticity of the documents. Later, on September 15th, the Globe will run a correction (For the Record - Sept. 15, 2004):
Because of an editing error, the headline on a Page One story Saturday on whether documents released by CBS News about President Bush's Texas Air National Guard service are genuine ("Authenticity backed on Bush documents") did not accurately reflect the content of the story. The story quoted one analyst saying that the documents could have been produced on typewriters available in the early 1970s, but the analyst did not vouch for the authenticity of the documents. A second analyst quoted in the story said he doubts the documents are authentic.
However, this will not prevent CBS from making a similar "editing" error in their Saturday Evening broadcast:
RUSS MITCHELL, CBS ANCHOR: This week, a "60 MINUTES" report raised new questions about President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard some 30 years ago. Among them: Did then Lt. Bush receive preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and out of possible service in Vietnam? Did he refuse a direct order from a commanding officer? Did he ever take a required physical exam? And did he complete his commitment to the Guard? The questions grew out of interviews with new witnesses and four documents obtained by CBS News, written by then Lt. Bush's squadron commander. The documents were authenticated for CBS News by outside experts.
The answer-a-question-with-a-question-game continues, and CBS has still not revealed who these experts are except for Matley.
On the Internet and elsewhere, some are have questioned the documents' authenticity, focusing on the type styles of the, suggesting the memos are fake. Today one document expert, Philip Bouffard, who had expressed suspicions about the documents, told the "Boston Globe" and CBS News that he now believes the documents could have been prepared on an IBM Selectric Composer typewriter, available at the time.
Hmmmm ... "who had
expressed suspicions"? As if his suspicions were all in the past? Bouffard was not at all suspicious? Fantastic!
Of course, one wonders why Bouffard hasn't been subsequently touted by CBS. Perhaps his suspicions have mysteriously returned?
Interestingly, Bouffard did not have access to the original photocopies that CBS had. The day before, CBS had expressed concern with experts using documents that had been "been photocopied, faxed, scanned, and downloaded, and are far removed from the documents CBS started with." Yet, when Bouffard lends the slightest support to CBS's position, suddenly, that isn't a concern anymore.
And, most certainly, CBS's report lacks any nuance. Even if it were possible that the documents were created by an IBM Selectric Composer, is it at all likely that such a machine would have been used for personal memos? CBS doesn't address this widespread criticism at all.
Also, strangely, CBS actually mentioned the Boston Globe by name, which lent further credence to their position. Apparently, CBS didn't have time to mention any of the news organizations that detract from CBS's report by name.
Finally, this seems to be the point when CBS begins cherry picking experts that support its position and essentially ignoring those who don't. CBS's motto seems to be "Conclusion First, Expert Second." Rather than seek out neutral experts, CBS relies only on those who already support CBS's position.
Incompetent or unethical? You be the judge.
Also today, there are reports that retired National Guard Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, one of the sources corroborating the CBS News account, now says he believes the documents were not real, in part because of recent statements of relatives of Jerry Killian, the squadron commander credited with writing the memos.
CBS News responded today: We believe Gen. Hodges the first time we spoke with him. We believe the documents to be genuine. We stand by our story and will continue to report on it.
The White House continues to say that President Bush served honorably, and that the memos surfaced as part of - quote - "an orchestrated effort by Democrats and the Kerry campaign to tear down the president" - end quote.
Sunday, September 12th
The Washington Post does a story on Bush's National Guard service or lack thereof (Gaps in Service Continue to Dog Bush). There is an interesting new bit of information about a claim CBS made on Thursday:
A CBS spokeswoman, Sandy Genelius, said the network "believed General Hodges the first time we talked to him." She said CBS continued to "stand by its story" and a statement it issued on Thursday saying that "60 Minutes" reporters had talked to "individuals who had seen the documents at the time they were written." She declined to name the "individuals," describing them as sources.
So, not only are there at least two "individuals" who saw the documents when they were written, they are "sources."
Broadcasting and Cable, unfortunately, subscription only, had some interesting notes (Rather Defends Memos ... But)
Rather, who was the correspondent, says, Document analysis isnt a pure science. Its not fingerprints or DNA. Its a very crude art. You have one expert testifying one thing and one another.
