More on the memos


Geraldine Sealey
September 13, 2004 5:42PM (UTC)

We promise not to obsess about the Killian memos today, but Mahablog has some informed analysis supporting the authenticity of the documents -- and offers a reality check on who probably typed them.

"I studied typography as an academic discipline (circa 1971) as part of the old journalism school curriculum at U of Missouri. I spent roughly 30 years in the book publishing business, most of which was on the production side dealing with type compositors and printers. I have worked with typography and printing processes from the end of the raised-metal-type era to current digital technology. I have designed and written complete type specifications for more books than I can remember."

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" ... I'm bouncing around the web seeing wingnuts flying off about proportional letter spacing and kerning and whatnot, and I'm telling you these people are off the wall."

"Why? Because, if you need to measure type (body size, ledding, letter spacing) and match it exactly, you have to work with original documents. If you are measuring a photocopy of an original document, the measurements can be off by half a point or more. If you are measuring a photocopy of a photocopy, the distortion grows to more than a point. If you are measuring a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy scanned into a PDF file, e.g. the Killian documents, forget it..."

"So, let's dispense with the "proportional type" theory... Now, let's shift focus onto the capabilities of common electric typewriters, circa 1972. As I've already explained, the IBM Selectric was very common. By 1972 the offices of America had replaced old manual uprights for electric typewriters, and the Selectric II, introduced in 1971, was the best."

"By the time I graduated college in 1973 it would have been shocking to walk into a business office and not see Selectric IIs or similar. It would be as unusual as using a rotary phone today. And Selectrics produced documents in a variety of type fonts, including Greek letters and all manner of esoteric scientific/mathematical symbols. You really could type open and close quotation parks and curly apostrophes. Superscript type was easily created by shifting. Even a reduced superscript "th" was technically possible, in spite of what the wingnuts are saying now."

"It's true that some whizbangs took a couple of extra steps. People ask, Why would Killian have gone to the trouble of creating a reduced superscript "th"? But we're talking about the early 1970s here. Let's be frank -- in those dear departed times, real men did not touch typewriters. Trust me on this. It's highly probable Killian scribbled a note and gave it to one of the office "girls" to type up for his signature. The office "girls" hardly ever bothered about putting their initials on such documents, in spite of what the secretarial practice books said. But the "girl" would have typed the document very nicely."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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