Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Post tomorrow has a good article about a bad situation in Iraq.

Specifically, it's about Fallujah and poorly-thought-out civilian intervention in the course of battle in that restive city.

According to the article, the White House first ordered the assault on the city (in response to the killing and mutilation of four US military contractors) over the advice of the commanders on the ground. Then, again over the advice of those same commanders, they ordered the end of the assault before the mission had been accomplished.

That rapid turnabout managed to achieve most of the ill effects of an iron fist policy (lots of deaths, radicalization of civilians and terrible effects on world opinion) while preventing any of the possible positive ones from being realized.

There is a lively literature about the often fruitful tension between military commanders and their civilian superiors. But this is text book case of the bad effects that can stem from injecting narrowly political considerations into war-fighting, especially when they take little account of facts on the ground.

In any case, read the article. It's an important one.

More tomorrow about how Iraq -- i.e., the actual Iraq as opposed to the rhetorical 'Iraq' -- has disappeared from the 2004 presidential campaign.

I'm actually supposed to be on semi-vacation here at the ocean. But let me offer an update on this memo business. One of the guys who was in the mix in all of this at the time -- Hodges -- told CBS that these documents accurately reflected Killian's thinking at the time. On top of that, the White House -- and thus the president -- made no effort to question the story the documents tell. That tells me that they know the underlying story -- or at least some rough approximation of it -- is true.

All that said, however, the questions raised about these documents seem very compelling. And though those points above are telling about the underlying story, I can't see where they tell us much meaningful about the authenticity of these documents.

Over the last twenty-four hours I've received literally hundreds of emails that point out that each specific criticism, on its own terms, doesn't quite hold up. Thus, for instance, there definitely were proportional type machines widely available at the time. There were ones that did superscripts. There were ones with Times Roman font, or something very near to it.

But that only means that such a document could possibly have been produced at the time; not that it's likely. And taken all together, the criticisms raise big doubts in my mind about their authenticity. Adding even more doubt in my mind is that the author of this site was so easily able to use MS Word to produce a document that to my admittedly untrained eye looks identical to one of the memos in question. Identical.

That combined with the individual criticisms mentioned above seems very hard to get around.

Again, I've gotten a slew of emails. And I have to admit that I haven't plumbed the depths of every one of them because at a basic level I don't think there's much point. This isn't a subject I know anything about. So I'm not in much of a position to judge.

(Perhaps it's not a perfect analogy but it's sort of like my talking to various physicists about contending theories of the Big Bang and deciding which side is right.)

If a few qualified experts came forward and said, 'Well, those criticisms don't add up if you know the subject. And the bottom line is that there's nothing about these documents that raise any question about their being produced in the early seventies" that would be plenty for me -- because I don't have the expertise to evaluate the criticisms and the defenses in the face of such expert opinion.

But I'm not hearing anyone say anything like that. In fact, rather the contrary.

The ball is in the court of the publishers of these documents to authenticate them. And so far I'm not hearing any adequate defense.

Okay, finally we're getting somewhere here.

The thing about these charges that the CBS documents are forgeries is that if it's so clear that they were made on a word processing program then it shouldn't be difficult for an independent news organization to comes up with a list of experts who will say that they don't look legit.

And the Post now has out an article that, at least to some extent, does just that.

Here are the key passages ...

Experts consulted by a range of news organizations pointed typographical and formatting questions about four documents as they considered the possibility that they were forged.


The Post contacted several independent experts who said they appeared to have been generated by a word processor. An examination of the documents by The Post shows that they are formatted differently from other Texas Air National Guard documents whose authenticity is not questioned.

William Flynn, a forensic document specialist with 35 years of experience in police crime labs and private practice, said the CBS documents raise suspicions because of their use of proportional spacing techniques. Documents generated by the kind of typewriters that were widely used in 1972 space letters evenly across the page, so that an "i" uses as much space as an "m." In the CBS documents, by contrast, each letter uses a different amount of space.

While IBM had introduced an electric typewriter that used proportional spacing by the early 1970s, it was not widely used in government. In addition, Flynn said, the CBS documents appear to use proportional spacing both across and down the page, a relatively recent innovation. Other anomalies in the documents include the use of the superscripted letters "th" in phrases such as "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron," Bush's unit.

"It would be nearly impossible for all this technology to have existed at that time," said Flynn, who runs a document authentication company in Phoenix.

Other experts largely concurred. Phil Bouffard, a forensic document examiner from Cleveland, said the font used in the CBS documents appeared to be Times Roman, which is widely used by word-processing programs but was not common on typewriters.

