Stop the presses! The CBS memos might (or might not) be forgeries.

Yes, it’s possible. Powerline has considerable discussion, some of it expert.

According to Kevin Drum, CBS stands behind its documents, but won’t produce the source. The versions released by the White House were merely copies of those provided by CBS, though Rather reported that the White House did not dispute their authenticity. In fact,the White House’s own transcript of this morning’s Scott McClellan gaggle virtually acknowledges the authenticity of the documents this morning by using them to try to argue that the President hadn’t disobeyed a direct order. (Josh Marshall has a note on the odd editing of that transcript; for now, the important point is that the claim wasn’t made impromptu, but after consideration.) Still, it’s possible that the White House was fooled too, and that the documents were bogus.

Possible isn’t the same as certain.

There certainly were proportional-space-font machines in use in government offices back then; I interned for a Congressman in the summer of 1971 and we had one. And yes, it was possible to make a superscript small “th”; by switching to a type-ball with special characters, though it’s puzzling why the same typist would use the regular-sized “th” at one point and the small superscript “th” at another point in the same brief document. It’s certainly conceivable that orders were sometimes sent in memo form in the TANG, even if that was never done in the Air Force. So nothing I’ve seen so far proves forgery.

But it’s quite possible that the documents were, in fact, forged, and that CBS was fooled. There’s no reason to think that only one side in this campaign has people on it willing to lie and cheat to destroy the other candidate’s reputation.

All those of us on the Kerry side who aren’t that desperate can do is to correct as new information comes in — as happened with the false story about a Republican crowd booing Clinton when his illness was mentioned — rather than insisting that obviously false stories are true, as is still happening with the Swifties’ nifties.


There’s a mistake in the above: I was crossing memories of the Executive series, which had proportional spacing, with the Selectric, which had interchangeable typeballs. The Selectrics had fixed proportions, so one of them couldn’t have been used to type the documents in question.

A reader who remembers the IBM Executive series writes:

There are things the young guys who think they are seeing forgeries don’t see or don’t notice. That is, the pdfs from the CBS website of the documents very clearly show the evidence of impact printing.

Notice that certain letters seem to have the “holes” filled up with ink

sometimes (check out the lower-case “e’s”, for example.) Also you find certain letters with little defects that you can spot in all their

usages. on the August 1 memo, the capital A has a slight defect in the left upper side. These are not the sorts of defects you see with an ink-jet or laser document, nor with faxing or reproduction. If I can see this in the pdf file, imagine how much more obvious these

differences would be to a trained observer looking at an original with

magnification. There might be evidence of holes in the paper from an

impact if it is the original, or carbon smears if it is a carbon copy.

This is not something a reputable document examiner would overlook.

Some people posting at Washingon Monthly are claiming they see kerning of letters. No. There are some dirty serifs that make the letter extend by a tiny amount. As for the superscript thing, these

typewriters had superscript numbers, fractions and superscript “th” in their repertoire of keys. There were also kits that allowed extra

“special” symbols to be typed, e.g. math symbols for equations.

Because choosing to use such symbols/special characters was manual, it wouldn’t be odd for someone to use it once and forget it another time.

That the Executive series had the “th” character is important. I can’t vouch for the validity of the other points, but they’re surely subject to expert checking.

Does CBS claim to have the originals, or at least carbon copies? If so, whether they were typed or laser-printed ought to be trivial to determine just by running one’s fingers over the back of the paper. If CBS has only photocopies of photocopies, then what do they know about the provenance of the documents?

Second update: The New York Times reports that CBS has only copies of copies. Risky business.

Third update:

From another reader:

Regarding whether the superscript “th” in the documents is “evidence” they are forgeries: There was a simple technique for typing these and other unusual characters on a typewriter. A separate single character was inserted in the typewriter type guide (the slot which receives the typefont head) and when any key was struck, it hit the back of this character and viola! it was typed. My secretary in the early seventies used this all the time to type the Greek letter “pi”, subscripts and superscripts, and special mathematical symbols. I believe she had a “th”. There was a company that sold these typewriter “inserts”, and each came with a wire “handle” that allowed it to be used quickly and easily. They were widely available, and anyone who needed certain characters routinely could have them. The inserts could also be used on Selectrics.

And a third reader:

I own an IBM Executive “B” typewriter that originally belonged to my

grandmother. I’m guessing it was made in the mid/late 50’s. It has

proportional spacing, superscripts and dedicated keys for “st” “nd”

“rd” and “th” as well as a number of other special characters. It uses traditional “hammers” — not the golf ball of the Selectric models.

If my grandmother could afford it, it couldn’t have been that expensive — she was not wealthy. And if she could afford it, then most certainly the government must have afforded similar machines by the thousands.

Obviously, someone needs to get an old IBM Executive and try to reproduce the documents in question. That won’t prove they’re genuine, but it will disprove the claim that they coudldn’t have been genuine.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

2 thoughts on “Forgery?”

  1. Cowering before possibility on the Killian memos

    Mark Kleiman: But it's quite possible that the documents were, in fact, forged, and that CBS was fooled. There's no reason to think that only one side in this campaign has people on it willing to lie and cheat to

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