September 10, 2004

Forgery Forgery Forgery

From CBS news:

Independent document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines said the memos looked like they had been produced on a computer using Microsoft Word software. Lines, a document expert and fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, pointed to a superscript — a smaller, raised "th" in "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron" — as evidence indicating forgery.

Microsoft Word automatically inserts superscripts in the same style as the two on the memos obtained by CBS, she said.

"I'm virtually certain these were computer generated," Lines said after reviewing copies of the documents at her office in Paradise Valley, Ariz. She produced a nearly identical document using her computer's Microsoft Word software.

In the Wednesday broadcast, 60 Minutes said the purported memos were "documents we are told were taken from Col. Killian's personal file. The program says it consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

"As is standard practice at CBS News, the documents in the 60 Minutes report were thoroughly examined and their authenticity vouched for by independent experts," CBS News said in a statement.

This document expert (meaning me – full disclosure: I have no special expertise in this subject) is old enough not only to remember typewriters, but to have actually done quite a lot of work on them. He never saw a typewriter that could type a smaller, raised superscript, and doubts that one was standard issue in the US army during the Vietnam War.

He is also quite familiar with the automatic superscripting of “th” after numbers, e.g 10th – he once tried to get Word to not do it, and failed.

UPDATE: Don’t miss this great link on how blogging works (via Daily Pundit).

UPDATE: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the document (via Amritas, also here). Doesn’t everyone know that typewriters produce equal-spaced fonts?! This document is what we call a proportional-spaced font. If you don’t believe me, take a look a the word “will” see how the “w” takes up as much horizontal space as the rest of the word combined?

Posted by David Boxenhorn at September 10, 2004 02:17 PM
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The superscripting sounds fishy to me, too, although they do claim that there were very expensive typewriters that could do this back then (but you have to wonder how likely it is that an air force officer would use one on a regular basis).

The proportional spacing was fairly standard in high-end IBM typewriters, though. I even used some of those in the early 70s.

Posted by: Leif at September 10, 2004 07:40 PM Permalink

It's impossible for a typewriter to do superscript automatically because it doesnt have a brain like a word processor. It cant analyze what youve typed and then decide to change the appearance of the letters after they're typed. Even the most advanced typewriter couldnt do that in 72 or 73. Killian would have had to manually change the settings on the typewriter just to do the superscript - which seems odd and a lot of trouble to go through, given the the informal nature of the memo.

By the way, i'm trying to start an avalanche of email to pressure CBS to fire Rather. Go to my site, if you wanna participate.

Posted by: annika at September 10, 2004 11:37 PM Permalink

IDM Selectrics can and do change fonts and do superscripts. They are still in use today and the best known example is the White House where quality counts. They even had correcting ribbon and variable fonts were available.
See:
http://www.mytypewriter.com/category.html?UCIDs=1272517

I doubt very much whether they would have been available to typing pools back then but could have been. The telling point for me is the lack of identifiers anywhere such as originator's reference number, filing number or memo series number which would have been standard back then.

Posted by: ExpatEgghead at September 12, 2004 02:13 PM Permalink

To all of you, see here.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at September 12, 2004 09:54 PM Permalink

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