“There are proportional fonts that shouldn’t be there.” “The typography is wrong.” “Within hours of the release, users at the Free Republic were calling it a forgery.” “Expert forensic document examiners found problems.” “We can’t tell for sure without seeing the original.”
Sound familiar? Yes, they sound like the aftermath of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate announcement last April 27, but in reality I took them from September 9, 2004, following a report by CBS News based on a series of 1972-1973 letters purportedly , a deceased former US Army National Guard officer, critical of George W. Bush’s National Guard fitness. The scandal eventually became known as Rathergate because of the central involvement of CBS News’ Dan Rather and the 60 Minutes television program who aired the documents and declared them genuine.
While the two document controversies are strikingly similar in a superficial way, there are important differences. First, the documents in question had real and obvious flaws, such as a raised “th” that wouldn’t be in a 1973 typewritten document. The fonts were proportional. One Internet writer typed the document into Microsoft Word and, using Word’s default settings, showed that the spacing in his document exactly overlaid the fake document.
The second important difference is real credentialed document examiners looked at the images, not just Internet hobbyists.
And most importantly The New York Times and The Washington Post questioned the documents in front-page stories the very next day after the documents came out.
In the case of Rathergate, the system worked. The existing institutions showed that even though they could make a mistake, they could also correct it. The competitive nature of the Press makes one news organization police another to keeps them honest. While the story started with competing experts, the truth became clear in short order.
Some may take Rathergate as evidence that the media cannot be trusted and that the truth lies on the Internet. I take away a different lesson: while the media is not perfect, it can admit its mistakes and has the resources to get to the bottom of things. It also belies the claim that the “liberal media” as a whole cover up facts that go against a liberal agenda.
I urge readers to read the excellent Wikipedia article linked below and draw their own comparisons and contrasts.
- Killian documents controversy – Wikipedia