Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Humor Break: Hoax Chain Letter
Okay, now for something completely different. I had one of my weird "inspirations" the other night, about an email chain letter which might almost be believable in the current campaign environment. As a stereotypical engineer with too much time on his hands (except that in reality I have far too little time available) I couldn't stop myself from writing it up and posting it.
WARNING: Do NOT send this chain letter to anyone. It is intended for satirical purposes only.
With that out of the way, here's my missive:
***** Copy and Paste starting with this line *****
It's interesting that most of the enormously wealth political activists seem to be Democrats. For example George Soros has said he'd be willing to trade his entire $7 billion fortune if he could be guaranteed that it would defeat George Bush. With so many billionaires and rich Hollywood celebrities publicly working hard to beat Bush, a chain letter offering big bucks for emails seemed eminently plausible. Teresa Heinz Kerry was the most plausible source of all, and she certainly has the financial resources to fund such an effort.
Please help elect my husband President and earn thousands of dollars (or even hundreds of thousands of dollars) at the same time!
Hello, I’m Teresa Heinz Kerry, and I’ve decided to put my entire fortune on the line in order to get rid of George Bush and get the United States out of the quagmire of Iraq. I will PAY you to email this vital message to your own friends and family-members and co-workers.
Please read this entire email, and then act on it immediately. There’s very little time left until the election. The faster you act, the more money you can make!
There are an estimated 125 million people in the United States who are on-line and have email. We must reach as many of them as possible and convince them to vote for John Kerry on November 2nd. Approximately half of these people are so disgusted by our corrupt political system that they don’t normally vote, but this election is different. This election will decide the fate of our country. Their votes can save us from four more years of Bush and Cheney and Halliburton.
We don’t have the email addresses of all those millions of people, and even if we did we couldn’t "spam" them. Spam is now against the law, and the Republican attack machine would slime us if we did anything illegal. However, it is perfectly legal for you to send emails to the people you personally know. You have the private email addresses of your friends and relatives, and an email from you will carry far more weight than an email from a political campaign committee.
So here’s my proposition: Send this EXACT message to everyone you know, asking them to do the same thing in turn. I WILL PAY YOU $10 FOR EVERY ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS WHO READS THIS MESSAGE AND PASSES IT ON TO THEIR FRIENDS.
You heard right: TEN DOLLARS. If you email this to 100 people, and just 10 of them pass the email along, you’ll receive ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Even better, for everyone on that second level who passes along this message, I will pay you $8. For everyone on the third level, you’ll get $6. On the fourth level, you’ll get $4. And on the fifth level, you’ll get $2.
Here’s a sample calculation of what you can make, based on a 10% pass-along rate:
Suppose you email 100 people with this message.
FIRST LEVEL: 10 of those people pass it along. You get 10 x $10 = $100. Each one sends it to 100 of their friends, so my message reaches 10 x 100 = 1,000 people.
SECOND LEVEL: 100 of those people pass it along. You get 100 x $8 = $800. Each one sends it to 100 of their friends, so my message reaches 100 x 100 = 10,000 people.
THIRD LEVEL: 1,000 of those people pass it along. You get 1,000 x $6 = $6,000. Each one sends it to 100 of their friends, so my message reaches 1,000 x 100 = 100,000 people.
FOURTH LEVEL: 10,000 of those people pass it along. You get 10,000 x $4 = $40,000. Each one sends it to 100 of their friends, so my message reaches 10,000 x 100 = 1,000,000 people.
FIFTH LEVEL: 100,000 of those people pass it along. You get 100,000 x $2 = $200,000. Each one sends it to 100 of their friends, so my message reaches 100,000 x 100 = 10,000,000 people.
Your total income in the above example is $100 + $800 + $6,000 + $40,000 + $200,000 = $246,900! (The more emails you send out, and the more of those people pass it along, the more money you can make!)
And you will have earned every single penny of it, because you’ll be helping me to reach the 50% of the population that hasn’t been voting. If only one out of five of those non-voters realize how crucial this election is and come to the voting booths on November 2nd, my husband will get an extra 10% of the vote. That will easily be enough to win the election and throw George Bush out of the White House which he shouldn’t have been in to start with!
