Mary Mapes and the Killian Memos

Hunter writes about Mary Mapes, the producer who lost her job at CBS over the Killian memos. Long-time readers will recall that Hunter and I were among a handful of bloggers who didn’t buy the “forgery” arguments pouring out of the Right Blogosphere.

Anyway, Hunter writes,

Former CBS producer Mary Mapes will be on Air America Radio’s Majority Report today. I’ll be putting up a review of her book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power sometime in the next few days, but short version: it’s definitely worth a read. (Those of you still hankering for typography battles — or those of you more appropriately looking for new evidence into the life of one of this country’s most fortunate sons — might be interested in the expanding document collection at the book’s website.)

As a veteran of the typography battles, I noted what Mapes says about the document collection:

These internal letters and memos were photocopied at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas by researcher Steven Jones in the fall of 2004. All materials came from the Adjutant General’s communication files …

… These memos also demonstrate a variety of format styles and typefaces, including proportional spacing and right hand signature blocks, which are common in the Killian documents.

Here’s an encapsulated version of the typewriter arguments, distilled down a lot. If you aren’t interested, skip the stuff between the asterisks.


The rightie typographical argument, in a nutshell, was that typewriters that might been in use by the Texas National Guard ca. 1970s did not produce proportional spacing and superscript letters, meaning the memos CBS posted in PDF format could not have been typed in the 1970s. Further, since the memos could be replicated in MicroSoft Word using default settings, they must have been created in MicroSoft Word. Those are strong circumstantial arguments.

However, it seems there were typewriters rattling around ca. 1970s that produced proportional spacing and superscript letters, and the military had them. Both Mapes and Paul Lukasiak, among others, have found other typed documents of the era released by the Department of Defense with proportional type. Further, MicroSoft Word originally was created to replace electronic typewriters, so it mimics typewriter functions — including, for example, default half-inch tab stops, which was the tab stop recommended by typing instructors back in the day — and any typed document can be replicated with Word very nicely if you’ve got the right font installed. The righties ignored the fact that the type font (which was severely distorted by multiple faxing and copying) in the memos did not conform to Times New Roman (which it most closely resembled) in all points and actually more closely resembled a font used by 1970s-era electric typewriters. Finally, you might remember a graphic demonstration that presented a Killian memo superimposed over a MicroSoft Word replica of the same memo, showing them matching exactly. But PDFs are graphic files, and they can be stretched and squeezed like any other graphic file if you have PhotoShop or similar software. I don’t know if the creator of the flashing bitmap (or GIF, or whatever it was) did manipulate the PDF to force it to match the Word document, but since it could have been manipulated the demonstration didn’t prove anything.

So I am still inclined to believe the memos were not forgeries. Unfortunately, the authenticity of the memos cannot be proved for a fact without originals, which probably no longer exist.


Whether the memos are authentic or not, I still think it was damn reckless of Mapes to post those memos, since there was no way to physically authenticate them and since their provenance was highly questionable.

I haven’t looked much at Mapes’s new material, but Hunter argues it’s time to re-open the issue of Bush’s National Guard service. In the current media culture the issue might get a fairer hearing than it got two years ago. However, I wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time on it right now; I think the issue of WMD manipulation, Traitorgate, and maybe Cheney’s Energy Task Force are more critical to the Cause, and that adds up to a lot of stuff on the public attention plate.

But when the day comes that all the other BushCo crimes and corruptions are laid out in the sunlight for all to see, then we will say, “… and about Dubya’s National Guard service ….”

NOTE TO NEW WOULD-BE COMMENTERS: Comments are closed on this topic. For those of you eager to explain to me how typewriters couldn’t have re-created MS Word defaults: You are wrong. High-end office electric typewriters of the 1970s were highly sophisticated machines that did many things ordinary typewriters could not do. In fact, the defaults written into the original MS Word were created to mimic office typewriters. If you are too young to have ever used these machines (or were otherwise occupied in the 1970s), please don’t bother explaining to me about the defaults. Tabs, line breaks, etc. — all accounted for. Including centering. At worst, on the high-end machines a good typist could keep centered lines to no more than about 1/32 of an inch off center, if not perfectly centered.