Well, it would be pretty close, if you had the originals. I bet it wouldn't be more than a day or two to determine authenticity if you had the originals, if that.
Nevertheless, this is the beginning of CBS's claim of a battle of the experts. A "we may never know" stance. One might think CBS would put together a blue ribbon panel of experts with the help of some other news organizations and provide high quality copies of the documents. One might think that.
Monday, September 13th
William Safire's column in the NY Times calls on CBS to conduct an internal investigation (Those Discredited Memos). CBS ignores call.
The Baltimore Sun has some advice for CBS (Rather's doubters unmoved):
Any news organization broadcasting or publishing potentially highly charged reports - particularly in an election year - must make sure the information is accurate and that the public understands why it can be believed, said experienced reporters. [emphasis added]
Once again, unless by "several" you mean "two," CBS is claiming validation by more experts then they actually had, unless you also count "peripheral" experts:
According to Genelius, CBS stands by the story. The network interviewed "several" handwriting and documents experts on the record to ensure the memos' validity before last Wednesday's broadcast. None was interviewed in the Wednesday report. One was described on air to viewers - but not until last Friday when Rather was defending the network.
The authenticity of the memos is defended once again, quite vigorously on the CBS Evening News
DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: Besides reporting on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam service record, CBS news has been checking President Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard, including whether he did or did not fulfill his commitment. CBS News is continuing to report the story, gathering information, asking questions and probing. CBS is also addressing questions about documents used to corroborate some of the information in our reporting. Some of these questions come from people who are not active political partisans. It's tonight's "Inside Story." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
Finally, CBS concedes that some of the criticisms come from disinterested and non-partisan sources. One might ask, however, why it took so long.
RATHER (voice-over): At a Democratic National Committee press conference today, the shots being fired by some retired military men were aimed directly at President Bush's National Guard service.
GEN. MERRILL MCPEAK (RET.): But official records show that he skipped a physical and was grounded. You know how hard it is to forget your annual flying physical? I took 37 of them in a row.
RATHER: There has also been criticism of the new documents obtained by "60 Minutes" and CBS News, but CBS used several techniques to make sure these papers should be taken seriously, talking to handwriting and document analysts and other experts who strongly insist that the documents could have been created in the '70s.
Once again, here was an excellent opportunity to for CBS to name its experts. Don't forget, CBS has also claimed to have checked with military language and formatting experts who, as yet, remain unnamed.
BILL GLENNON: Everything that's in those documents that people are saying can't be done, as you said, 32 years ago, is just totally false. Not true. Like I said, proportional spacing was available, superscripts was available as a custom feature, proportional spacing between lines was available. You could order that any way you like.
Where did this "expert" come from? Could it be that CBS was "expert shopping" once again? Conclusion First, Expert Second? Given the numerous certified document examiners available, CBS had to rely on a former typewriter repairman?
Note, especially, this article from the Washington Post regarding this "expert" (Expert Cited by CBS Says He Didn't Authenticate Papers): "But Glennon said he is not a document expert, could not vouch for the memos' authenticity and only examined them online because CBS did not give him copies when asked to visit the network's offices."
This is very odd. On Friday, CBS was claiming that one should be careful about making pronouncements about authenticity without access to the pristine photocopies that CBS was holding onto. Indeed, that very day, CBS claimed that they believed they had first-generation copies, according to reporting by the Chicago Tribune (Laura Bush says papers likely forged): "CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said Monday that the network possesses what it believes to be so-called 'first generation' copies, duplicated directly from the original documents."
Finally, since Glennon didn't (and couldn't) authenticate the documents, isn't it a bit misleading to feature him merely saying that similar documents could have been made without any qualification?
Incompetence or unethical? You decide.
RATHER: Richard Katz, a software designer, found some other indications in the documents. He noted that the lowercase letter "l" is used for the numeral "1" in those documents instead of the actual numeral one. That would be difficult to reproduce on the computer printer today.
RICHARD KATZ, SOFTWARE DESIGNER: If you were doing this a week ago or a month ago on a normal laser jet printer, it wouldn't work. You just couldn't. The font wouldn't be available to you.
