Friday, September 10, 2004
Rather's "Explanation" Only Indicts Himself
Tonight on the CBS News evening broadcast, Dan Rather took to the airwaves to present their defense of the now infamous 60 Minutes documents which numerous experts have since proclaimed to be obvious forgeries. This “explanation” did not even begin to address the litany of individual challenges, inconsistencies and volume of other observations which have been forthcoming over the days since the 60 Minutes broadcast.
Thus far many of the critiques of 60 Minutes have focused on the general aspects or characteristics of these documents and related technologies, particularly the ready use of Microsoft Word software to easily generate exact replicas of 60 Minutes’ documents using MS Word’s default settings, no less. There are additional aspects of corresponding hardware technologies which have yet to be discussed at large, however, and that is equally important.
Another multitude of additional questions arise as to the availability of suitable hardware printing devices required to actually produce the specific 60 Minutes documents in question. At the time the documents were purportedly created the printing technologies of the day largely included typewriters and also some computer driven letter quality or production line printers and other wheel or chain driven devices which functioned similar to the most advanced (and expensive) programmable typewriters of the day; they could print single lines of text at a time and skipped from line to line, feeding paper from top to bottom, similar to the way a typist would construct a document and hit the carriage return at the end of each line to move to another.
The standard ASCII control sequence defined two characters to replicate such action an “LF” or Line Feed character, and the “CR” or Carriage Control character, which were combined to form the dual action of shifting to the next line and moving to the beginning of that line, as the traditional carriage return bar on a typewriter is used to accomplish.
The problem readily discernable in Rather’s explanation this evening is that the issues and documents depicted tonight illustrate the endless yet distinct & specific differences in variable character based printing that is not readily observable in any of the apparently forged documents revealed by CBS 60 Minutes.
Note the underlined “th” combined character (non-true superscript) combination in what CBS correctly identifies as an “OFFICIAL RECORD”, one of the litany of documents released to date by the Pentagon at the request of the Bush administration.
Observable characteristics include a fixed height & width for each character space, identifying the actual printing hardware as either a typewriter or other programmable fixed character printing device, to include even the most basic typewriter or even fancier selectric programmable variety or the legacy block style character printing devices of the day. Those would include any number of different styles of printers which shared the same characteristic of a typewriter in that each printed character was produced by striking a raised character, on a key or ball, through a ribbon to generate (actually embedding) the image of the character on the paper.
Note both typewriters and legacy character printers from that era were all dependent on regular cleaning rituals and routine maintenance to avoid the build-up of ink on the characters from the ribbon or other similar source. This build-up would create unique patterns that one needn’t have been a regular viewer of Columbo in that day to recall each produced distinct & distinguishable type print patterns unique to any particular device. The “OFFICIAL RECORD” readily displays all these types of properties, such as the unique character formation and fading or blotting of ink along the edges of each keyed character, as should be expected.
In absolute sharp contrast, however, the (apparently) forged 60 Minutes document CBS identifies as “NEW DOCUMENTS” depicts a true superscript “th”, in proportional font and raised above the line of characters. As has been discussed, this capability requires newer technologies, as does the appearance of other characters on the suspect documents, which the truly unique type face appears firm & crisp and, as now known, can easily be reproduced by typing the text from each 60 Minutes ‘memo’ into Microsoft Word and printing an exact mirror image duplicate.
In addition to software not available during the era these 60 Minutes documents were allegedly printed, there was also not adequate hardware printing technology available, either commonly or even perceivably at all, suitable for producing such documents in the fashion they’ve been presented. Newer technologies are certainly capable of generating such output but, again, CBS, Rather & 60 Minutes have some ‘splainin’ to do.
The Dot Matrix printers were really the first affordable printers even capable of these kinds of features. The print head of a Dot Matrix printer contained a number of pins organized in a multi-dimensional matrix, each of which might be rapidly struck in conjunction with one another to form any particular printed character or portion of other image on the target document. However, these printers were notorious for their dotted character images, which would further distort significantly upon each sequential reproductive copying.
Physical contact by a printing device with document paper, albeit typewriters or other legacy fixed character devices, also yield distinguishable characteristics which do not appear present on the documents provided by 60 Minutes on the CBS web site. The response by CBS to the effect that those making such observations based on the internet copies are too far removed from their original source documents to comment accordingly is actually more damning to their case than helpful. The use of a typewriter or other legacy fixed character printing device would result in obvious impressions & depressions on the printed page which are readily observable through sight and feel. These distortions become even further enhanced through copying yet do not appear in any way perceivable in observation of the copies CBS has provided.
Similar – though not as obvious or distinct – ink + drying patterns are yielded by InkJet printers. Ink jet printers rely on ink programmatically sprayed in varying volumes and location, also subject to pooling, smearing or other identifiable patterns, tendencies or other distortions, both routinely or regularly characteristic (in particular characters or combinations) or randomly (due to smears or other page specific or common device anomalies). Again, while a top quality, modern ink jet printer might be considered as the source of these documents, the printing made on the pages produced by 60 Minutes bares no such resemblance.
Hewlett Packard’s official history of Laser Printers notes their introduction in 1980 with the subsequent LaserJet printer line, the first truly affordable series of office Laser Printers, first debuted in 1984 (affordable then a relative term in those days as they were still quite costly, compared to dot matrix or other fixed character devices). Laser printers are the most capable of WYSIWG (“what you see is what you get”) quality of printing, outside high quality ink jets, really truly capable of producing the 60 Minutes documents which have been called into question.
For these reasons, and many others, a document forensics expert will be easily able to determine the type of device used to create the documents which 60 Minutes has presented and, in all likelihood, the specific models or types of the required devices, albeit typewriter, hardware or software. Again, facts are not on CBS side here; the less modern the device the higher degree of certainty which can be assured in identification. For example, a Selectric Type of a particular Font or 13 point line separation is readily distinguishable from all others while only today’s sophisticated combination of software and hardware yields a greater or less specific category of qualified candidates. The unwillingness of CBS to allow these documents any further scrutiny, combined with their other actions, such as denying the purported author’s wife and son the opportunity to comment, speaks volumes as the possible reasons why 60 Minutes is so hesitant.