Monday, September 13, 2004

Dan Rather, FOX News, the hoaxing of America, and tips on forging anti-Bush documents

Microsoft Word produces a dead-on copy of the forged documents with the default settings. It's true there were two model lines of IBM typewriters that could have produced proportional spacing in the 1970s. Extensive output of both has now been posted to the web, and the bottom line is: if you fought with a IBM Selectric Composer for many hours (a very pricey typesetting machine unlikely to be used by a colonel for his memoirs, or found in an administrative office) you could get something that almost, but not quite, looks like the documents. Some things, like the centering, would be inconsistent and likely way off on the IBM Selectric. It would quite look like the forged documents CBS News still insists are authentic. But some things would be close. Maybe. Like you'd have proportional spacing.

Like many writers, I've spent a lot of time fighting with Microsoft Word, and I know it's capabilities. Even small changes to the defaults will produce completely different (from my perfectionist's perspective, trying to author a document) word-wrap positions.

The fact that Microsoft Word, with its default settings, produces dead-on versions of those documents, full of all the idiosyncrasies of Microsoft Word, suggests the forger was either grossly incompetent, wasn't trying very hard, or was a Bush-fanatic Republican (none of which are mutually exclusive).

(If you change even the margin a teeny-tiny bit from its American default, the resulting documents no longer match the CBS forgeries to within a teeny-tiny bit of an inch. IBM Selectric Composers, or any IBM typewriters, didn't do automatic centering in the 1970s --- it was very difficult, was done manually, and won't match MS Word to thousands of a point.)

To put it mildly, this is an incredibly bad forgery.

Take a look at the way Microsoft Word handles the 'f' in Times New Roman, in words like "different." They even look different (no pun intended) in MS Word even than in this web browser, which spaces the 'fs' differently. If only the forger had been smart enough to turn on a proportional spaced font like Courier New. Everyone that has ever designed a web site knows about proportional spaced typewriter fonts.

The 'fe's and 'fr's in the forged CBS documents show the tell-tale characteristic spacing that are unique to MS Word Times New Roman, and not found in other typesetting systems (even ones that use Times New Roman), as is know by anyone that has painstaking had to convert complex documents from one system to another.

Some more types for the forger: Next time, when you're forging your anti-Bush documents, be sure to first turn off AutoCorrect. (It's what created the now infamous 'th.' And the moron also typed a space before "2" and "nd" because he didn't know that Control-Z undoes the AutoCorrect superscript that was the dead giveaway that this was Microsoft Word.) And be sure to first save the document in ".txt" format and print in Notebook so the centering isn't perfect (another Microsoft Word giveaway).

I had to learn all of these things while preparing documents for publications that, for reasons of tradition, wanted them in a format produced by very old word processing software, that emulated the way a typewriter works. (Microsoft Word emulates a sophisticated, modern digital typesetting system of the 80s, not a typewriter. Forger didn't know that. Duh.)

There's a couple of other Microsoft Word features you should turn off first. Be sure 'Smart Quotes' is turned off, even if you are using Courier, or you'll get those fancy directional quotes that Selectrics couldn't do. Better yet, though, don't use MS Word. At least not on the default settings. Why not just go out and buy an $80 electronic typewriter from Staples. (They all use fixed fonts today, like almost all models did in the 1970s). Or use the old typewriter your grandma's probably still got in her attic. (The ribbons last forever; just re-ink them. Duh.) Where did you get your forgery degree?

It won't fool the experts, even after running repeatedly through a dirty, broken fax machine or whatever you did to it. There are subtle differences between typewriting models, even ones that use the same font. (But, if you used a fixed-point font, it would at least not be blindingly obvious that this is a total forgery.)

See, manual typewriters have tiny dots on the letters that help them grip the paper better when the user is typing. These dots can be seen on the original as indentations, and might show up in copies as well. (Copies might also show if some letters are slipped, as manual typewriters do.) Electric typewriters have their idiosyncrasies. If you're stupid enough to use a proportional font, that limits to you to two IBM models that can be closely examined and carefully compared to what you've don, and they're really screwed unless you actually use an IBM Selectric or IBM Executive. They're still around, but unfortunately our forger was too stupid to use one and decided MS Word, (on the default settings!) would be good enough.

How do I know about manual typewriter forensics? Well, I used to be a detective mystery fan, and these discussions would come up in old detective stories. You'd think a forger would be interested in typesettings systems and manual typewriters and at least have read enough detective mysterys to know that MS Word produces something completely different than what a typewriter does. Apparently, our forger was absent that day in forging class, and was later flunked out of forging school.

Accurate information in the media is vital to the function of a democratic society. How can we possibly win the "war" on terror with this tabloid trash that Fox News presents and distorts as fact every single day? How can we win the war on terror when such an acclaimed journalist as Dan Rather goes to bad for this terrible forgery?

How can win the war on terror if the forgeries amongst our political operatives are stupid to know you don't use Microsoft Word's default settings to forge a document that was supposedly typewritten in the early 1970s.

There's tons of ex-CIA forging talent. (They've even got a whole forging department, I hear.) Why couldn't they have hired one of those guys, instead of this goof who flunked the Microsoft Word class in his high school? (Probably, because these terrible forgeries were done by right-wing operatives trying to discredit this story.)

I suggest CBS News take the kind advice of their friends at the Washington Post and USA Today, who, like me, have probably spent years fighting with typewriter and typesetting systems. They know, from years of fighting with ^&*! things, how sensitive Microsoft Word and other modern typesetting systems are to tiny changes in default settings, which cause them to produce noticeably different documents. They know something has been in Microsoft Word on the default settings and when something has been done on an IBM Selectric Composer, which has radically different (and far more primitive) capabilities.

The press has a lot of blood on its hands for the fawning way it covered the supposed WMDs in Iraq prior to the war. We're now $200 billion in the hole for WMDs that didn't exist, and have the largest deficits in history. Our rambling, flip-flopping leader talks of tax cuts for the rich while the nation goes silently bankrupt.

And the crack journalists at CBS obvious have written enough in their lives to be familiar with Microsoft Word’s default settings, and haven’t stared at its output long enough to recognize the special way it spaces its ‘fs’ in Times New Roman. What's the world coming to?

My guess is that there is some truth to the underlying story. The only explanation for forgeries this bad is that someone sneaky is worried there may be genuine documents out there they'd like to discredit preemptively.