The Bush "Guard memos" are forgeries!
My personal reflections on the debacle
I have been asked a lot of questions which involve offering opinions, including speculations I am not qualified to make (such as "who do you think did it, and why?"). I'm not willing to speculate about issues like who, and why is probably evident to many. "Do you think CBS fabricated these?" Unlikely, but again I'm not really in a position to substantiate or refute such a speculation. "Do you think CBS aired them because they were sure nobody else could detect the fraud?" I have no idea, but again any conclusion I would postulate requires speculation; in a court of law, the opposing attorney would be shouting "Objection! Calls for speculation by the witness!", and rightly so. I cannot speculate on motivations of forgers, or news directors, or news anchors.
We are not in the 1970s any longer. The blogosphere is something I have been nearly disjoint from. My friend and colleague Ed Dekker watches it, and is solely responsible for my having any knowledge of it, and becoming part of it. The blogosphere is something that had previously been "below the radar" of major networks. This incident has certainly proven that it can no longer be, and in fact is a social force to be reckoned with. As one of the earliest users of the Internet--back in the days when it was still called the ARPANet, and CMU was one of a dozen or so sites that were actually connected to each other--I have been dismayed at the perversions of this technology. Spam, fraud, hate crimes, and pedophilia are all abuses of this technology. But the Bush Guard Memo flap shows the Internet at its finest. It shows the power of allowing everyone's voice to be heard, and the advantages of being heard by each other. I've gotten a few pieces of mail that can be summed up as "You should be denied access to the Internet for spreading such trash", but in fact, people who spread trash can be ignored. We all have a right to free speech, even if someone disagrees with our view. And when hundreds of experts weigh in on an issue, each from their own specialty, and point out that no matter what aspect of the documents is involved, it mismatches their view of what could make sense, we are developing a body of evidence that cannot be ignored (as much as CBS is trying to). Each of us, in our own way, has said "fraud is being committed on the American people!" and "here's why it must be so!". I am only one contributor among many.
I think it also points out that the Internet can't be "used". Some candidates have tried to create groundswells of support (for themselves) or antipathy (for their opponents) by presuming they could use the Internet as the vehicle. For example, our local paper just ran and editorial from the Letters To The Editor editor who refers to the flood of near-identical email as "Astroturf", an "artificial grass-roots movement" (she did not coin the term, but does explain it). The attempts appear to have uniformly failed; savvy letter column editors have grown to recognize "hot topic" email that contains, for example, copy-and-paste from the Bush or Kerry Web sites.
Nobody tried to hijack the Internet on this issue; instead, hundreds of independent experts contributed their own time and expertise to this. It is a group I feel proud of belonging to. I was just one voice. Without the blogosphere and the contributions of hundreds of others, I might have remained one voice. But as a group, we did something that as individuals we could not have accomplished. And this is a great thing to have done.
I sent an email to someone I met some years ago, who is a professor of sociology and someone who has studied the Internet phenomenon and published numerous papers on it. She is faculty at a major University. I told here "There's a PhD dissertation lurking here. Someone should do it". For those of you maintaining the blog sites, I think it would be worthwhile if you made sure that long after this flap has been put to rest that you carefully archive all the transactions, posts, emails, etc. Someone, or several someones, somewhere, is/are going to want those records to examine as part of a sociological study of the Internet and its suddenly-visible power, and the records will be important in their analysis. There's not one PhD dissertation here; there's several, and a couple books. And those of you who run the blog sites...think about this as something you might write about, or get someone else involved in writing about. There's a Whole New World we're living in, and someone should do a history: "This is how it started, and when it came of age".
Decades ago at CMU we invented a concept called the "bogometer". It measures the "bogon flux" in an area. Bogons are the unit carriers of bogosity (for more details, consult The New Hacker's Dictionary by Eric S. Raymond, or one of the many free versions of the MIT Jargon File. The bogometer at CBS News should have done what all of ours have done, which is to redline, or even pin the needle. Or perhaps the bogon flux was so strong the poor meter just burned out, and appeared to stay at zero. It could be the next reason given for accepting these documents as authentic.
Probably. This little addition contains a bit more information I deduced from the Selectric Composer font table, and expands upon several other artifacts of the documents I had not previously mentioned, but which helped me decide they are modern forgeries. But as I characterized what I've done to one respondent, "After you've hit the mule between the eyes with a 2×4 to get its attention, and nothing happened, so you try a 4×4, an 8×10, and a steel beam, and still get no response, perhaps the explanation is that the mule is dead". I, and hundreds of other experts, have been using ever heavier items to bash the mule. Perhaps the mule is dead. Unless I have a reason to suspect otherwise, I probably won't do too much more about beating it.
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing" (widely attributed to William Burke, but see http://www.tartarus.org/~martin/essays/burkequote2.html -- the actual quote was ‘When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.’) I had a chance to step forward and do something, and did so. I set my own politics aside on this. When we are lied to, we all lose.
Most Republicans think I'm too far left; most Democrats think I'm too far right. I stay a Republican so I can vote against the more radical extremists in the primaries, so that we might actually maintain an intelligent choice. I believe in informed choice, and I have never voted a "straight party ticket" in any general election since I was 21 (when I was first able to vote). I have missed only one general election, while recovering from surgery out of the city. Applying for an absentee ballot was not my highest priority at that point.
Having a major media outlet lie to us, whether through malice or incompetence, is unacceptable. Exhibiting the sort of mindless defensiveness that CBS exhibited, of the "We must be right, and all the rest of you people just shut up and trust us" does not work when you have an intelligent audience. We are rightly critical of such lies when exposed. This campaign seems more notable than most over the number of fabrications of fact used by both sides. But in this one, I had something to say, and I said it. Politics be damned; there is a concept of "truth", and we should strive to discover it. These memos were a lie.
A lot of people have written to me. Literally, hundreds. I have not bothered to determine the ratio of support to negative letters, because I've only received a tiny number of the latter. I have answered some of your messages, but I simply cannot answer all of them. Do not think I do not appreciate the support. A number of people have pointed me at interesting sites, or raised interesting questions, not all of which I have time to respond to. Some of the updates have been the result of these messages. Some correspondents I have encouraged to post to the blog sites, because they have some fascinating "smoking gun" observations outside my domain of expertise. Only one has let me use his name, and then only partially (thanks, Daniel K). And for those others of you who know you gave me permission to use your names, I may yet, in a future update, if I have time. But those of you who sent me messages have seen me refer to you as "one of my correspondents". Know that I appreciate your contributions. You Know Who You Are.
Special thanks to my friend and colleague Ed Dekker, who started me down this venture. He has also read early drafts of this material and made many useful comments and observations that helped keep the presentation coherent, and many insights into the analysis I had not previously considered. A lot of the quality of the writing is due to Ed's feedback. All I can say is that it is a good thing we both have unlimited long-distance calling plans, since he lives in New Hampshire and I live in Pittsburgh, PA. Ed called me on Thursday and reported the CBS story, and observed that his bogometer had redlined, and after I downloaded the images, mine did also. We had a good laugh over the poor quality of the forgeries, and figured it would blow over in a day or so and CBS would admit their error. When they didn't, I got serious about it, and Ed was a good sounding board and contributor to this effort.
This has been a fascinating "hobby" for me. If I were being paid to do this, I could justify more time, but I prefer in this case to remain unpaid, and therefore not beholden to anyone. But I really do have other clients, and deliverables, and after this little project consumes another three minutes of my allotted 15 minutes of fame, I really do have to have a stable of clients who will continue to pay me, so I must keep them happy.