And how much will it cost me to reach 125 million people? I won’t bore you with the math, but my accountants have estimated that it will cost about $41.6 million. My Heinz Corporation stock and other assets are worth $750 million, so I can easily afford $41.6 million if that’s what it takes to win the White House. Besides, that works out to only 33.3 cents per person, which is less than the cost of a postage stamp.
There’s one other important ground rule: If someone receives more than one copy of this message, only the first sender gets the $10 (and all payments from the other levels). For example, if your cousin passes on this message after receiving copies from three different people including you, the $10 will go to the person who sent the earliest email to your cousin.
DO NOT DELAY!!! The sooner you send out this message to your friends and acquaintances, the less you’ll have to worry that someone else will have beaten you to them!
My message is very simple: Go to the http://www.KerryVictory.US web page. Learn how John Kerry will extricate us from the Iraq quagmire. John knows all about quagmires -- he was in Vietnam. Here are some selected quotes from my husband:
"It's the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."
"My plan is to lead NATO to make the security of Iraq one of its global missions and to deploy a significant portion of the force needed to secure and win the peace there. NATO participation will open the door to greater international involvement from non-NATO countries."
"This is not an instant solution. There isn't one. But it's a realistic plan to share the burden and secure the peace and bring our troops home."
1. Copy this ENTIRE message WITHOUT CHANGES into an email which you will then send out. In order to qualify, you must include the top line ("Copy and Paste starting with this line") all the way down through the bottom line ("Copy and Paste ending with this line").
2. You can add your own words, if you want, to urge your friends to pass this on. But your own words must be OUTSIDE the boundaries of this message; nothing between the top and bottom lines of this message can be changed.
3. You can send out as many emails as you want. You can also have multiple recipients for your emails if you want (just separate several email addresses in the "TO:" line with commas or semi-colons).
4. Each email you send out MUST include a copy to Teresa@KerryVictory.US. Just paste this address (Teresa@KerryVictory.US) into the "CC:" line of your email. This will allow us to credit your account based on the people you emailed to, who later pass the message on. We can also tell from the date and time on your email whether you were the first to send it to those people.
5. This project will end on election day, November 2, 2004. No one will be paid for any emails sent after that date.
6. After the election my accountants will determine how much money each person is owed. You will be sent an email with instructions on how to receive your payment (in your reply you can indicate whether you want it by check, PayPal, or as a credit on your credit card account). YOU'LL BE PAID REGARDLESS OF WHO WINS THE ELECTION.
Finally, I want to thank you for helping to save this country from the greedy corporate interests who are pulling the strings of George Bush, who hid out in the National Guard during Vietnam. John Kerry protected this country when he fought and bled in Vietnam, and he'll do it again as President of the United States.
Teresa Heinz Kerry
***** Copy and Paste ending with this line *****
I tried to imagine a similar letter targeted towards Republicans, but I could think of no well-known, wealthy, credible source. Besides, it's a lot less believable that the candidate who is far in the lead in the polls would resort to this desperation tactic.
Now let's speculate a bit. Could the above chain email letter achieve critical mass? And if so, what would its impact be?
There are plenty of other hoax emails and urban legends which circulate endlessly around the Internet, so a gullible audience surely exists. This chain letter has the advantage that it requires absolutely no financial investment to participate, and yet it offers huge riches. It has the necessary urgency motivation factors (the approaching election, and the need to be high on the multi-level food chain) which should spur a rapid response.
Most of all, it targets an audience which wants to believe it's true. There are millions of Democrats out there who are convinced that Bush is a modern-day fascist war-mongerer who is despised by the (silent) majority of Americans. Hence all that's needed to defeat Bush is some new way to contact that silent majority. A lot of Democrats will figure that this letter might be legitimate, and in any case it won't cost them anything to pass it on. They'll salivate at the prospect of making a lot of money while simultaneously saving the world.
Suppose the letter took off, and it quickly got to the point where millions or even tens of millions of emails were flashing around the Internet. What would be the consequences?