They don't go as far as to say they're certain. <$Ad$>But the questions raised now no longer seem to be limited to amateurs or people doing experiments on their own copies of Microsoft Word.

CBS is sticking by their story, saying they ran them by their own experts and adding that one of their sources or points of confirmation for the genuineness of the documents is Killian's then-superior, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, who is mentioned in one of the documents and was involved in the back-and-forths described in the documents. A CBS source tells the Post that Hodges confirmed that the statements contained in the documents were concerns and thoughts that Killian expressed to him at the time.

The Times, meanwhile, has a piece up quoting Killian's son saying that he believes some of the documents are genuine but doesn't believe his father would have written the 'CYA' document.

The White House is keeping mum but also, needless to say, happy to encourage and/or observe the feeding frenzy of questions about the authenticity of the documents.

It is of course worth noting that the White House is the only player here with ready access to the president. If they had some confidence that the underlying claims contained in the documents were not valid, then presumably they would have more confidence in doubting the documents' authenticity.

But something in all this doesn't fit. For tonight, I'm going to associate myself with Kevin Drum's final thoughts of the evening.

I'm clearly not a forensic expert on document analysis. So I don't have any way of knowing or even coming up with a reasoned opinion about the authenticity of these documents published by CBS.

But one point of criticism doesn't seem as clear as many are presenting it. I'm talking about the suggestion that a superscripted "th" marks these as clearly the product of a word-processing program.

In an article today in Weekly Standard, for instance, Steve Hayes writes that ...

... in some references to Bush's unit--the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron--the "th" is a superscript in a smaller size than the other type. Again, this is typical (and often done automatically) in modern word processing programs. Although several experts allow that such a rendering might have been theoretically possible in the early 1970s, it would have been highly unlikely. Superscripts produced on typewriters--the numbers preceding footnotes in term papers, for example--were almost always in the same size as the regular type.

This AP article also quotes a person presented as a handwriting analyst making the same point.

But if you look at this document from <$Ad$>the official Bush records it shows a list of descriptions of various times Bush served. (See the paranthetical at the bottom of this post for specific notes on where to find this in the pdf I linked to.) Thus, we can assume that the same document was typed on by different people and different machines over time. This document has one entry with a superscripted "th" and another further down on the page with a non-superscripted "th" -- which of course suggests that both kinds of typewriters were being used in the Texas Air National Guard system at the time.

It doesn't look like the same script used in the Killian memos and it strikes me that in this case the typeface looks monospaced rather than proportional. But clearly some typewriter with a superscript was in use. I'll leave it to others to discern the meaning of all this.

This debate has quickly spiralled in so many different directions that I can't keep track of all the different points of suspicion folks have raised about these documents. But this suggestion about the superscripts at least seems not to add up.

(To find the reference in question, click here to see the document on the USAToday website. Then scroll down to page three of the .pdf document -- which is the first vertically-oriented page. If you look at the second entry on that document -- dated "4Sep68" you'll find a superscripted "th".)

It continues to be hard to get a read on exactly where this race is from the polls -- at least that's the case if you go on the basis of toplines. The Rasmussen daily tracking poll has it as a one point race today. And a new Fox poll -- usually a GOP friendly poll -- has the race at a two point margin among likely voters. On the other hand a CBS poll out today has an 8 point Bush lead among registered voters. And I'm told the ABC/WaPo poll that's coming out shortly is in that range or even worse for Kerry.

Hmmm. That's an innovation.

In this morning's press gaggle, one of the reporters asked the following question: "This was a direct order he defied, right? I mean, he did have a direct order that he defied?"

The White House then applied a footnote to this question -- noted with an asterisk -- which referenced this explanatory footnote: "The memos that were released, in fact, show the President was working with his commanders to comply with the order."

This is a bit stunning.

Now it's not enough that we have a transcript in which the press asks questions and McClellan answers them or rebuts their implications. We get editorial notes explaining what the reporter really meant or disputing the question after the fact so that no one can follow up and call them on a demonstrable distortion.

Can't we just go back to the good old days when McClellan's office just edited the transcript after the fact? It was so much simpler.

Reader comment <$NoAd$>...


