September 11, 2004

Who Watches the Watchmen?

CBS and the Boston Globe have decided if you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your B.S. Put your waders on boys and girls, because it's getting deep around here.

Dan Rather's response on national TV: "Today, on the internet and elsewhere, some people -- including many who are partisan political operatives -- concentrated not on the key questions the overall story raised but on the documents that were part of the support of the story." I have to question Dan Rather's news judgement (please note, not his patriotism), since he thinks allegations of activity that wasn't either illegal or unethical that happened 30 years ago is far more important than allegations of outright fraud that happened 2 days ago.

I can almost see the thought bubbles above Dan Rather's head "must tough it out -- if I can just tough it out long enough, it will all go away." Since I'm not a journalist, I won't go the extra mile and claim I really can see them.

CBS put on the lamest defense: an expert witness on handwriting who has said in the past that you can't positively authenticate a signature from a photocopy. Well, guess what, he positively authenticated a signature from a photocopy. CBS had no expert on documents themselves though -- not that they've named yet. As I said before, if they can't name one, can't produce his or her work, I have to doubt they exist. There's far more evidence for Santa Claus than there is that CBS did a thorough investigation of these documents.

The Boston Globe took up the slack on that and announced that a top expert on documents authenticated the documents. This one will blow your mind. They used the expert that Bill at INDC first contacted and who said 90% chance of forgery. After a Globe reporter talked with Dr. Bouffard, they ran the following headline:
Authenticity backed on Bush documents
OK, we can all get back to pummelling President Bush for his actions 30 years ago. Well, not so fast. It seems the good Dr. is "pissed" at the Globe for misrepresenting his views. What he told them was that he was still looking into it, getting more information, somethings he thought at first weren't quite true, and he was still considering it. But he still thinks the documents are most likely forgeries.

The guys at Powerline are ahead of the curve on all this (why not, they've been at the head of the pack so far) and have come out with a great idea:

"The next question is, how old are the "first-generation" copies that CBS has? If those copies, based on testing the paper, are themselves twenty or thirty years old, it would add considerable plausibility to the claim that there were, in fact, authentic originals, even if those originals cannot now be recovered. But I'll bet they're not. I'll bet that if tested, the CBS copies would be very, very recent. (I don't know how precise dating of paper can be. If any readers are experts in this, let us know.) So, here is the bottom line: if the CBS copies are recent, then the alleged originals were recently in existence. So where are they? Were they recently destroyed? If so, why and by whom?

If CBS would make its purported first-generation copies available for testing, it could go a long way toward verifying their authenticity, or--much more likely--proving that they are recently-created fakes.

One loophole in this approach: a clever forger could obtain thirty-year old paper, and use it to create the fake memos. So if the originals (or CBS' copies) are on old paper, it wouldn't necessarily prove they are authentic (they could, of course, have been forged long ago, but it's hard to see why anyone would have done that). But if CBS's copies are new, and they can't explain what happened to the originals, it would be the last nail in Dan Rather's coffin.

So let's get CBS's copies and test the paper.

I wouldn't worry about that clever forger too much - nothing has been particularly clever about it so far.

Wouldn't it be nice to put the whole sorry mess in front of an investigative inquiry, put everybody under oath, have CBS and the Globe put all their cards on the table, and get to the bottom of this? Maybe Lord Hutton is available. After all, when Hutton spoke, heads rolled.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at September 11, 2004 3:51 PM | Media Criticism