THE THORNBURGH-BOCCARDI PANEL makes a great show of its agnosticism about the question at the heart of the CBS scandal: Are the memos CBS presented authentic? On this score, the CBS Report is certain in its uncertainty: "The Panel was not able to reach a definitive conclusion as to the authenticity of the Killian documents."
This statement was surely news-worthy. Before Monday, the forgery of the documents had been settled. Settled, that is, by a large cohort of experts, a bevy of testimony from the blogosphere, and, most definitively, by Dr. Joseph Newcomer.
On September 12, 2004, Newcomer, one of the fathers of modern electronic typesetting, published a 7,000 word essay about the fraudulent documents used by CBS. Newcomer's conclusion was simple and unequivocal. "These documents," he said after much explanation, "are modern forgeries." So why did the Thornburgh-Boccardi panel turn their back on Newcomer and the rest of the body of expert opinion? What caused them to suspect that the documents might indeed be authentic?
APPENDIX 4 of the CBS Report details the panel's lone inquiry into the technical aspects of the questionable memos using the services of Peter Tytell. The report gives nearly a full page of Tytell's impressive qualifications, the most charming of which is that he was once referred to as a "famous typewriter detective" by CBS's own Andy Rooney.
Like Newcomer, Tytell came to some quick conclusions. He said that even while watching the September 10 CBS Evening News broadcast at home, he knew "within 5 seconds" that something was wrong with the new 1972 Killian documents CBS was showcasing.
Now, after careful examination, Tytell has come to three conclusions:
(1) The previously-released Texas Air National Guard documents had been created on an "Olympia manual typewriter."
(2) The four disputed Killian memos "were not produced on an Olympia manual typewriter."
(3) "The Killian documents were produced on a computer in Times New Roman typestyle."
Why is Tytell so sure? The Killian memos had proportional spacing, a superscript "th" key, and a serif typestyle. Tytell consulted the Haas Atlas--the typesetters bible--and "did not find a single match with the Killian documents."
There was some question about whether or not an IBM Selectric could have produced a match. Tytell is thorough on this matter. What would it have taken to make an IBM Selectric Composer capable of creating the Killian memos?
* Remember that we know that at least some TexANG offices were using Olympia manual typewriters.
* During the early 1970s, Tytell told the panel "a typical TexANG office was unlikely to have had an IBM Selectric Composer" because "the machines were very expensive, difficult to use and designed primarily for the commercial production of books, newspapers and other printed material."
* The TexANG office would have had to weld both a superscript "th" and a "#" key to the machine, a process Tytell calls "highly inconvenient."
Yet even if you would be willing to allow for all of these mounting improbabilities, the typestyle from the Selectric Composer still would not have matched exactly. The two typestyles were "very close," but there were "notable differences." Tytell tells the panel that he did "not believe that any manual or electric typewriter of the early 1970s could have produced the typeface used in the Killian documents." Which leads him to this haymaker:
. . . the documents appear to have been produced in Times New Roman typestyle. . . . Times New Roman was only available on typesetting and other non-tabletop machines until the desktop publishing revolution in the 1980s. Therefore [Tytell] concluded that Times New Roman could not have been available on a typewriter in the early 1970s and the Killian documents must have been produced on a computer. [emphasis added]
Which brings us back to Joseph Newcomer. After all of his examinations, Peter Tytell had reached exactly the same conclusion as Newcomer. And, like Newcomer, Tytell's judgment to the panel could not have been more forthright. The panel reports, "Tytell concluded that the Killian documents were generated on a computer."
So how did Thornburgh and Boccardi manage to walk away from their own expert's decisive verdict? The answer is hidden in footnote 16 on page 7 of Appendix 4:
Although his reasoning seems credible and persuasive, the Panel does not know for certain whether Tytell has accounted for all alternative typestyles that might have been available on typewriters during that era.
Leave aside the "no political bias" finding; leave aside the kid-glove treatment of Dan Rather and Andrew Heyward. This abdication of responsibility by the panel in the face of their own expert's conclusions is so startling that it legitimately calls into question--by itself--everything else in the report.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard. He also runs the blog Galley Slaves.