No kerning

So it turns out that the purported Killian letters don’t use kerning.* And it turns out that the proportional spacing and the “th” character were both available on not-very-expensive IBM typewriters of the relevant period. The fact that the line breaks in the document are the same as the line breaks produced by MS Word just shows that someone at Microsoft correctly reverse-engineered the algorithm used by typists to even out the margins; a skilled typist would have done so automatically.

So, as a non-expert, I ask: What characteristic of the documents remains unexplained?

That the documents could have been produced on contemporary equipment doesn’t, of course, prove that they are genuine. And it does appear that CBS was less careful, or at least is now being less forthcoming, about their provenance than it might have been. I’m not wedded to the proposition that they’re genuine.

But the loud guffaws from the Right Blogosphere about “obvious forgery” — one of my dittohead readers compared accepting the documents to accepting a Shakespeare manuscript in ballpoint — now seem unjustified. Obviously, Bush-lovers and Rather-haters are as eager to believe the memos are false as some Bush-haters are to believe they’re genuine.

* A footnote on kerning:

There are three different methods for spacing out typed text:

Old-fashioned typewriters typed a fixed number of characters per horizontal inch; an “i” took up as much space as an “m.” That’s “fixed spacing.” (The IBM Selectric series had two different spacings, or “pitches,”: Pica (wide)and Elite (narrow). But for any given pitch, all letters were created equal.)

The IBM Executive Series introduced “proportional spacing.” That meant that each character had its own width, with the “i” taking up less space than the “m.” In proportional spacing, the width of any given charcter is fixed; an “i” takes up the same amount of space no matter which letter comes next.

In the days of cold type, compositors (and later Linotype machines) gave each ordered pair of letters its own optimized spacing. For exaple, “ke” or “ce” can be spaced more closely than “pe”. No typewriter could imitate that, though some word processing programs can. That’s called ” kerning.”

The purported Killian memos are proportionally spaced, but not, apparently, kerned.

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 “No kerning”

  1. Debunking the Killian debunking

    An expert typographer explains why the forgery claims are spurious. Here's my very quick precies. I urge you to read the whole article in situ, it's a fine piece of exposition. The "proportional font" hypothesis is moot. The .pdfs are

  2. Killian Memos Fake Or Not?

    The blogosphere has been hammering this story to death, but I think it's worth a rundown of some of the current claims floating around. Rather than trying to make them an object of ridicule instead of addressing the facts, or

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