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Saturday, September 18, 2004
When the Scoop Trumps the Truth

By Steven Taylor @ 9:55 pm

WaPo looks into the sloppy operation at CBS that led to RatherGate": In Rush to Air, CBS Quashed Memo Worries

Half an hour later, Roberts called “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes with word that Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather’s story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.

At that point, said “60 Minutes” executive Josh Howard, “we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents. Obviously, looking back on it, that was a mistake. We stopped questioning ourselves. I suppose you could say we let our guard down.”

CBS aired the story eight hours later, triggering an onslaught of criticism that has left Rather and top network officials struggling to explain why they relied on a handful of papers that even some of Rather’s colleagues now believe to be fake.

An examination of the process that led to the broadcast, based on interviews with the participants and more than 20 independent analysts, shows that CBS rushed the story onto the air while ignoring the advice of its own outside experts, and used as corroborating witnesses people who had no firsthand knowledge of the documents. As CBS pushed to finish its report, it was Bartlett who contacted the network - rather than the other way around - at 5:30 the evening before to ask whether the White House could respond to the widely rumored story.

Later, Bartlett would explain why he did not challenge the documents with a question: “How am I supposed to verify something that came from a dead man in three hours?”

How about: not going to air with information that was that fresh that clearly would need authentication? That is just sloppy work.

And this is self-delusional and patently false, at least in this case:

Rather also dismissed the notion that CBS was negligent: “I’m confident we worked longer, dug deeper and worked harder than almost anybody in American journalism does.”

They clearly didn’t work too hard, given that a bunch of observant bloggers figured out the situation without that much work.

Indeed, the WaPo piece provides a stunning tale of tv producers so gung-ho to get a hot story in front of the cameras that they ingored any negative word (and there were plenty) from four different experts.

Indeed, as we already know, the only “experts” that would say positive things about the memos had dubious credentials:

It quickly became clear that the people CBS hired to authenticate the documents had - and claimed - only limited expertise in the sometimes arcane science of computer typesetting technology and fonts. Such expertise is needed to determine whether the records could have been created in 1972 and 1973. Independent experts contacted by The Post were surprised that CBS hired analysts who were not certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, considered the gold standard in the field.

These software experts say differences in font widths and printing styles make it impossible to replicate the CBS documents using the printing technology available in the early 1970s. By contrast, reasonably competent computer enthusiasts have created nearly exact replicas of the documents in 15 minutes employing default settings for Microsoft Word and the widely used Times New Roman font.

While Glennon continues to insist that the documents could theoretically have been printed on a Vietnam War-era IBM Selectric, no one has been able to demonstrate this . Leading font developers say the technology simply did not exist 30 years ago.

One telltale sign in the CBS documents is the overlapping character combinations, such as “fr” or “fe,” said Joseph M. Newcomer, an adjunct professor with Carnegie Mellon University. Blown-up portions of the CBS documents show that the top of the “f” overlaps the beginning of the next letter, a feat that was not possible even on the most sophisticated typewriters available in 1972. Newcomer calls the documents “a modern forgery.”

Tests run by Thomas Phinney, fonts program manager for Adobe Systems, show that none of the possible font widths available on any typewriter or any IBM device from 1972 are able to produce an exact replica of the CBS documents. “Can they do something ’similar’? Sure,” Phinney said. “Could they produce those exact memos? Impossible.”

And CBS is missing the point:

As the days begin to blur for Josh Howard, he embraces the same logic: “So much of this debate has focused on the documents, and no one has really challenged the story. It’s been frustrating to us to see all this reduced to a debate over little ‘th’s.”

No, that isn’t all that the debate is about. First, the only damning “new” information in those alleged memos is the idea that Bush received a direct order to take a physical and that he ignored it-but if the docs are fake, then that “new” information isn’t new, it is a hoax at best and a deliberate lie at worst. Second, regardless of whether the docs approximate the truth or not, for a major news organization to use forged documents as a basis for a news story is crime against journalistic integrity and a rather major story in its own right.

And if there are no new documents, there is no story. To pretent otherwise is to be grapsing at partisan hopes, and nothing more.

Filed under: US Politics: 2004 Campaign
  • bLogicus linked with DNC Had Forged Memos Before CBS?

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1 Comment»

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  1. Very Nicely Done!!

    Comment by EdWonk — Saturday, September 18, 2004 @ 11:08 pm

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