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Sunday, February 20, 2005

What if the Rathergate forger(s) had had a clue?

A thoughtful reader emails with this question:

Perhaps I have missed it, but has anyone (yourself, Rush, etc.) ever discussed what the consequences would have been if Dan Rather's informant, being more astute, had typed the fraudulent documents on a period typewriter? Would we now be discussing the policies, etc. of President Kerry?!

It may well be that someone with a better crystal ball than mine has already thoroughly addressed this topic and that if so, I've missed it too. But I'm a fan of "alternative histories" and rarely shy about venturing opinions and speculation, so here's what my own crystal ball tells me.


What if our presumed forger(s) — the anonymous source(s) from whom CBS News' source Bill Burkett purportedly received the documents — had used a contemporaneous typewriter, one of the sort available to Dubya's TANG unit at the time the documents were supposedly written? If that were the only factual change that we assume for our alternative history, then I think that before the election, the documents still would have ultimately been proved — to the satisfaction of a large segment of the well-informed and open-minded public — to have been forged anyway.

Did CBS News' source Bill Burkett ever wonder about his alleged source's typewriter? Recall that one of the "verifications" supposedly relied upon by CBS News was the White House staff's lack of an immediate denial when CBS News previewed the documents for them just before the broadcast aired. As things turned out, the blogosphere immediately snapped to the peculiarities, typographic and otherwise, of the documents. Eventually the White House (or at its request, the DoD and/or TANG) would have weighed in, probably saying, "We've re-checked and re-re-checked the official files, and we're highly confident that no copies of these documents were ever in them." Of course, the forger(s)' cover story was that they were from Col. Killian's "private files"; there's a history of mislaid or misfiled documents dribbling out (which surprises no veteran I've ever met, but some folks find significant); and some people won't accept Dubya's or the DoD's or the TANG's assertion that "all the files" have been searched and documents pertaining to Dubya released, no matter what.

But the other fishy circumstances — misuse of military terminology, abbreviations, formatting, etc., and the strong suspicions from other contemporaneous near-witnesses — by themselves raised very substantial doubts about the documents' authenticity. Add that to the lack of corroboration, and contrary opinions, of the near-witnesses, and I'm quite certain that the question of whether the documents were genuine would have come up, typeface notwithstanding.

So my guess is that not too many voters would have been swayed in this scenario — I don't think there were many voters for whom Dubya's TANG service was a key factor in voting for him, and those who felt it was a key factor in voting against him were already persuaded by the previous criticisms of his record by the MSM and liberal punditry. "Fishy" documents, even if not fully proven as forgeries, likely wouldn't have swayed enough votes to have changed anything important.


If we alter the scenario to presume a much more competent forger — one who got not only the typography right, but who also got the military abbreviations and formatting and terminology spot-on — then it's a much closer call.

The absence of the documents from "official" records, plus the doubting opinions of near-witnesses, by themselves wouldn't have convinced many folks that there was a genuine question of the documents having been forged. CBS News might well have been able to continue to stonewall on the identity of its "reliable source" at least until after the election. (For a course syllabus in "Brazen-but-Effective Stonewalling 101," consult the John Kerry Military Academy; see also the Miller-Cooper Institute for Self-Righteous Journalists Concealing Sources' Identities on "Principle.")

Would this scenario have swung the election? I can see it swinging maybe one percentage point of the total vote.  I have no reason to think that, for example, it would have swung a disproportionate number of Ohio voters, but a one percent swing there could have made things Florida-2000 tight. My gut tells me that it still wouldn't have changed the election's outcome, and that one percent is an overgenerous guestimate. But it might well have undercut the basis on which Dubya has been able to claim having a broad mandate, however, with resulting significant weakness in his second term.


