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Is It a Hoax?

Experts weigh in on the 60 Minutes documents. Says one: "I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but . . . I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

7:20 PM, Sep 9, 2004 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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DOCUMENTS CITED Wednesday by 60 Minutes in a widely-publicized expose of George W. Bush's National Guard Service are very likely forgeries, according to several experts on document authenticity and typography. The documents--four memos from Killian to himself or his files written in 1972 and 1973--appear to indicate that Bush refused or ignored orders to have a physical exam required to continue flying. CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported the segment and sourced the documents this way: "60 Minutes has obtained a number of documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file," he said. The 60 Minutes story served as the basis for follow-up news reports for dozens of news organizations across the country. The memos were almost immediately questioned in the blog world, with blog Power Line leading the charge.

And according to several forensic document experts contacted by THE WEEKLY STANDARD say the Killian memos appear to be forgeries. Although it is nearly impossible to establish with certainty the authenticity of documents without a careful examination of the originals, several irregularities in the Killian memos suggest that CBS may have been the victim of a hoax.

"These sure look like forgeries," says William Flynn, a forensic document expert widely considered the nation's top analyst of computer-generated documents. Flynn looked at copies of the documents posted on the CBS News website (here, here, here, and here). Flynn says, "I would say it looks very likely that these documents could not have existed" in the early 1970s, when they were allegedly written.

Several other experts agree. "They look mighty suspicious," says a veteran forensic document expert who asked not to be quoted by name. Richard Polt, a Xavier University philosophy professor who operates a website dedicated to typewriters, says that while he is not an expert on typesetting, the documents "look like typical word-processed documents."

There are several reasons these experts are skeptical of the authenticity of the Killian memos. First the typographic spacing is proportional, as is routine with professional typesetting and computer typography, not monospace, as was common in typewriters in the 1970s. (In proportional type, thin letters like "i" and "l" are spaced closer together than thick letters like "W" and "M". In monospace, all the letter widths are the same.)

Second, the font appears to be identical to the Times New Roman font that is the default typeface in Microsoft Word and other modern word processing programs. According to Flynn, the font is not listed in the Haas Atlas--the definitive encyclopedia of typewriter type fonts.

Third, the apostrophes are curlicues of the sort produced by word processors on personal computers, not the straight vertical hashmarks typical of typewriters. Finally, in some references to Bush's unit--the 111thFighter Interceptor Squadron--the "th" is a superscript in a smaller size than the other type. Again, this is typical (and often done automatically) in modern word processing programs. Although several experts allow that such a rendering might have been theoretically possible in the early 1970s, it would have been highly unlikely. Superscripts produced on typewriters--the numbers preceding footnotes in term papers, for example--were almost always in the same size as the regular type.

So can we say with absolute certainty that the documents were forged? Not yet. Xavier University's Polt, in an email, offers two possible scenarios. "Either these are later transcriptions of earlier documents (which may have been handwritten or typed on a typewriter), or they are crude and amazingly foolish forgeries. I'm a Kerry supporter myself, but I won't let that cloud my objective judgment: I'm 99% sure that these documents were not produced in the early 1970s."

Says Flynn: "This looks pretty much like a hoax at this point in time."

CBS, in a statement Thursday afternoon, said it stands by the story. The network claims that its own document expert concluded the memos were authentic. There are several things CBS could do to clear up any confusion: