Rathergate: Who’s on first?

Rathergate: Who’s on first?

: I’m working on an op-ed on Rathergate, etc. Help me out and leave comments telling me which sites you think deserve the most credit for fact-checking Rather’s bony Texas ass (and fact-checking the fact-checkers, in turn). I don’t want to get into a debate of the finer points of modern typography; that’s being argued effectively elsewhere. I just want to make sure I give credit where credit is due: Who was first? Who had the best evidence and arguments? Thanks.

  • Oat

    Little Green Footballs wasn’t first, but Charles Johnson (its author) clinched it for me when he produced a document that was an exact duplicate of the alleged Killian memo using default settings in MS Word. The animated overlay Johnson produced was a nice touch.

  • Josh

    Powerline and Instapundit. LGF was actually the very first site that I heard about all of this from, including the animated gif he made of the actual memo text.

  • I heard it was poster #47 on some freerepublic.com thread, which got picked up by powerline. After that, Charles Johnson of LGF did the MS Word experiment and the overlays, and that clinched it, indeed.
    By the way, still nothing about RatherGate in the European media, check it out: http://maarten.typepad.com/brusselsblog/2004/09/memogate_in_eur.html

  • Steve Horwitz

    I agree with Maarten’s comments. #47 on freep was the match being lit, but Powerline and LGF get major props here. The Shape of Days and INDC were also involved.
    FWIW, I have my own little analysis of the story here: http://hnn.us./blogs/entries/7309.html

  • Little Green Footballs was the first to actually type the August 18, 1972 memo into MS Word and notice that all the line breaks matched the CBS memo. For me that was the first solid evidence the memos were fake. After that is was simply more of the same with the most famous being the blinking animated pic.
    There is also this experiment that I found to be the best but doesn’t get mentioned much. For the MS Word line breaks to match the the CBS memos down to the level of where a single period would have made a mismatch was the clincher for me.

  • Definitely Powerline, but Shape of Days was the first to try and use the old IBM typewriters to re-create the memos – and couldn’t. I’d also give credit to ABC and Howard Kurtz in MSM for keeping the story moving forward in ways that bloggers could not.

  • pdq332

    Charles Johnson and his original post with the overlay of MSWord and Bush memo had me laughing all afternoon Thursday.
    A few posts earlier, he cites Powerline blog for jumping on the story first following a commenter to a post at FreeRepublic.
    Dale Franks at Q and O had a good “compendium” of typographic, stylistic and personal arguments by Friday night, which he updated as new info became available.

  • pdq332

    Comment #47 by Buckhead on this post at FreeRepublic.com is widely credited to be the first inkling.
    Knock ’em stiff, Jeff!

  • MWB

    A Freeper called “Buckhead” first raised questions about 3 hours after the original 60 Minutes II broadcast (freerepublic.com).
    The aforementioned Charles Johnson performed and displayed his very convincing MS Word overlay (littlegreenfootballs.com).
    Having taken warm-up swings at the transparent bias of Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorialist Jim Boyd and the AP’s reporting of the Bush-crowd “booing”incident, the gents at Powerline were ready when Dan Rather threw them this fastball down the middle. Powerlineblog.com began to drive the story and become a clearinghouse for input on the story.
    Bill Ardolino did some first-hand journalism, finding and contacting an independent document expert (Bouffard) who expressed heavy doubts about the memos, and then interviewing him again to correct a false Boston Globe story (indcjournal.com).
    Jeff Harrell (shapeofdays.typepad.com) got in touch with Gerry Kaplan (of ibmcomposer.org), an expert on the IBM Composer machine, quickly discovered to be the only machine from the early 70s that reasonably might have produced the memos. Kaplan and Harrell demonstrated that to duplicate the memos on the Composer was virtually impossible.
    Over at The Daily Kos, Hunter made a valiant attempt to explain away the MS Word matchup, as did a PC Magazine columnist. In the end, such efforts end up demonstrating just how unlikely a non-forgery explanation is (Several of the above bloggers wielded Occam’s Razor to good effect).
    Notably, most of the “big names” in blogdom were on the sidelines for this one: Sullivan, Reynolds and Kaus made their comments, but did not drive the story.
    And Jeff Jarvis (buzzmachine.com) did a lot of tut-tutting about “mud” and “he said/she said” while his commenters ragged him relentlessly…

  • leslie

    Besides the above mentioned sites (Powerline, LGF & INDC), take a look at Kerryspot, Allapundit & Beldar.
    Roger L. Simon had commentary and BelmontClub the astute and brilliant analysis.