The big historical change that I think is most reasonable to posit as the consequence of a more competent forger, though, doesn't have to do directly with the election, but instead with the consequences of Rathergate for Dan Rather, CBS News, and the MSM generally. Especially if we assume that CBS News would have been able to keep the identity of its source confidential (and the squirrelly and conflicting stories that its source told them), the case against Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, et al. would have been much less compelling. Dangerous Dan still hasn't admitted without qualifications that the documents were forged; without the typographic case, he certainly never would have, even in the face of impeaching evidence like the abbreviations/formatting/terminology problems.

What absolutely damns the whole crew to Journalism Hell is that they aired and then resolutely defended the story notwithstanding the huge red flags their own document experts (even though they were primarily handwriting experts) had raised about the typeface. Some of the smaller red flags that CBS News had ignored (e.g., relying solely on photocopies) and shortcuts they took (e.g., failing to probe Burkett's story more deeply, or not letting Lt. Robert Strong actually see the documents when they solicited his guess as to their genuineness) might have been excused by many folks — but that one cannot be excused by anyone with an ounce of integrity or common sense. It's the difference between shoddy journalism and outright fraud — with the experts' warnings providing absolute proof of the mens rea ("guilty mind") of the CBS News culprits.

In short, had the forger(s) been smarter, CBS News' credibility likely would not have been thoroughly destroyed, and there's little hope that anyone in the MSM or the public generally would have learned any convincing lessons from this episode. The jury is still out on the extent to which the MSM has actually absorbed and accepted those lessons, or will alter its future conduct based upon them. But a vast portion of the public had its eyes opened (pun on the CBS logo intended). And for that, we can be thankful that the forger(s) were so thoroughly inept.


UPDATE (Sun Feb 20 @ 8:00pm):  Charles Johnson at LGF reports that Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) — a/k/a The Hon. Gentleman from Woodstock — is apparently also a fan of alternative histories. In his, Karl Rove forged and planted the memos! The problem is, Rep. Hinchey is seriously trying to pass this fantasy off as truth. (He'd have been slightly more persuasive had he managed to remember which network Dan Rather works for, in my humble opinion.)

Posted by Beldar at 03:33 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to What if the Rathergate forger(s) had had a clue? and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» If the Rathergate forgery had been better from CEO Blogger

Tracked on Feb 20, 2005 2:39:26 PM

» In re: Mandate from Imbecilities

Tracked on Feb 21, 2005 10:36:16 AM


(1) Mike G made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 7:47:10 AM | Permalink

Hell, go one step further: what if the documents were legit?

We would have had the devastating revelation that Bush was the son of a rich and powerful man who benefited from Dad's connections. Change your vote yet? Of course not; everyone has long since processed the fact that Bush was a sort of Prince Hal. If that matters to you, it's mattered to you all along. If it doesn't, then you judged whether or not to return him to office on his record since January 20, 2001, not on his record in the 1970s.

The fact is, the Democrats and the Rathergate perpetrators in the media both wildly overestimated the importance of military service to the voters. (Sort of the way Newt Gingrich et al. overestimated the importance of certain already-processed information about Bill Clinton's proclivities.) Kerry thought touting his Vietnam combat record was enough to run on; the media thought deconstructing Bush's non-combat record was enough to disqualify him. In both cases voters looked, yawned, and then asked the eternal political question, "What have you done for me lately?"

(2) Jay G made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 7:55:34 AM | Permalink

I'm with Mike. Even before the 60 minutes segment ran, I was rolling my eyes. Who doesn't already assume that W. used his family connections to elbow his way into the Guard, and then to waltz away from it? Of course he did. CBS might as well have run a segment on the shocking revelation that JFK had been unfaithful to Jackie. Who cares anymore? If the W. documents had been better forged or even real, so what?

(3) Brett Bellmore made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 7:56:06 AM | Permalink

I think you're missing a BIG second order effect: Rather and company, by airing such an easily debunked fraud, so far in advance of the election, essentially immunized the public against any more competent frauds being sprung on them at the last minute.