RATHER: Katz also noted that the documents have both the so-called superscript "th" and a regular-sized "th." That would be common on a typewriter, not a computer.
KATZ: There is one document from May of 1972 which contains a normal "th" at the top. To produce that in Microsoft Word, you would have to go out of your way to type the letters and then turn the "th" setting off or back over them, and type them again.
Yet another "expert." How did CBS find Katz? According to the New York Times
, Katz called his local CBS affiliate after looking at the memos on the website (CBS Offers New Experts to Support Guard Memos
). Once again, we have an "expert" making judgements based on poor quality copies. Perhaps there is some internal logic here, you can authenticate with poor copies, but you can't criticize. That seems to be CBS's logic.
One also has to ask how CBS checked Katz's credentials. At least Glennon has some remotely plausible credentials. Katz is a "computer software expert," yet he believes it is difficult to use "l" for "1" and use the undo button. I mean, really.
Incompetence or unethical? It's up to you.
RATHER: CBS News also relied on an analysis of the contents of the documents themselves, to determine the content's authenticity. The new papers are in line with what is known about the president's service assignments and dates.
For instance, the official record shows that Mr. Bush was suspended from flying on August 1, 1972. That date matches the one on a memo given to CBS News, ordering Mr. Bush be suspended.
Perhaps one might want to note that content analysis can only falsify, if the content is already public knowledge. Might be an important caveat.
Shortly after "60 Minutes" broadcast the new documents last week, "USA Today" obtained another new document. In the memo dated February 2, 1972, Colonel Killian asked to be "updated as soon as possible on flight certifications, specifically Bush." That could be in line with what documents released by the White House last week show, that in the spring of 1972 then Lieutenant Bush stopped exclusively flying the F-102, and dropped back to piloting a training plane, part of an effort to maintain his flight certification.
RATHER: CBS News asked the White House today to give direct answers to a number of questions. Did a friend of the Bush family use his influence with the then Texas House speaker to get George W. Bush into the National Guard? Did Lieutenant Bush refuse an order to take a required physical? Was he suspended for failing to perform up to standards? And did he complete his commitment to the Guard?
In reply, a White House spokesman told CBS News today, "as you know, we have repeatedly addressed these issues."
These direct questions have not been fully, completely answered. The White House and the Bush-Cheney campaign always point out President Bush received an honorable discharge.
What's in the "60 Minutes" report CBS News believes to be true and believes the documents are authentic.
"Direct questions not fully, completely answered." Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. Is CBS even capable of seeing the irony? More importantly, is hypocrisy an admirable journalistic trait?
Tuesday, September 14th
The Washington Post story that explored Glennon's expert testimony a little more deeply than CBS News, also had another statement from a CBS spokesperson:
Asked about Matley's comments [that he couldn't authenticate the documents], CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said: "In the end, the gist is that it's inconclusive. People are coming down on both sides, which is to be expected when you're dealing with copies of documents."
Huh? You expect this sort of spin from a politician's aides, but from a news organization? I thought journalists were supposed to cut through the spin, not create it.
Matley was one of CBS's experts, who they had touted on Friday's evening news. Shouldn't CBS News have expressed a little more concern that one of their primary sources was essentially recanting?
Furthermore, we once again see CBS retreating into a "he said/she said" defense. Experts on both sides or the argument? If that were true, why was CBS using the likes of Glennon and Katz to defend them? What happened to Bouffard, who CBS cited on Saturday night?
And then there is this:
Matley said he spent five to eight hours examining the memos. "I knew I could not prove them authentic just from my expertise," he said. "I can't say either way from my expertise, the narrow, narrow little field of my expertise."
That's pretty small expertise.
More importantly, recall that on Thursday, this was reported by the Washington Post:
CBS officials insisted that the network had done due diligence in checking out the authenticity of the documents with independent experts over six weeks.
The other experts who were "peripheral" probably didn't spend too much time with the documents either. I guess the third expert, James J. Pierce, must account for the other 5 weeks and 6 days.