  • MWB

    Funny note at Powerline just now:
    “In the New York Post Deborah Orin and Ian Bishop add to Hurricane Dan’s entertainment value. They report the expert opinion of master forger Frank Abagnale, of ‘Catch Me If You Can’ fame: “If my forgeries looked as bad as the CBS documents, it would have been, ‘Catch Me In Two Days.'”

  • MWB

    One last thing: The designation “Rathergate” (with the superscript th) originated at Polipundit.com and came from a commenter called “Lori from Texas” I think…

  • Powerline, little green footballs, Instapundit, Ace of Spades, and ALLah

  • Mike

    Not mentioned but also worthy of credit: Wizbang and INDC.

  • I just want to echo that Bill at INDCJournal was the first to track down and interview a recognized expert. Bill’s interview with Dr. Bouffard changed the tone of the story from “Bush supporters saying something that sounds crazy” to “there might be something to this.”

  • Power Line and Little Green Footballs were the first places I saw it, and the links I used to it initially in my blog. The extremely shrill Ace of Spades seems to be trying to “own” this story as if it is his own, but he came in rather late from the looks of it.

  • I second what Craig just said. When INDC Journal posted that opinion by Dr. Bouffard I think that’s when the mainstream press felt they had an excuse to pick up the story. I think that’s important because what INDC Journal did was simply old fashioned journalistic legwork, and it’s amazing that a blogger was the first to do that. It was then amazing that Bouffard, when interviewed by the Boston Globe, was mischaracterized as having changed his mind, a spin Bouffard angrily disputed via INDC Journal.

  • Joseph Newcomer should not be forgotten. He is not a blogger, but an independent expert on computer fonts who wrote up an extremely detailed and persuasive debunking of the memos here:

  • Mike

    CBS is planning to make a statement at noon today about these documents. No insight so far as to what they are going to say, could be interesting. You may want to hold off the op-ed release until after the statement.

  • AlanC

    Everyone is correct that the big hitters first were Powerline and LGF following a lead from Free Republic. One detail, Bob? Johnson, the head of Free Republic was on CNN last night and said that the first questions were raised 19 minutes after the story broke and that the famous Buckhead chimed in at reply #47 with the first review after CBS posted the docs on the Web. If you want to verify the chronology LGF has a pretty complete timeline.

  • Walter E. Wallis

    Powerline and LGF.
    I do recall several sites counseling caution in assumptions, something CBS could have used. Pajamas indeed! Hey, Dan, wanna know what I am wearing right now????

  • fingers

    Jeff, who was right about their provenance?
    That’s the only thing worth writing about, and the facts aren’t all out yet.
    For all we know somebody’s hasd these squirreled away for 30 years, and all this typewriter crap is geeky kids tackling slide rules for the first time.

  • MWB

    Yeah, I should have stressed Bill Ardolino (indcjournal) more heavily above. A blogger who uses his phone!
    Yes, Joseph Newcomer too. He made the technical case to back up Charles Johnson’s visuals.

  • MWB

    fingers, I suspect Marty McFly myself…

  • AlanC

    Fingers, have you been paying any attention at all?
    “For all we know somebody’s hasd these squirreled away for 30 years, and all this typewriter crap is geeky kids tackling slide rules for the first time.”
    Unless you took a PC with MS Word back in a time-machine THIS WAS NOT POSSIBLE!!!! This has been stated unequivocally by the foremost experts in the field (Newcomer and Bouffard et. al.) With supporting evidence from all over INCLUDING SAMPLES FROM THE TYPEWRITER (Selectric Composer) that some people “claim” could do this.
    Not to mention that Killian’s secretary, a rabid Bush hater, admits that they are forged and that: a) she didn’t type them,
    b) Killian couldn’t type,
    c) the only typewriters they had were an old manual Olympia and a early model old Selectric!!
    What other evidence do you need to get past your partisan mind block?

  • For what it’s worth, CBS News is Making a Statement, shortly.

  • Kim

    I read this over at Smash’s site this am…
    Marian Carr Knox, who worked from 1956 to 1979 at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston, said she prided herself on meticulous typing, and the memos first disclosed by CBS News last week were not her work.

  • Seppo

    Powerline and LGF drove the story from the document and typography angle, but there were other posts that cast great doubt on the credibility of the memos from other angles: the wording, acronyms, and standard military practices.
    I think Donald Sensing in particular made some very persuasive arguments debunking the memos, primarly based upon military culture and organization.

  • Jeff, I understand the importance of “credit where credit is due,” but I think the concept of “who got there first” to be the wrong tack.
    It seems that there were several independent efforts that were working at the same time to compare the documents. Who crossed the finish line of publishing first seems irrelevant.
    In fact this “who got the scoop?” mentality was exactly what got CBS into the mess to begin with. The “open source” nature of the ‘net showed to be effective, where the closed shop of CBS fell prey to the “Not Invented Here” dismissals of critiques.
    The real irony is that CBS does deserve some credit for its own debunking. They made the documents available on the net, which allowed for them to be examined by everyone. I can only hope that “Rathergate” doesn’t prevent supporting materials from being made public in the future.

  • Andy

    Associated Press today has the story on Yahoo that the whole issue is now “Noble Dan vs Partisan Operatives”.
    Dan refuses to reveal “sources”, say where the documents have spent the last 30 years or who gave them to him.
    USAToday supposedly has the same documents from the same unnamed sources. They too are protecting the names.
    The unnamed sources are rumored (on several sites) to be Kerry campaign and/or Kerry operatives (nice sinister sounding word).
    In a world where anonymous sources carry more weight than credible individuals, why would a reporter EVER use a real person. Course, the public loses trust in the repoerter and the media when unnamed sources cannot prove or disprove a lie (or truth).
    Unnamed sources gnaw at the roots of trust. What is “brand” without trust? CBS must now decide how much damage their brand can sustain? Will 60 Minutes survive? Will CBS News survive intact? Betting the franchise on an “anonymous source” seems a big gamble.Guess Viacom has the Faith and the Money to play the game.
    The larger question is whether MSM finish this political season with credibility intact? It appears that the pillars of the American Press Establishment have proven themselves partisan and untrustworthy. The shift to alternative sources of news and analysis will affect the traditional 700 outlets that control the American Voice.
    Is this the downward turning point for BIG MEDIA?
    The Voice Of Authority has lost its credibility and now the alternative sources arise. Will advertising dollars follow? Will the REALLY BIG money flow to the blogs who led the revolution?
    Could be.

  • I concur that Powerline and LGF provided the initial energy, but Jeff Harrell (shapeofdays) provided the clincher in a nice piece of work about IBM Selectrics.

  • MWB

    Andy: “American Press Establishment”
    APE! I like this shorthand better than “MSM”

  • Dishman

    I agree with Shawn Levasseur above that “who crossed the finish line … first seems irrelevant”. We’re talking about a parallel distributed system here. The question was formalized by Buckhead and attacked from several different angles at once. Different angles produced different results. For example, the LGF angle resulted in “These match a document produced by Word”, whereas INDC (which took a bit longer) produced “These could not have been typed”. There are still other angles being pursued. It took 6 days to get the Knox response.
    Also of note was the Thursday mid-day link by Drudge to Powerline. It seems to me that MSM started coming on board a few hours (quickly by their standards) after that.

  • Tim
  • BigFire

    Second on Reverand Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping for military ways of writing memo and other documents.

  • I.F. Stoner

    Jeff, the point that’s being missed –BIGTIME– is the fundamental journalistic failure that got them into this mess. It’s not “whether” they check the authenticity, but how.
    Even a high school journalist could tell you that the appropriate thing to do would have been to show the docs to the TexAirGuard, and give them a chance to say “they’re fake.” Disclose that in your story, and that would have been the end of it. The reader gets to decide and you’re not accused of being “duped.”
    Instead, they never allowed an opportunity for comment in their piece, hired an “expert” who they then told not to talk to anyone, and then look worse digging in their heels. Bad mojo.

  • MWB

    I’ll “third” DonaldSensing.com for his military-terminology and form angle.
    Also, for a dash of satiric humor, Jeff Goldstein’s “interview” with Dan Rather’s ego is the best thing I’ve seen so far.

  • PJ

    The overlay from lgf was the definitive stunner for me. Don’t know who came first but that sure got my attention!

  • lucy

    Roger Simon linked to John Ellis to printed an e-mail from an individual that suggested that this CBS is the Arthur Anderson of journalism. It fits.

  • MWB

    Dan Rather is like Harry Truman.

  • Speaking of first, you might enjoy this June ’03 prediction: “Mark my words: blogs are going to drive the next presidential election. Bloggers will publish leaks the traditional news (or even Matt Drudge) won’t touch and will be knawing on particular factoids or angles long before and after traditional press.”
    Have fun Jeff!