I think it was the New York Times, for instance, that had been planning to go with a story alleging that Bush had cheated in the debates using a radio tranciever, (Remember the mysterious "lump"?) and dropped it just a few days before the election. Who knows what other last minute suprises other news organizations had planned, and canceled because the public was primed to dismiss them?

I think Bush owes Rather a debt of gratitude.

(4) triticale made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:05:53 AM | Permalink

If the only change had been using a period typewriter, there still would have been detail issues of language and date format, and the bizarre error of picking Mother's Day weekend for the supposedly missed medical exam.

Anyway, it didn't take a whole lot of pull to get into full-time training for the F-104s when they were short of pilots for them, and it didn't take a whole lot of pull to waltz away once sufficient flight points had been logged and that particular plane was phased out.

(5) Michael Hertzberg made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:18:28 AM | Permalink

You're living in a dream world. Without the typeface issue, everything else would have been subject to interminable and undeterminable argument. Since, as Mike G says, people generally had processed GWB as the beneficiary of a famous dad, people (except for some diehard Bush supporters) would have assumed that the story was true, since it supported their assumption. But the question of how many fence-straddlers would have decided to vote for Kerry because of this (probably few) is the least interesting side of the issue. More to the point is how many fence-straddlers (or weak Kerry backers) were pushed into the Bush camp in reaction to the heavy-handed partisanship of Rather & co. & their use of forged documents. And then there's the fact that the exposure of Rather and the prevalence of the story at that stage of the campaign sucked the air out of the Dems' efforts to finish the campaign with a strong "Bush is evil" message.

(6) Diggs made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:37:08 AM | Permalink

Clearly the Democrats were confused about how the military, and military matters, play with the general public. They sought to make service in the Reserve/Nat'l Guard look like a joke at the very time that those groups are supplying a majority of the servicemembers in Iraq. Most Reservists and Guardsmem are NOT privileged, and they serve at great sacrifice to themselves, their families, and their community. Oftentimes a Red State community. To try to make that type of service into a liability was a grave mistake; but one easily made by people who's entire outlook about the military was flash-frozen during the Viet Nam years. The fake Bush memos only work in that Viet Nam era scenario, not today. No one in their right mind, and I mean no one, is joining the Reserves/Guard to get out of being drafted (although I'm sure several idiotic college-age Lefties went out and joined right away after they heard Kerry say they were seconds away from being "drafted") so the constant claxon call of Bush's "privileged" service as a fighter pilot in the TANG was nothing more than a reminder of his service as a fighter pilot, period. No liability for those of us who understand service.
If the Leftists ever want to use the military service of a former servicemember as a liability, they should first understand what it means to be in the military. Very few Lefties ever join, so as a group, they will never, ever know.
Thank God.

(7) Hank_F_M made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:43:16 AM | Permalink

Another issue that would have come up.

If I remeber correctly the memos did not say that W was using influance, that it was his father and/or friends of his father.

I remeber from that time parents often exercised influance without acutally telling there son. Though usually they realized it.

Also Nat Guard staff often sometimes provide favoraroble treatment well connected sons with out a request to avoid any wrath from politically connected families.

I think the White House would eventully turned to a no evidence that the President knew or particpated" in any impoper influence.

(8) Richard made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:46:56 AM | Permalink

I have wondered how Mr. Rather can look at himself in the mirror each and every day.

(9) Zach made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 8:51:30 AM | Permalink

Without the typeface problem, would people have thought to examine the documents as closely as they did?

Also, the problem with formatting/content analysis is that, from the outside, it looks exactly like the sort of internet conspiracy theorist brand of thinking that "proves" the Pentagon was hit by a missile on 9/11.

Without clear visual evidence like the superscripted "th", debate would get awfully muddled awfully quickly.

(10) Ric Locke made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 9:10:23 AM | Permalink

You cannot change one thing.