Speaking of which, this day was the day in which ABC News finally broke through CBS's wall of silence regarding their "experts" and found that the "experts" hadn't done any authenticating (Document Analysts: CBS News Ignored Concerns About Disputed Bush Military Records). Here is CBS's response according to the report:
"CBS News did not rely on either Emily Will or Linda James for a final assessment of the documents regarding George Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Ms. Will and Ms. James were among a group of experts we consulted to assess one of the four documents used in the report and they did not render definitive judgment on that document. Ultimately, they played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert who examined all four of the documents used," the network said in a statement.
"Most importantly, the content of the documents was backed up by our reporting and our sources who knew the thoughts and behavior of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian at the time," the statement said.
It is important to note that CBS never released the names of Miss Will and Miss James. It required reporting by ABC News. Note also, that CBS didn't name any of the other members of the "group of experts." Finally, note that this description of the process of authenticating seems wildly in variance with the claims about experts made prior to this.
I'm not really sure you there is any other word for CBS conduct with regard to its "expert" authentication than unethical.
In any case, while ABC News was ripping CBS's defenses apart, the CBS Evening News had very little to say on the subject.
ROBERTS: The president has yet to weigh in on new documents about his National Guard record made public last week by 60 minutes. But in a radio interview, First Lady Laura Bush became the first White House insider to publicly doubt their authenticity.
LAURA BUSH (From radio interview): You know, they probably are altered and they probably are forgeries.
ROBERTS: However, Laura Bush offered no evidence to back up her claim...and CBS News continues to stand by its reporting.
CBS News must have gotten a new shipment of "howevers" Tuesday morning, because they apparently were all out on Monday. They could have said things like "Glennon claims typewriters of the era could make similar memos, however
, he can't authenticate the documents." Or, "Katz claims to be able to note the subtle distinction between a "1" and an "l", however
, he has only examined muddied copies off the internet, which we have previously claimed are not suitable for analysis."
Wednesday, September 15th
The LA Times editorial board says CBS News was "had" (Paper War on Bush Record). CBS News ignores LA Times.
More interestingly, the LA Times also gets an interview with Rather and CBS News Chief Heyward (Rather Rides Out Latest Partisan Storm). In the interview, Rather plays the answer-a-question-with-a-question-game and, once again, misses the irony and hypocrisy:
Facing questions it didn't want to answer, the vice president's [George H. W. Bush] "political apparatus understandably, out of necessity, chose to question the questioner," Rather said. Likewise, he said, his critics are "people who for their own partisan, political agendas can't deny the core truth of this story
and want to change the subject and make the story about me rather than have the story be about the unanswered questions about President Bush's military service."
Of course, it is all about you, Dan. Couldn't possibly be about the authenticity of the memos. This leaves me wondering if narcisstic paranoia makes for proper journalism.
A prominent academic disagrees with Rather and CBS News' take on why the authenticity of the memos is being questioned:
Outside the network, supporters of Rather also want more information. Credible rival news organizations, not just "a bunch of Republican hacks," are raising questions, said Alex Jones, director of Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
"Dan Rather is an honorable, ethical journalist with very high standards, and if he says the documents are real, I am personally inclined to believe him," Jones said. "But if he wants the world to believe him, then there is probably going to have to be more information."
On the other hand, CBS News Chief Andrew Heyward thinks CBS News had already gone above and beyond in the transparency department:
"I think we've gone out of our way to reveal more of the process than most journalists do," Heyward said. "We're going to have to take the criticism."
If CBS's actions to this point were exceptional transparency, I'd hate to see what real stonewalling looks like.
The Washington Post follows up on the ABC News report about two of the document experts hired by CBS (Document Experts Say CBS Ignored Memo 'Red Flags'). Here CBS News calls the experts it hired liars.
CBS News Senior Vice President Betsy West said last night: "As far as I know, Linda James raised no objections. She said she'd have to see more documents to render a judgment."
As for Will's account, West said: "I'm not aware of any substantive objection she raised. Emily Will did not urge us to hold the story. She was not adamant in any way. At one point she raised a concern about a superscript 'th,' which we then discussed with the other experts we hired to examine all four of the documents we aired. We were assured the 'th' was consistent with technology at the time, an assessment that has since been backed up by other experts."
CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius added that both women "played a peripheral role and deferred to another expert," Matley. But James said she did not defer to Matley and merely recommended him to CBS. The network says it relied on two additional document experts, whose names have not been made public.
So, we have CBS calling its own experts liars. Okay.
There is also a hint of the "he said/she said" experts will disagree defense ... after all the 'th' is consistent with technology of the time. As if that settles the matter.
More interestingly, CBS News has revealed the name of only one more document expert, James J. Pierce. As of this writing, apparently, there is one more secret, anonymous document expert that CBS has used. Why has CBS not named them? Especially given that CBS has acknowledged there may be problems with the documents.
Incompetent or unethical? Your call.
Then there's this:
CBS began to doubt Will because she started expanding her role and doing Google searches about Bush's whereabouts at the time, said an executive who insisted on anonymity because the network did not want to go beyond the official statements. But Will said she was merely doing research into whether superscript existed in 1972.
It'll be interesting to see if anyone at CBS has any documentation to back up this claim, or whether an anonymous source was merely casting aspersions.
The New York Observer had a lengthy interview with Dan Rather, which I fisked here: Rather Shows He is Unfit for Journalism. Read the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights:
"I think the public, even decent people who may be well-disposed toward President Bush, understand that powerful and extremely well-financed forces are concentrating on questions about the documents because they cant deny the fundamental truth of the story," he said. "If you cant deny the information, then attack and seek to destroy the credibility of the messenger, the bearer of the information. And in this case, its change the subject from the truth of the information to the truth of the documents.
It is becoming quite clear that CBS News is an irony-free zone. In any case, this is really the key element of the interview with regard to Rather's unsuitability to remain a journalist for a major news organization. Not only does he ignore valid and credible concerns that undermine his "reporting," he attacks his critics as partisan dupes. This is clear evidence that Rather is no longer able to weigh evidence objectively.
That [the difficulty of authenticating documents] was why, he said, half of the experts agreed and the other half didnt. That supposed stalemate left nothing but the truth at the center of the documents.
I really have no idea how a journalist can honestly believe that there is a fifty-fifty split among experts over the validity of the documents, given the difficulty CBS has apparently had in finding experts to support their position. And, even if there were such a split, why that should default to the "truth" of the documents is beyond me. What sort of journalistic standards are these?
Finally, after many, many delays, CBS News finally released its statement on the ongoing scandal. I've posted and fisked it here: A Preponderance of Misdirection and Lack of Transparency. Read the whole thing, but here are a couple of highlights:
Four independent individuals with expertise in the authentication of documents were consulted prior to the broadcast of the story regarding the documents 60 MINUTES Wednesday obtained: document examiners Marcel B. Matley, James J. Pierce, Emily Will and Linda James.
This would seem to conflict with the statment CBS News made to the Washington Post for their article published earlier today, claiming that there were two remaining unnamed document verifiers.
As CBS News has publicly stated, the documents used in the report were photocopies of originals.
CBS noted this on Friday, after there was substantial criticism. And, where are the "pristine" copies CBS claimed to have? The one generation copies?
Two of the examiners, Mssrs. Matley and Pierce, attested and continue to attest to their belief in the documents' authenticity. (see attachments 1 and 2)
Um, really? Because that doesn't seem to be what Matley has been saying to all sorts of rival news organizations. Indeed, even in the report that CBS provides from Matley, it is pretty clear: Re: Killian Signatures; My File Ref. 04093-A [PDF]
Therefore, the preponderance of the available handwriting evidence is that one writer made all signatures examined.
Doesn't seem quite the same thing as "authentication."
On the CBS Evening News, the questions were addressed once again.
DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: CBS News, "60 Minutes" and this reporter drew fire today over our reports that raised questions about President Bush's military service record, including whether he followed orders and whether he fulfilled his obligations to the National Guard. CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports on the latest attack on the "60 Minutes" story and the CBS News response. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
Once again, legitimate questions are characterized as drawing "fire" and a presumably illegitimate "attack." Presumably, CBS News would consider it fair to describe its critical reporting on other subjects as "attacks." Oops, the paragraph above makes it clear that CBS News has "raised questions" about President Bush, whereas those who raise questions about CBS News' reports are "attacking" CBS.
