Superscript me


Geraldine Sealey
September 11, 2004 1:26AM (UTC)

CBS' latest statement on the Killian memos says Rather's show tonight will "address on the air and in detail the issues surrounding the documents." "At this time, however, CBS News states with absolute certainty that the ability to produce the 'th' superscript mentioned in reports about the documents did exist on typewriters as early as 1968, and in fact is in President Bush's official military records released by the White House."

There is, in fact, proof that the superscripted, smaller "th" was indeed available to typists of the era. In Salon, Eric Boehlert points to an undisputed document from Bush's Guard record that uses the superscripted smaller "th."

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War Room got some additional insight from Paul Schweitzer, a typewriter expert/repairman in New York City, after he examined the documents as printed from the CBS News web site. (Schweitzer says he was called by a CBS employee with questions about superscripts and all the arcane details of 70s-era typewriters an hour after we called him this morning.)

After looking at the copies of the memos, Schweitzer says, they appear to him to be typewritten, particularly because there are instances of one letter appearing higher or lower than one next to it, something that does not happen with computer- or word processor-generated documents. The letters in the word "Alabama" on the May 19, 1972 memo, for example, were not perfectly aligned. "When it's off alignment that's an indication it could be a typewriter," he said.

Schweitzer's best guess about the machine: The memos "very strongly and very possibly could have been typed on an IBM Executive. But could I say 100 percent for sure that this is it, no I can't," Schweitzer said. The IBM Executive, widely available in the early 70s, had proportional spacing and a type style variation -- Bold Face 2 type -- that very closely resembles, in Schweitzer's view, the font used in the memos.

The comma used in this type style had a little curl in it, and while neither the Executive brochure nor a type chart Schweitzer had showed an example of an apostrophe in this font, Schweitzer said the apostrophe in a type style is typically matches the comma. (This print ad for the Executive, though, shows curly quotes.) You wouldn't have, for example, a curly comma in Bold Face 2, but a hash mark of an apostrophe. Some of the right-wing bloggers and Fox News, etc., claim that if the memos were authentic and of the era, the apostrophes would have been hash marks, not curlicues. But that's just not true -- curly was definitely happening in punctuatiion at that time. Only the "9" in the Bold Face 2 type troubled Schweitzer, because it appeared to curl under more than the 9's in the memos.

As for the superscripted "th," Schweitzer thinks the only way to have created the smaller, raised "th" on an Executive would have been to have a key made for that purpose. You could superscript on the Executive, as we pointed out earlier, but the "th" would have been normal sized, Schweitzer said, not the smaller type as seen in the memos. "It is possible that particular typewriter had that symbol installed on another key," although he thought it would be unusual.

This is all the opinion of one man, of course, albeit one with 45 years of experience fixing typewriters. And Schweitzer also pointed out that there are other brands of typewriters -- including foreign ones -- that could have been used by Killian at the time.

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We're awaiting CBS' own analysis and defense of its work on the evening news. Of course, this may be a case that is never definitively put to rest for those doubting the memos' authenticity -- and those looking for ways to discredit CBS and its sources. But one thing is clear -- forgery has not been proven, by anyone. It was possible for Killian to have produced those documents just as similar documents were created in that era.

And as Boehlert writes, the debate over the authenticity of these memos is but a sideshow to the larger story. And the sentiment and content of the memos -- and the 60 Minutes piece generally -- are not in dispute. Even if they were somehow faked, Boehlert wrote, "the disputed Killian documents represent just a fraction of what is known about Bush's Guard duty. To date, the voluminous information about the issue comes from Bush's own Texas Guard file, none of which has been called into question. And in fact, the veracity of the contents of the Killian memos remains undisputed. For instance, one memo dated May 4, 1972, ordered Bush to obtain a physical exam. There has been no controversy whatsoever about the fact that Bush was required to take a physical that year and failed to do so."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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