The whole reason the Democrats selected John Kerry as their candidate was that they thought, at the base of their minds, that he could be used to pry the military and its supporters away from Bush. That's a priority for them, or was until the Deaniacs took over, and should still be. If they cannot find a way to either attract or neutralize the military vote they have little chance in the future, especially as the adventures in the Middle East build a larger and larger segment of the electorate which can be characterized as "military" including supporters.

One of the objections to Gore was that his military service was pretty clearly a ticket-punching in-and-out, and some people objected to that. So they looked at Kerry and thought, "Aha! A real war hero, been in combat and killed people and everything. The anal-retentive, baby-napalming assholes can't help but go for it, and the fact that he changed his mind afterwards makes it palatable to our gentle progressives. Win-win."

And the very fact that they could think that, and not realize that even pre-Swift Boats Kerry's record is that of a very bad officer (to say the least), reveals that the depths of their cluelessness are nearly infinite. The same is true of the George Bush "AWOL" story, starting with the fact that "AWOL" is a very shaky concept when applied to a Reservist in the first place.

A Democratic Party whose operatives were clueful enough about the military to have credibly forged the ANG documents would never have put John Kerry up as its candidate in the first place, and the candidate they did put up would have been worth voting for. In reality, the situation would never have come up; a clueful Democratic Party would have won in a walkaway in 2000 (although I don't think such a party would have nominated Gore) and this would have been a re-election campaign for an incumbent, hardly worth showing up at the polls.

Ric Locke

(11) ionstorm made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 9:52:47 AM | Permalink

It probably didn't even need to be a real typewriter! If the forger had simply used a fixed-width Courier font, then that would likely have been enough for the MSM to support Rather.

Let's not forget that some liberals (like Juan Williams) couldn't be convinced even after the document was revealed to be a match to the default settings of MS Word.

We were incredibly lucky.

(12) TW. Andrews made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 10:11:42 AM | Permalink

I think you're being exceedingly generous to Kerry in thinking that the National Guard story could have swung 1% of the vote. The only people who really cared were already voting Kerry. I think that the people on the edge were much more likely to judge Bush on his 4 years in office than his purported absence from the National Guard while Kerry was "in" Cambodia.

(13) Jim made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 10:28:44 AM | Permalink

"see also the Miller-Cooper Institute for Self-Righteous Journalists Concealing Sources' Identities on "Principle.""

Note the developing story, by the way, on the identity of "Deep Throat," reported to be a composite identity now. It makes you suspect any claim of source confidentiality. Why is Deep Throat any less egregious than Janet Cooke's inventions at the Washington Post or Jayson Blair's at the NYT?

(14) Chadland made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 10:55:59 AM | Permalink

I wonder if anyone is researching stories Dan Rather (or any other msm figure)did back in the 80 s or before. I bet alot of crap they put out they just made up.

I seem to recall a special Rather did in the late 80 s about Vietnam vets committing atrocities. Of the 5 or so vets he profiled, only one turned out to be in the military. It came directly out of the Michael Moore of the 70 s (John Kerry) playbook.

Now the msm can't fabricate info like they used to. They are really pissed.

(15) Robin Roberts made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 11:00:16 AM | Permalink

I disagree with those who think that the forged documents, if not clearly debunked as they were, would not have changed the election.

The debunking of the documents may not have greatly changed the public's appreciation of President Bush's actual past - but it did change the public's appreication of what kind of unfair bigotry against him was in the news. That was the message that I found those of my acquaintances who didn't follow the details as much as we did, but had heard of the controversy. That the hatred had gotten so rabid that the MSM would flog badly made ridiculous forgeries. It changed perception of the President today more than perception of his service.

(16) RR made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 11:04:28 AM | Permalink

Odd that no one has followed up Susan Estridge's boast about that time, that they had some stunning information that was going to turn the Dem's flagging campain around.

I waited and waited, and didn't see a thing come out of Ms. Estridge's office, except maybe this forgery.

