CBS has left the flap over purported documents involving President Bush's record in the Texas Air National Guard in this posture: Who are you going to believe, CBS or your lyin' eyes?
To accept CBS's insistence the four documents from the early 1970s are authentic, you would have to believe the following:
(1) That the late Jerry Killian, Bush's commanding officer, typed the documents--though his wife says "he wasn't a typist."
(2) That Killian kept the documents in his personal files--though his family says he didn't keep files.
(3) That the disputed documents reflect his true (negative) feelings about Bush and a contemporaneous official document he wrote lauding Bush did not.
(4) That he typed the documents on a technically advanced typewriter, an IBM Selectric Composer--though that model has been tested and failed to produce an exact copy of the documents.
(5) That this advanced typewriter, which would have cost $15,000 or so in today's dollars, was used by the Texas National Guard and that Killian had gained the significant expertise needed to operate it.
(6) That Killian was under pressure to whitewash Bush's record from a general who had retired 18 months earlier.
(7) That Killian's superior, Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, was right when, sight unseen, he supposedly said the documents were authentic, but wrong when, having actually viewed the documents, he declared them fraudulent.
Now if you can't accept all that, there's another side. To believe the documents are forgeries, you have to believe this:
(1) The documents were typed recently using Microsoft Word, which produces documents that are exact copies of the CBS documents.
(2) There's no number 2. All you have to believe is number 1.
In response to questions about the authenticity of the documents, CBS has acted more like an embattled political organization than a news operation. It has stonewalled rather than joined with skeptics in a search for the truth.
Last Friday, CBS anchor Dan Rather declared the document authentic and that no investigation by CBS was needed. He told the Washington Post: "Until someone shows me definitive proof that they are not, I don't see any reason to carry on a conversation with the professional rumor mill." In other words, it's not up to CBS to prove the authenticity of the documents. It's up to critics to prove otherwise, a twist on normal journalistic procedure. However, a CBS spokeswoman said on Sunday that the network "continues to work the story."
A forthright news organization would not impede the critics, but CBS has. It hasn't made its handwriting expert, Marcel Matley, available. Nor has it allowed the producer of the story, Mary Mapes, be interviewed by the press. And, so far as is known, CBS hasn't asked two of its sources in Texas, Robert Strong and Bill Burkett, to step forward and answer questions. Finally, CBS hasn't explained where the documents came from, though an explanation would be helpful after Killian's family said he didn't keep files.
Now that Matley's past writings have been unearthed, it is particularly important for CBS to make him available. But Matley told the Washington Post CBS had asked him not to give interviews. CBS relied on Matley as its chief authenticator of the documents, which are copies, not originals. But Matley seems to have violated his own rules.
Here's what he wrote in 2002 in a journal called The Practical Litigator:
In fact, modern copiers and computer printers are so good that they permit easy fabrication of quality forgeries. From a copy, the document examiner cannot authenticate the unseen original but may well be able to determine that the unseen original is false. Further, a definite finding of authenticity for a signature is not possible from a photocopy, while a definite finding of falsity is possible.
That, plus all the other the other evidence of a likely forgery, puts the ball back in CBS's court. Otherwise, you would be free to assume that scenario #2--that the documents were produced recently by a computer using Microsoft Word--is the correct one.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.