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There's None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

Brian Leiter links to an analysis by the the New York Review of Books, which is one of those great holdouts in the "were the Dan Rather Memos faked" story. It just thrills my heart to see how some can keep to this lost cause. Leiter quotes the following:

CBS did rush to make inadequately verified allegations public and it was slow in responding to criticism. The report's conclusions on the other points are not, however, persuasive. Surprisingly, the panel was unable to conclude whether the documents are forgeries or not. If the documents are not forgeries, what is the reason for the report? The answer is: to criticize the newsgathering practices of CBS, whether the documents are authentic or not. As such, the report is less than fully credible.

Well, no disagreement there: the report was a whitewash. Nevertheless, the NYRB evaluation is an exercise in cherry-picking which experts to believe, and muddying otherwise clear waters. After all, both experts the NYRB counts upon commented on the signatures, which weren't really the interesting issue.

It's amusing to see a law professor quoting this favorably. Last I knew, if one puts forward a piece of evidence--either as a lawyer or a journalist--it's actually one's responsibility to authenticate it. If the opposition questions the typography in the document, it's not enough to say, "It fits with the rest of our case." You actually have to explain away the fact that the documents shouldn't be able to be created in 1973. The problem with the Rather memos is that they were such bad forgeries as to be immediately recognizable as such.

Now, Leiter's contention is that the blogosphere "missed the story." But what does that mean? Is the story that "Bush is liar," presumably because anything else is uninteresting. But for a law professor, this presents some interesting conundrums. After all, a prosecutor who--honestly believing the defendant to be guilty--recklessly submits forged documents into evidence isn't going to be able to use, "But he was guilty, your honor" in an eventual ethics hearing. Law professors themselves look unkindly on document forgery, at least where it involves their students. I'd suspect that a prosecutor submitting forged documents--even if it were in an open-and-shut case--would be a story. So is it only not a story if the "bigger picture" is that it hurts G. W. Bush?

To me, the story is: how did supposedly impartial news organization broadcast as genuine a set of documents that can't be reproduced by any machine actually available on the market at the time they were supposedly created? Why did they look to the naked eye to be the output of Microsoft Word? That's either recklessness or evidence of significant anacronism. Maybe Leiter thinks that a time-travelling PC isn't a big story. Me, I think it's worthy of a Nebula.


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