(17) Chadland made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 11:27:26 AM | Permalink

You are wrong, sort of. The Bush team's internals showed him easily winning five days before the 2000 election. Then the DUI story hit on Thursday before the Tuesday. As soon as the story hit his numbers dived.

But in 2004 GWB was a well know commodity. The msm was trying to poke holes in his two main attributes: security and honesty. We all know the stuff the msm did on security. The target of honesty would have definitely put Bush on defense. Because of the stupidest fabrication of all time the Bush team quickly pivoted onto offense. However if the fabrication was better done it would have cost Bush votes, just not as many as the story in 2000 did.

(18) Tollhouse made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 12:05:33 PM | Permalink

The thing that really astounds me is that had those documents been done halfway competently, then would we be arguing at all? The lack of the originals would be to me to be a giant red flag. Is it acceptable in the news biz to report with such loosely sourced info? Documents are just that, paper, not fact. Fact is something different, a preponderance of evidence. It just boggles to understand that the level of veracity is so low that documents of mysterious origin are considered acceptable.

We are now moving into a era of technology where duplication can be done at a molecular level. How is the media going to keep up when two documents that show contrary information, but both can be totally and completely authenticated by technological means? How many other scandals are waiting in the wings based on documentation that has been forged more competently?

(19) Ginny made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 12:06:45 PM | Permalink

A minor point: if the story had merely changed the voting by 1% (which, given the history of 2000 - and exactly who leaked that when?) how close would some states have been? And if they were close, how important would those exit polls begin to loom, how important would the lawyers spread across the country and ready to do battle be, how much could the msm find problems in areas with narrow Bush win margin? I don't like hypotheticals and alternative histories because I figure there are too many variables. But I do think CBS and Rather knew exactly what they were doing: the coordination of that news story with the Democratic machine was a good deal closer than the Swift Boats with the Republicans. And all I can say is that it seems to me our country missed the bullet for the second time. I don't care if the next president is a democrat. All I care is that they actually can see and accept facts, honor and uphold a democratic voice, use our might to connect the apprently severed parts of our world. I hope for the kind of character we see in those who have been weighted with terrible decisions and tried to do the best thing, regardless of politics or the msm.

(20) Lucas Brachish made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 12:56:08 PM | Permalink

Although the typeface conceit of using a superscripted "th" in the word Rathergate is awfully cute and hard to pass up, I can't help but think all these post-Watergate "gates" are a sign of complete creative bankruptcy on the part of journalists and pundits alike (Rathergate, Hillarygate, Monicagate, Whitewatergate, pardongate, CIAgate, etc.... as partially mocked in the post at www.federalobserver.com/archive.php?aid=649 ).

Or maybe it's just the conservatives trying to confuse the public about who committed the original "gate" itself. Regardless, let's come up with some more clever names for political scandals from now on, shall we? Where are the Deep Throats and Grassy Knolls of yesteryear?

(21) Walt made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 1:15:46 PM | Permalink

By the time the documents came out, I think most people had already made a choice. Even if the documents were true -- not forged better but absolutely true -- I don't I could have voted for Kerry under any imaginable circumstances.

We had seen four years of Bush in office and what he may have done during Viet Nam didn't matter. We had also seen Kerry in office for bunchteen years, and what he did in Viet Nam, and thereafter, mattered a great deal.

(22) D. Webber made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 1:33:33 PM | Permalink

I appreciate all of the comments above. Correct me if I'm wrong on this - one thing that hasn't been mentioned is that CBS originally planned to drop the "missing munitions bombshell" on Sunday night before the election, but was forced to release the story a week ahead of schedule in order to prevent the NYT from scooping them on it. I think that story, coupled with public doubts about how the war in Iraq was going and GWB's fitness to be commander-in-chief, may have suppressed the voter turnout for the incumbent.

Thanks to the Times this one time, I guess, the story was released early enough for the initial reports to be debunked. That tells me that even after RatherGate, CBS was undeterred in their zeal to manipulate voters to get Kerry elected.

(23) fdcol63 made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 2:23:44 PM | Permalink

A free, open, objective, and even adversarial press is a healthy check on the powers of elected officials.

What's frightening is when that press is overwhelmingly aligned with one or the other of the major political parties, and becomes nothing more than voluntary shills for that party and unpaid attack dogs against the other party.

The American 4th Estate has become nothing more than a 5th Column.

(24) Chadland made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 3:26:51 PM | Permalink

Here is a point that I have never heard brought up. If you look at any typed paper from the 70 s you'll notice they all look the same: the same type face, same font size, same justification, etc.

There is no way that the people at CBS can be that stupid. Because of their liberalism they regard the general public as morons (probably because they pulled this off before). They knew it was a fabrication and in on a conspiracy to bring down GWB.

With the producers refusing to leave I wonder how much CBS will have to pay them off. If they talk does any one think CBS's FCC license will be revoked?

(25) Al Superczynski made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 5:29:04 PM | Permalink

I object to the characterization of subject documents as forgeries. Forgeries are alterations of actual documents. The documents in question were *fake*, made up out of thin air.

(26) Ordi made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 6:45:14 PM | Permalink

IMHO, the Dems and MSM knew Kerry's Military service and protests were going to be a problem so in their minds they had to attempt to make Bush look smaller. I think Mcawlful came out about the time Kerry was assured the nomination with his "Fake AWOL" BS and it built from there. I think this was ALL a cordinated effort by the DEMS and MSM. They just kept slinging mud at Bush's service and protected Kerry from his "Cambodian" past. They thought it would be do the trick. Why did Russett hold onto the video of Kerry's interview on Meet the Depressed?

(27) Brad made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 6:47:44 PM | Permalink

I think a more relevant "what if" than Beldar's question of what if the fake documents were typed on a period typewriter, is what if CBS never put images of the faked documents up on a website for the whole internet to see and examine?

It was access to those images that gave a huge audience a chance to poke holes in the CBS story. And I think instead of imploding, the controversy over Bush's ANG service would have continued throughout the election cycle. That could have changed the whole dynamic of the election.

And how small a change in the election would have delivered the presidency to JFK2? A switch of only 60,000 votes in Ohio would have given Kerry an electoral vote majority, regardless of a Bush popular vote majority.

(28) Seerak made the following comment | Feb 20, 2005 9:48:22 PM | Permalink

I think you are all missing the point (though some come close).

As a lot of the bloggers on Dan Rather's case made clear, the kernel of the story wasn't George Bush or TANG at all; it was CBS and Dan Rather getting caught doing what nearly all non-liberals have always suspected *but could never prove*: tossing their vaunted objectivity to the wind for partisan political purposes.

If the memos had never been outed, the liberal media bias would still be seen as a "conservative's paranoia", Dan Rather would still be the anchor, and Eason Jordan would still be at CNN.

Instead, the MSM has been caught so red-handed that even moderate liberals are waking up. The mild general mistrust of the MSM that has been killing network news ratings for over a decade now has bloomed into a serious credibilility problem. As a transmission belt of Leftist ideas, the MSM has lost a lot of its utility, something which far overshadows the results of Election 2004 in the long run.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that I see Rathergate as helping to accelerate the next phase of McCain-Feingold; the latter, by necessity, incorportes the concept of "official media", and CBS's malfeasance in this capacity DURING AN ELECTION will serve as yet another justification to expand the FEC's control over both media and private organizations.

(29) Jennifer Peterson made the following comment | Feb 21, 2005 3:37:33 AM | Permalink

Hi, All good posts above....

But I wanted to see an alternative history of what would have happened if Kerry won. Lebanon would go what way? Syria, Iran...?

(30) John Boyle made the following comment | Feb 21, 2005 12:18:54 PM | Permalink

A few posters minimized the effect of what happened thirty years ago in this election. How common it is to generalize from one's own personal experience. There are over eight million Vietnam "era" military vets, about two-and-a-half million who serevd "in-country," and more than twenty-five million vets overall. Those who served with honor - the vast, vast majority - took Kerry's posing, self-serving and "multiple-personality" charade with deadly seriousness, and became single issue voters. Trust me. Bush, whatever his military career lapses, never pretended it was anything but what it was, and never tried to use or abuse his service for personal gain. THAT was Kerry's cardinal anti-military sin, even if all his boasts had been true.

The real cynicism of both Kerry and the Dem Party and CBS was in knowing this was an election maker/buster, and going for it. Kerry clinched the nomination the day Jim Rassman - his Green Beret savee, showed up in Iowa and endorsed him.

(31) A. J. made the following comment | Feb 21, 2005 4:26:09 PM | Permalink

As the "thoughtful reader" who posed the subject question to Beldar, thanks for all your thoughtful comments. However, I am less concerned with alternative history than with prospective duplicities. The question of the impact or effect on the recent election is now merely tangential to the real issue.

In my email to Beldar, I further posed the more critical question: "Has serious thought been given to dealing with more clever and sophisticated forgers in future political battles (e.g., Supreme Court nominations, Senate and Presidential candidacies)? We have to assume that the Left and MSM have learned their lessons well. This [should] be a topic [] of discussion in the conservative blogosphere. Forewarned is forearmed."

The second paragraph of Tollhouse's comment swerved into the same concern I am raising. The last sentence was: "How many other scandals are waiting in the wings based on documention that has been forged more competently?" This is a topic of concern that deserves to be discussed, with emphasis on how they may be dealt with forensically.

"Coming events cast their shadow before." -- Goethe(?) The thought that the election of the most powerful man in the world could be subject to manipulation by unscrupulous persons is foreboding.

(32) Kent made the following comment | Feb 21, 2005 9:15:33 PM | Permalink

I have also wondered what might have happened had the documents been faked more skillfully, and I worry about more skillfully faked documents in the future.

However, a professor at my alma mater once claimed that there is no such thing as a skillful historical forgery. Every known historical forgery has, in retrospect, been seen to be embarrasingly clumsy. It is simply too hard to get period details right. As you and many commenters here have noted, even with a period typeface, the errors in terminology, dates, and facts would have eventually betrayed the Rather forgeries.

Historical forgeries succeed, not because they are skillful, but because they play to the target's preconceptions and prejudices. Certainly true in this case.

The problem is that a forgery can do a lot of harm before it is exposed. It is some comfort to have half a million bloggers poised to fact check.

(33) James B. Shearer made the following comment | Feb 22, 2005 5:55:42 PM | Permalink

I at first thought your estimate of a 1% swing to Kerry with better fakes was too high. Upon reflection I think it may be about right but not because the documents would have hurt Bush, but instead because he would not have benefited as he did from the exposure of crude fakes. Any discussion of alternative histories should start with the alternative history in which the story never ran.

(34) Chester White made the following comment | Feb 23, 2005 9:58:51 AM | Permalink


"Every known historical forgery has, in retrospect, been seen to be embarrasingly clumsy. It is simply too hard to get period details right."

Well, sure. But you seem to ignore the historical forgeries that are not "known."

There are surely a lot that have never been discovered, and thus are still considered genuine.

(35) Kent made the following comment | Feb 23, 2005 11:52:37 AM | Permalink

Well, sure. But you seem to ignore the historical forgeries that are not "known."

I think the argument against this being purely a selection effect is that you would expect a small number of moderately skillful forgeries to be detected. My professor claimed that there have been no historical forgeries with any objective plausibility at all.

But I'm not sure it changes the key point, which is that historical forgeries succeed primarily because the target wants to believe them.

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