The great CBS "forgery" debate, cont.


Geraldine Sealey
September 10, 2004 10:27PM (UTC)

The typically reliable FactCheck.org joins the chorus of doubters over the authenticity of the Killian memos used in the 60 Minutes segment. In an update, Brooks Jackson and his crew write: "Serious questions have been raised about the authenticity of four documents that CBS News said it had obtained from the personal files of Bush's former squadron commander in the Texas Air National Guard. We are removing reference to them in our September 8 article on the Texans for Truth ad until these questions are settled to our satisfaction."

CBS, for its part, is airing another piece on the documents tonight on the evening news -- and stands by the reporting and the documents. A statement from the network says: "For the record, CBS News stands by the thoroughness and accuracy of the 60 MINUTES report this Wednesday on President Bushs service in the Texas Air National Guard. This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking. In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content. Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned. We have complete confidence in our reporting and will continue to pursue the story."

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War Room joined in the fun of locating typewriter experts and even managed to find two who had not yet had their brains picked by other reporters. We set out to ask our experts: What typewriter could have created the Killian memos in the early 1970s? And how likely was it that Killian actually had one of these machines at his disposal?

We focused on the questions of proportional spacing and superscripts. As our first post on the forgery debate pointed out, two likely typewriting suspects are the IBM Selectric Composer and the IBM Executive, which both featured proportionally spaced typing. We called Bill Stillman, an Oregon-based typewriter expert who says he worked at IBM for 35 years, helped design the early Selectric typewriters and taught classes on how to use them. Stillman says the memos were possible to create on the Composer -- but the scenario is quite far-fetched in his view, particularly the creation of the superscripted, smaller "th." According to Stillman and Paul Schweitzer, a typewriter expert in New York City, neither the Composer nor the Executive were manufactured with a key to make the smaller "th." But such a feature could be added to the typewriter.

As for the availability of these machines at the time, the Executive was more commonly used than the Composer, although most common in the 50s and 60s, Schweitzer said. "I'm not saying people didn't use them in the 70s, they certainly did," he said. But the Composer was another story: Stillman estimates these machines sold for $5,000-$6,000 in the early 70s and were used in places like print shops. "The average person not only wouldn't have a Composer, they wouldn't know what one was. I serviced a lot of IBM machines from 1959 on on military bases and I never saw one on a military base unless it was in the print shops where they are preparing camera ready copy for multiple printings of something," he said.

But someone sent us this link, to a document which seems to show that the Air Force tested out the Composer for use in 1969.

The plot thickens!

For the record, Stillman is a Bush supporter who does not understand why the Democrats chose Kerry and Edwards, a flip-flopper and a pretty face, to represent their party. We are taking him at his word that he is not letting that influence his professional opinion on the typewriters. We didn't get the word on Schweitzer's politics yet. But he seemed, to us at least, more interested in typewriters than politics. (Update: Schweitzer says he is not a political kind of guy, but if he had to choose between Kerry and Bush, he guesses he'd choose Bush.)

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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