WYATT ANDREWS, CBS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congressional Republicans turned the high heat on CBS News, charging that last week's revelations about Lieutenant George Bush, which aired on "60 Minutes," were based on fake documents, and demanding that "60 Minutes" and Dan Rather retract the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very clear the documents were forged. They were laid on him, and this time he bit.
ANDREWS: Forty members of the House signed this letter, accusing the network of deception, asking CBS if the documents are authentic, why won't the network say how it got them?
REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: Well, I think at the very least CBS should characterize the source. I think it's amazing that they haven't already done that.
ANDREWS: The dispute surrounds memoranda "60 Minutes" says came from the personal file of Lieutenant Bush's Air National Guard commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian, memos that accuse Mr. Bush of disobeying an order and of using connections to have Killian "sugarcoat" Mr. Bush's record. However, some experts doubt the authenticity of those memos.
Although experts had been doubting the authenticity of the memos from the first day after they original broadcast (and before, if you count CBS's own experts), this is the first time CBS acknowledges the credentials of those who have sought answers from CBS.
Killian's secretary, in an interview for tonight's "60 Minutes," tells Dan Rather she, too, believes the memos are fake, but accurately reflect Killian's view of Lieutenant Bush.
MARIAN KNOX, LT. COL. JERRY KILLIAN'S SECRETARY: I know that I didn't type them. However, the information in those is correct.
ANDREWS: Marian Knox says Colonel Killian liked Mr. Bush but not his attitude.
KNOX: Killian was very friendly with Bush. They had fun together. And I think it upset him very much that he was being defied.
CBS News has interviewed Killian's secretary, something they had apparently never done in the preparation of the original broadcast, despite the producer, Mary Mapes, having followed the story for five years and "has a vast and detailed knowledge of the issues surrounding President Bush's service in the Guard and of the individuals involved in the story.
" Emphasis added.
Miss Knox would also be the same secretary whose interview CBS has already responded to, according to the Seattle Times (Ex-Guard typist recalls memos on Bush):
CBS officials appeared jubilant over Knox's revelations. "While we do not believe that she is a documents expert," CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said, "it is exceptionally noteworthy that she supports the content of our story." [emphasis added]
One might wonder why CBS is interviewing someone about the authenticity of the documents, given that CBS News does "not not believe ... [she] is a documents expert." Of course, not being a documents expert didn't stop CBS from interviewing Glennon and Katz.
One might wonder what distinguishes Miss Knox's claims from the claims of the other experts, who CBS News has yet to explicitly acknowledge are valid?
ANDREWS: CBS News officials say the memos came from a confidential source, and that they are certain the content of the story is true.
This is another version of the story is true, but the evidence may be false. What sort of news organization consistently makes these sorts of claims? In what moral universe do members of the press argue that the content of story is true, though key evidence has been falsified?
ANDREW HEYWARD, PRESIDENT, CBS NEWS: We would not have put the report on the air if we did not believe in every aspect of it.
ANDREWS: But News President Andrew Heyward also says the network will try to resolve what he calls the "unresolved issues."
HEYWARD: Enough questions have been raised that we are going to redouble our efforts to answer those questions.
What questions would those be? What efforts are being redoubled? Shouldn't a news organization be a little more direct regarding issues "attacking" its credibility? Would CBS News accept such vague answers from a corporation accused of providing false documentation?
ANDREWS (on camera): Some at this network believe the backlash against the "60 Minutes" report is pure politics. But that's the critics' point as well, that fake or real, the fact that "60 Minutes" got these documents during an election year was no accident.
And the purpose of reporting the unsubstantiated beliefs of those at the network is? And is "backlash" really an appropriate term to describe legitmate criticism? Finally, some critics have charged that "60 Minutes" receipt of the documents during an election year was no accident. Of course, "60 Minutes" probably has a pretty good clue as to whether that claim is accurate or not. Perhaps, having raised the issue, CBS News might have made a claim that their "unimpeachable" source is nonpartisan or unbiased or even a supporter of President Bush or something. Just saying.
Thus endeth my recounting of CBS News foray for now. There will likely be many updates.