  • A newly discovered document that was withheld by the White House when it released

  • A newly discovered document that was withheld by the White House when it released

  • “Jeff, the point that’s being missed –BIGTIME– is the fundamental journalistic failure that got them into this mess.”
    I think the even bigger point than that is the way they’ve behaved since it’s been obvious to most rational humans who’ve looked at the memos that they’re phony. Their Monday newscast in particular was a disgrace.
    And if I might toot my own horn:
    Rather: Prove I’m NOT Queen of the Space Unicorns

  • C Bennett

    Hugh Hewitt has something of a timeline:
    His first post (linking powerline): http://www.hughhewitt.com/pages/archives_index.htm#postid872
    A follow-up linking to those with primarily one point of view, but giving the list of links:

  • rivlax

    That you have to ask this of us, Jeff, is a testament to how out of the loop you’ve been on the most important blog-MSM story there ever was.

  • C Bennett

    One other comment — I think the ebb and flow of the blogs is important in this: there were blogs that denied it, blogs that gave the story legs, and blogs like this one and Andrew Sullivan that were in the middle, oinking about it not being a story or saying it was the equivalent of pilpul with no possible way to know the truth.
    Now that there is almost definitely a corpse, “blogs” (generic) supplied the bullet that dropped this alien intruder.
    I think the ebb and flow is part of the energy of blogs — the ‘wisdom of the crowd,’ as it were. It damps out the ‘string em up’ on one end, the ‘it’s CBS and they have the goods — admit it’ group, the ‘this is just mud, grow up’ group so that, like technical journal reviews, the passions balance and the indisputable (or, at least, difficult to dispute no matter which group you’re in) aspects can be identified. The old conversation vs lecture — that’s the path this story took, it seems to me, and many average humans of the internet almost always trump the single lone genius of the media mavens.

  • Oh, Rivlax, get off your high-horse and step in some droppings on the way down. I’m asking to make sure I don’t miss any and, as I said, give credit where credit is due. You sound as haughty and snotty as, oh, Dan Rather.

  • Andy

    Interesting follow-ons:
    Congressman Chris Cox (R-OC-CA) has called for a Congressional investigation.
    Beldar (beldar.blogs.com) has some legal views that use the word fraud quite often. He also calls for Congress’ involvement.
    CBS is going to be forced to disclose something very powerful to dispell the clamoring mob that is outside the gates with torches.
    Do CBS and the Broadcast Media really wish to have Congress poking into their news coverage before, during and after this election?
    If Jeff had a problem with Congress and the FCC over Stern and Boobygate, well, it looks like there will be fodder for outrage lasting til next Spring-!
    Is this a “Paradigm Shift”-?

  • D. K. Brown

    Powerline, first and foremost deserves credit. Instapundit also deserves some praise not only for publicizing, but serving as a good general clearinghouse, left and right. Incidentally, it is interesting to me that no one has reported on Ben Barnes’ (former TX. lt. gov.) somewhat checkered past. That past is likely why you won’t see such famous TX. liberals as Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower standing up for him.

  • Matthew Goggins

    I nominate James Taranto’s “Best of the Web” for a mention of credit.
    He didn’t mention the scandal until Monday afternoon because he had taken Friday off. But his summary Monday was the most concise and devastating demonstration that the memos were forgeries that I had read up till then. He also framed the political implications in the same simple and effective manner.
    Certainly, he would be exactly the kind of editorial supervisor that CBS News could use right now.

  • Tim

    Jeff …
    See this Reason article, if you haven’t already,

  • Shawn: About being first and scoops… I agree. It’s more about telling the story properly. It was just hours after the broadcast (or sooner, since I don’t know where the Freep commenter was commenting from) the jig was up. The speed is impressive and important to the story, I think. That’s why I went for who was first, not to continue scoopthink. But you’re right to point that out. thanks.

  • By the way, I prefer Big Media to Mainstream Media. BM for short.

  • Not intending to be snarky in the least Jeff I am glad you are writing on this and asking for help, fair and honest approach on a story you did not seek to get involved in.

  • Tim
  • NYer

    The Free Republic commenter #47 posted at 11:59 pm eastern time, some three hours after the 60 minutes broadcast concluded.
    via Kaus

