Cowering before possibility on the Killian memos
As Fontana Labs says, "Of course, the point is not whether the documents are fake; it's whether there's room for confusion. Quine-Duhem, anyone?"
The entire Republican strategy is to sow confusion. They can't discredit the memos outright, so confusion is the next best option. Liberal bloggers who write at length about their own skepticism and confusion only exacerbates the situation.
When Swift Boat Vets were riding high, the story trundled along with the moderate commentators who felt compelled to remind us that "there are legitimate questions" or even that "we can't know." These people propelled the Swift Boat scandal while congratulating themselves for their even-handedness. Pro-active epistemic self-flagellation is exactly what Rove wants from us.
But it's quite possible that the documents were, in fact, forged, and that CBS was fooled. There's no reason to think that only one side in this campaign has people on it willing to lie and cheat to destroy the other candidate's reputation.
All those of us on the Kerry side who aren't that desperate can do is to correct as new information comes in -- as happened with the false story about a Republican crowd booing Clinton when his illness was mentioned -- rather than insisting that obviously false stories are true, as is still happening with the Swifties' nifties.
Matt Yglesias duly notes and seconds Kleiman's remarks.
This is the sort of timorousness that gives liberals a bad name. Why has so much screen real estate already been devoted to the sober acknowledgments that forgery is a logically possible explanation? It's no virtue to revel in one's own fallibility prior to the unveiling of the evidence. It's far less labor intensive to quietly suspend judgment while placing the burden of proof squarely on the people yelling "hoax!"
At this point, nobody has any reason to doubt the authenticity of the Killian memos. Of course, we'll want to hear more about the CBS experts and their methods. The journalistic reputation of 60 minutes and the team's trust in its source counts for a lot. It's also worth noting that the White House implicitly accepted the authenticity of these memos. Most importantly, Killian's direct superior, Major General Bobby Hodges, has already vouched for the information the memos contain:
A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network's sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents' alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. He said a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone and Hodges replied that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."Some raise questions authority of papers on Bush
Reporters are busy rounding up third-parties to raise doubts about the authenticity of the Killian memos. When assessing their opinions, we should keep in mind that all these outside experts are making pronouncements based on fragmentary and degraded evidence.
An expert examiner's assessment of authenticity is a holistic judgment. It depends not only on the typeface and spacing, but also on the physical characteristics of the original including ink, paper and signatures. The provenance of the document also makes a difference, as do the document's semantic, syntactic and stylistic features.
At the very least, an ethical forensic document examiner would wait to see the original document before pontificating to reporters. Bear in mind that, unlike the CBS experts, the outsiders have had to make do with low quality pdf images of the Killian memos. Nor do the outsiders have access to the materials they need to compare the Bush memos to other Killian papers, or to compare the Bush memos to standard TANG memos of the era.
If true, even the strongest objections raised so far would merely show that Killian wrote the memo on an unusual typewriter. The critical question is whether the Bush guard memos match the other documents in Killian's files, not whether Killian's used a common type of typewriter. We can't assess the overall balance of probabilities without the full spectrum of information that the CBS team was privy to.