I used them a lot; I even typed a couple of Ph.D. dissertations on them. I know what the machines could do.

8 thoughts on “Mary Mapes and the Killian Memos

  1. Sorry, Maha, no. It isn’t good enough to show a proportionaal typewriter of the past.

    What you need to show is a typewriter which produced documents in the past which can match an MS Word document of today at the default settings, and this no one has demonstrated.

    [Note from Maha: I’m deleting the rest of this. In fact, this has been demonstrated up the wazoo. I already explained all this in the post above, including part about MS Word defaults, which were written to mimic a typewriter.

    I spent 35 years in print publishing production, and I know typography backward and forward. Further, I actually used to type on those old typewriters and know what they were capable of. And I know what MS Word does. And I also know those old documents saved in PDF format are photocopied and faxed and distorted, so that the copies we have probably don’t match their own originals all that well.

    And I also know that the Killian memo documents were not typed in any font common to MS Word. It is not Microsoft Times New Roman, which is what most of the “forgery” arguments say it is. The serifs are wrong. So, in truth, the Killian memos cannot be replicated exactly in MicroSoft Word unless you get someone to create the font for you.

    I argued this stuff to death two years ago and I’m not doing it any more. Any of you deadheads who can’t read and can’t learn and keep repeating the same damn stupid arguments to me over and over can expect to have their posts deleted.]

  2. Here’s another item to put on Bush’s plate. Massive bid rigging.

    Not that we didn’t know there was a feeding frenzy for contractors in Iraq, but the details are starting to surface at just the right time in the delamination process.. Oh, btw, another 6 GI’s were killed in Iraq today. 51 killed so far this month. drip, drip, drip.

  3. Do any of the documents Mapes posted have the telltale superscript? If so, I didn’t see it.

    You know that I agree with the righties about the documents. I have years of experience in this, too, and I typed on proportional-font and dead-key typewriters back in the ’80s. The superscript “st” and “nd” and “th” had long since dropped out of proper manuscript/document preparation — it wasn’t necessary and it was difficult to do on a typewriter. (On most typewriters, you literally had to roll the platen with one hand and hold it in place while you typed with the other.)

    Then along came Bill Gates, who decided that those superscripts looked so cool that they should be the default when a user types an ordinal number.

    I still say that’s how the superscript got into the National Guard documents. I’m in the “fake but accurate” camp, and ‘m still waiting for some reason to change my mind.

  4. It depends on what model of typewriter you used, but the superscript could have been a special character on a type element ball. The standard element balls that came with the typewriters didn’t have them, but you could order balls with differents character sets, including exotic mathematical symbols, Greek letters, diacritical marks, and superscripts. People who typed scientific papers and dissertations, for example, would need to order the special sets separately from the standard sets.

    I remember seeing one analysis of a questioned memo (don’t remember which one) that showed, on the same memo, some “th” superscripts and some “th” not superscripts. That suggests a typist who didn’t always remember to strike the special character instead of “th.”

    It doesn’t prove anything either way, but you’d be amazed at what those 1970s-era electric typewriters could do. There wasn’t anything in those memos that couldn’t have been done in a typewriter. And, believe me, I looked.

  5. Why would someone who types memos for the Texas Air National Guard buy a type ball suitable for a scientist typing technical papers? (That’s what those type balls were good for, as I remember — scientific symbols and Greek letters.)

  6. “Why would someone who types memos for the Texas Air National Guard buy a type ball suitable for a scientist typing technical papers?”

    That was just an example. You could special-order anything. It’s possible the military special-ordered type element balls with superscripts. I don’t know they did; I’m just saying the superscript problem was easily solved with technology available at the time.

  7. Mapes was on target. I am a retired USAF pilot. No one in my pilot training class got minimum AFOQT scores like Bush. He got preferential treatment to get into pilot training. Several people, who have firsthand knowledge, have commented on the preferential treatment he received to get a pilot slot and his attitude while serving in the Guard afterwards. His performance as President of this great country should not be surprising.

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