  • For a different tack, and a – rather lonely – discussion of the significance of the signatures, from last Saturday (and I *ahem* argued at that time that CBS had to have known prior to the show that the documents were probable forgeries **pat**pat**pat**), try Fair Whether.
    My initial suspicion that CBS had to have known these were probable forged documents, came from a comparison of examples of the posted forged and authentic signatures and the subsequent discussion on The Shape of Days late Friday night.
    Last night, I detailed the liklihood that it was a business motive at CBS to go with a probable forgery, in a discussion at Captains Quarters, after reading a Monday column From Biased to Partisan by Stanley Kurtz at NRO.
    Also I made some followup comments earlier this morning on the subject at Beldars.
    The signature line of investigation only turned material – and a hot enough topic that it set Beldar off earlier this morning – with the revelation yesterday that an expert hired by CBS prior to the show, said in an interview with Brian Strong Casting Further Doubt at ABC
    I found five significant differences in the questioned handwriting, and I found problems with the printing itself as to whether it could have been produced by a typewriter”
    …so I guess I’m tooting my own horn, but I’m a little pleased that simple deduction (and an artistic eye), led me to logically conclude on early Saturday morning that CBS had to have known the memos were forged prior to the show, regardless of their ongoing “technophobe defence” …the statement of Emily Will served as vindication that the signature being an obvious forgery hadn’t been a “red herring” after all.
    …not that I think my little bit contributed a at all to the sound and fury that’s brought CBS to its knees …I just like finding out my reasoning was right, after all.

  • Matthew Goggins

    I checked out your site and read your post on the forged signatures. Very interesting!
    But I think CBS must have known the memos were forgeries even without looking at the signatures. Maybe some of the younger producers are clueless as to what a document produced on an old typewriter looks like, but surely Rather himself could see that the memos looked fake.

  • Matthew –
    Actually, Dan prob’ly couldn’t tell the memos were fake …I read somewhere earlier today (many apologies, but I’ve lost the stupid link) that Dan Rather is a technophobe. Allergic to computers (I was going to write “Allergic to PC”, but – so help me – I just, I just couldn’t). His phobia is apparently quite a problem for the news crew.

  • amelie

    CBS- Fake but Accurate
    I’ll concede. This story needs to end soon for all our sakes. Our attention should be focused on more pressing issues. I do fault CBS for its journalistic malpractice but now that I’m in the know, I’m ready to move on.
    I do hope others, such as the NYT and Washington Post, will tighten their procedures and challenge a story before running with it.

  • Dexter Westbrook

    Mr. Jarvis, you’ve been doing your best to downplay this story and describe it as part of the “mud-throwing” of the campaign.
    Now, all of a sudden, the timeline and who deserves credit for something you didn’t care about in the first place is important?
    C’mon, now. Write about those real issues!

  • officer_jenny

    INDCJournal did a great service by finding Dr. Bouffard. He was the first “real” expert who weighed in on this i think. INDC even got the Boston Globe to print a correction!

  • Claudia

    It certainly was not buzzmachine. I turned to lgf, instapundit, powerline, hugh hewitt, kerryspot, the corner, althouse, and kausfiles, among others. They stayed on top of developments and linked generously to each other, building the story… Expanding the information efficiently, expertly and even entertainly!

  • Walter E. Wallis

    Gunnar – anyone who has been in the services knows about “convenience of the government.”
    The 102 was being phased out, there was a surplus of pilots, and so Bush would have been relegated to making pay flights in a T-Bird unless he re-uped for long enough to qualify in a new airplane. The Bush slot was more valuable then to a career flyer. The government released Bush from his commitment because it was in the government interest to release him.

  • Dave R.

    So many techno-brains with so much time on their hands. If only they had been nearly so effective at disembling the phony swiftboat affidavits… and if I’m wrong, someone please tell me where to point my cursor – I’m new to this whole blog game.

  • Matthew Goggins

    A weblog is like a luncheonnette that gives away free ice cream. To complain that the owner isn’t giving away the flavor you want is tacky and a little ungrateful, don’t you think?

  • MWB

    True to a point, Matthew, but don’t forget that what Jeff was giving away for a good while on Rathergate was criticism of others’ “free ice cream”. Now that he’s finally gotten a taste for it himself, he’s due a little–a little–comeuppance.
    To his credit, though, Jeff now appears to understand the import of this story and is catching up.

  • Matthew Goggins

    I agree with you that Jeff’s blogging on Rathergate is fair game.
    But the way I look at it is, blogging is a lot of work, and an often tiresome commitment. We should be grateful to good bloggers, and one way to be grateful is to be very respectful and constructive in our criticism. And I thought Claudia’s comment, perhaps unintentionally, was just a bit too glib and unfair.
    And unlike the king o’blogs himself, Prof. Reynolds, Jeff actually lets us comment on all his posts and is quite diligent in maintaining an on-going conversation.

  • Mike

    Hey Dave, care to elaborate on your assertion of “phony” swift boat affidavits??
    A more apt analogy would be to ask why the MSM hasn’t investigated the charges against Kerry by the SBVFT, the way they have the Guard stories of GWB. Not that either matters, it just shows bias. Or why CBS hasn’t looked into the meetings Kerry was having with the North Vietnamese while still a part of the Navy Reserves while GWB was supposedly missing a physical.