It’s been five days since CBS News’s Dan Rather waved around a bunch of typed documents on “60 Minutes” that puported to show that G.W. Bush back in 1972 disobeyed an order from his superior at the Texas Air National Guard to show up for a physical exam for his pilot’s certification, was suspended from flying, and then apparently had a Guard officer put pressure on the superior to “sugar coat” Bush’s flying record.
Trouble was, as we all know, that all evidence indicates that those “memos” were magically written in Microsoft Word’s Times New Roman font, which, (rather like Microsoft itself), didn’t exist back in the early ’70s except at the offices of the Times of London, which had created that font and had the only legal right to use it at the time (you can check out the documents in PDF format here). And, gee, not only was Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, Bush’s commanding officer in the Texas guard, not just a veteran flier but a veritable typographic whiz for back then, mastering such features as kerning, smaller-point superscripts, and perfectly centered letterheads that others said couldn’t be done on a regular old IBM Selectric typewriter or any other typewriter–but he conveniently died in 1984.
By now, as we also all know, CBS and Rather are the laughingstocks of the blogsophere, where sites operated by lawyers, old-typewriter aficionados, retired military guys who know something about standard service office equipment during the 1970s, and experts in computer word-processing programming have taken the memos apart. For starters, there’s the little matter that you yourself can exactly reproduce one of Killian’s memos using the Microsoft Word default settings on your home computer.
Thus, it’s easy to see that the Rather/CBS hoax–or maybe anti-Bush-driven idiocy–is a huge media story on the level of Time magazine’s falling for “Hitler’s Diaries” back in the 1970s. But here’s how my hometown liberal newspaper the Washington Post is covering it: as a story about “unexplained gaps” in Bush’s Guard records. No! Yes. Here’s the Post’s chronology:
On Thursday, Sept. 9, the morning after CBS aired the documents on Sept. 8, the Post ran this story on page 1 as its above-the-fold lead: “Records Say Bush Balked at Order” by the Post’s political writers Michael Dobbs and Thomas B. Edsall. Dobbs and Edsall led off:
“President Bush failed to carry out a direct order from his superior in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1972 to undertake a medical examination that was necessary for him to remain a qualified pilot, according to documents made public yesterday.
“Documents obtained by the CBS News program ’60 Minutes” shed new light on one of the most controversial episodes in Bush’s military service, when he abruptly stopped flying and moved from Texas to Alabama to work on a political campaign. The documents include a memo from Bush’s squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, ordering Bush ‘to be suspended from flight status for failure to perform’ to U.S. Air Force and National Guard standards and failure to take his annual physical ‘as ordered.'”
The Post also ran a separate story on Sept. 9 on its website, “The Story That Won’t Go Away” by Dan Froomkin:
“Back in February, the White House assured everyone that all the existing, relevant documents about President Bush’s disputed National Guard service had been made public.
“But just in the past two days, several new documents have emerged — as have new, intensive examinations of the record. The result: The guard story this morning muscled its way onto the front page of virtually every major newspaper.”
“Where does it go from here? Bush taking and answering questions on the topic might be one way to calm the furor….”
Actually, that turned out not to be the way the story went. The very next day, Friday, after the bloggers had ripped the memos to shreds, the Post published this Page 1 story by Dobbs and Mike Allen, headlined “Some Question Authenticity of Papers on Bush.”
Well, yes. And after that, the story disappeared for good from the Post’s front page. On Saturday, Sept. 11, buried on page 7 of the Post’s first section, was a story by Howard Kurtz, the Post’s media reporter, that led off like this:
“Dan Rather vigorously defended his ’60 Minutes’ story on President Bush’s National Guard service yesterday, saying the 30-year-old memos he disclosed on the show this week ‘were and remain authentic,’ despite questions raised by some handwriting and document experts.”
That was that.
The next day, yesterday, Michael Dobbs weighed in again with a page 8 story. More about Rather and the fact that everyone from Killian’s widow to retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges (who supposedly authenticated the documents for CBS was denying their authenticity?
Nooooo–Dobbs’s story was titled “Gaps in Service Continue to Dog Bush.” Dobbs seemed to be dying to get us readers off the typewriter stuff and back on message–that is to say, shocked, shocked that the young Dubya missed some military drills way back when. Here’s how Dobbs leads off:
“A review of the authenticated documentary record for Bush’s guard service and interviews with former guard members suggest that the president and his aides have been less than fully candid about unexplained gaps in his military service, and have made misleading and sometimes inaccurate statements that have helped fuel the controversy.”
Oh? What “authenticated documentary record”?
And so we come to today, when the Post seems to have finally decided that maybe flogging the expired equine of Bush’s Missing Months isn’t the way to handle the story after all. So Howard Kurtz weighs in again, on page 1 of the Post’s Style section, to tell us that what the story is really about is Making a Big Fuss Over Old News. You know, all these bloggers in their pajamas fussing about whether a Selectric could make a tiny “th” some 30 years ago. Here’s the new devil-may-care Kurtz:
“In this highly charged atmosphere, the authenticity of the Guard memos unearthed by CBS came under fire, with experts offering dueling analyses of the font sizes and superscript used in 1972.
“‘Here the campaign is dealing with terrorism and war, but we’re still capable of losing ourself in matters 35 years old that belong on “Jeopardy!” or “Trivial Pursuit,”‘ says Frank Sesno, a George Mason University professor and former CNN anchor.”
Never mind the fact that the experts aren’t “dueling,” and that CBS has indeed failed to produce a single expert who is willing to authenticate the possibility that Killian’s “memo” was written any earlier than last month. The real issue is: Trivial Pursuit? Pray tell us then, Howard, how this story of the Gaps in Service and the Balked-At Orders ended up on page 1 of your own newspaper less than a week ago? Or on “60 Minutes,” for that matter?
Howard, Howard, you’re supposed to be a crack media reporter. Why are you playing down the biggest media story since Jayson Blair pulled off something similar at the New York Times?