Here's a note from a long-time social progressive/economic conservative who has gone increasingly progressive since Bush took office:

Bush's Guard service is a loser for the Dems even if the dereliction stories are entirely true, which they likely are. The problem is that nobody cares other than Democrats who despise Bush, and they seem like just a petty reaction to the Swift Boat ads. I would love for this election to be about the environment, choice on abortion, separation of church and state, invasion of privacy/Patriot Act, the economy, and the culture of fear the Bush admin is creating. But it's about Iraq and terrorism. Unfortunately, Kerry has done a terrible job of getting out any cohesive and compelling message about either. Here's what he needs to hammer for the remainder: 1. Bush is A TERRIBLE LEADER IN THE "WAR ON TERROR". He has failed in the hunt for Osama, misdeployed resources, and put off allies who are key to our long-term success against terrorism. Look beyond the macho swagger of Bush and see that he is completely screwing up this incredibly important long-term battle. 2. Bush and the neocon puppet masters deceived the nation into Iraq, then completely blew the execution of a horrible war, costing us more than a thousand soldiers and billions of dollars, killing countless innocent Iraqis, and creating a disastrous and extremely dangerous situation for America for years to come. 3. Bush has blown the economy. 4. Kerry is the man to put America and the world on course for a better future.

Kerry must not only make these points, he must be pissed off about them. Undecided voters are not compelled to vote by Kerry's suggestion that he can do Bush better than Bush. They, and the party voters we need to inspire to actually cast ballots, will respond to Kerry's passionate belief that Bush is seriously taking this country down a bad path and that Kerry can take us on a safer, more prosperous path. Unfortunately, Kerry's voting record on Iraq prohibits him from taking the real winning stand that the Iraq war was a horrible mistake. So he must refocus on the idea that Bush is a horrible president whose decisions are having disastrous consequences. Kerry has to want to lead this country, and he needs to show Americans that he wants badly to lead this country.

Thanks for your great work. Scott

The conservative blog Powerline has a roiling debate or series of charges that the documents published by CBS last night are forgeries.

The basis of the claim is that the sort of proportional font spacing evidenced in the memoranda wasn't available at the time in question. It only came later with word processors and computers and laser printers. Basically, they say, all people had back then were old fashioned block-type typewriters.

On the face of it, that sounds logical to me. But the editor of the site has now posted the comments of at least one reader who says such machines were actually widely available at the time.

It seems worth noting that the White House accepted the documents as genuine and even began releasing them to other journalists yesterday evening -- though it's not clear to me whether they were releasing their own copies or simply passing on what CBS had given them.

The deeper point is that CBS reported that they had handwriting experts scrutinize these documents to ascertain their authenticity. It seems hard to imagine they'd go to such lengths to have experts analyze them and not check out something so obvious as seeing if they'd been written by a typewriter that was in existence at time. (Hard to imagine or, if true, unimaginably stupid.)

One way or another, I doubt we'll have to speculate about this for very long. This question about what sort of typesets were available in 1973 should be easy enough to settle.

A few follow-on points about this Guard business.

First, I note over at Andrew Sullivan's site that Andrew asks whether anyone is coming forward or can come forward with a refutation of Ben Barnes' story. This makes it probably as good a time as any to note again that not only has the Bush camp not disputed Barnes account, they have positively affirmed it. (I go into some of the details in this post from a week or so back.)

Another point: Dan Bartlett, as you can see in the transcript published below, is sticking to the claim that there was no reason for President Bush to show up for the flight physical in question because it was no longer relevant to the duties he was performing (or not performing). But the records published by CBS -- and summarized here in the Post -- show Bush received a direct order to submit to that physical by a given date and refused or failed to do so.

Bartlett seems to be saying that it doesn't matter that Bush didn't follow the order because the order didn't make any sense.

Now, I'm no military man. But aside from orders that contravene the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions or the US constitution, I don't think an officer or an enlisted man is allowed to disobey an order just because he comes up with some logic by which he decides the order doesn't really make sense. An order is an order, right?

Wartime situations can also provide extenuating circumstances for disobeying an order, as in cases where the exigencies of combat render an order moot or create a situation where the recipient of the order can say that circumstances had changed so radically that the issuer of the order wouldn't have issued it had they known, etc. etc. But I assume we can stipulate that this wasn't a live combat situation.

And here we get down to a specific and perhaps touchy point. Why wouldn't Bush show up for that physical? An Air Force pilot's physical is a bigger deal than the one civilians get on a routine basis. But still, it's not that big a deal. Even if he didn't think it was necessary, why disobey a direct order to get around it?

And on this point let me make a more general suggestion. The White House's story has changed many, many times on the Guard matter. And they've been careful -- and wisely so -- to avoid make definitive statements that would limit their room for maneuver after future revelations.

There are now two news organizations actively at work (and at least one of them is pretty far along) on a story about just why Bush was having those problems in the Guard in 1973. With that in mind, now my might be a good time to press a few more specific questions. At least one major news organization -- and I suspect others -- is working on a story that touches directly on why Bush might not have been willing to take that physical.