One obvious result would be a lot of disappointed people after the election when they failed to receive their bounties. Of course they'd have no way of calculating their expected payoffs, since they couldn't know how many of their recipients passed the message along.
Another consequence is that an exponentially growing chain letter would consume a lot of time and effort and attention by gullible liberal activists in the critical month before the election, at the expense of more effective political action.
Would the message itself sway anyone? Not very likely. There's nothing too persuasive in it to get undecided voters to vote against Bush, especially since the payments are not contingent on the election outcome. If anything, the slightly-over-the-top rhetoric, along with reminders of Teresa Heinz Kerry's wealth, could create a backlash against Kerry. The unsolicited email aspect would also anger a lot of people, to the detriment of Kerry. Nor will perennial non-voters be especially motivated to turn out on election day; non-voters simply don't vote, despite tremendous efforts to drag them to the polls every election year.
But most of all, this chain letter effect would be enormously fun to watch.
Too bad it's just a day-dream. Let me emphasize once again, do not under any circumstances attempt to circulate this chain letter hoax. (As an additional precaution, I've purchased the domain name "KerryVictory.us" to make sure no one else can use it.)
And what about the propriety of promoting a forged email? Three words:
Fake but accurate.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
UPDATE: Timing isn't critical
Will the Bush campaign go for the kill and demand Bob Schieffer's removal as debate moderator, as per my previous speculation? Or will Bush decide to play the part of Mr. Nice Guy?
At the joint Bush / Allawi press conference today, the President at one point specifically asked for a CBS reporter to pose a question. It was a way of showing magnanimity while simultaneously taking a humorous jab at the humiliated network. It says that CBS has been reduced to such a laughingstock that it's no longer even necessary to refer to the details of the forgery scandal. Just mentioning CBS's name will do the trick.
Bob Schieffer seems more than a tad worried about the situation. Yesterday's Chicago Daily Herald noted that:
Schieffer on Tuesday dismissed rumblings that Bush advisers wanted him and CBS to be removed from participation in the debate because of the network's recent questionable campaign reporting.
Schieffer is attempting a fait accompli by insisting that the moderator issue is settled and he's already deep into the complex task of compiling questions and (by implication) it's now too late to switch.
He said both the Bush and Kerry camps have "signed off" on having him serve as moderator. And Schieffer now is compiling questions about domestic policy for them.
Of course that's malarkey. Any number of prominent journalists would happily leap at the chance to replace Schieffer and would hastily put together a set of questions, even at the last second.
The fact is, all the initiative is on the side of the Bush campaign, and neither CBS nor the Kerry campaign have any say over the matter.
We can expect that many more revelations concerning the CBS forgery fiasco will dribble out over the coming days and weeks. The Bush campaign, if it chooses, can seize upon any new nugget to announce (or even just hint through "unnamed high-ranking campaign officials") that the CBS connection with the Presidential debates is no longer tolerable.
If the Bush campaign decides it wants to distract the voters from bad economic news or bad war news, or wants to overshadow a new Kerry initiative, the "Schieffer problem" can be trotted out to dominate the news cycle. The timing is extremely flexible and totally under Bush's control.
The Bush campaign can even wait until the first two debates are completed, and then start raising questions about whether the third debate will have to be cancelled if Bob Schieffer remains as moderator. This really puts the screws to Kerry if he has not yet closed the gap in the polls. At that point the third debate will represent his last desperate hope to overtake the President.
As for CBS, it has an easy, face-saving way to cave in to the pressure from its affiliates. CBS just announces that its independent panel has reached an interim conclusion that the documents were definite forgeries and that 60 Minutes failed to adhere to proper journalistic standards. Hence, without further delay, the resignations of Dan Rather et al are accepted, and apologies are forthwith offered to everyone harmed by the baseless story.
In football, a team which builds up a big lead has two options: It can try to sit on its lead, play very conservatively, and run out the clock. Or it can continue to play the same aggressive (but risky) style which had produced the lead in the first place. My observation has been that a team is more likely to blow its lead and lose the game by playing it safe than by taking chances.
How risk-averse is President Bush? We'll soon find out.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Sticking it to CBS and Kerry
Report claims that Bush officials want CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer
removed as the moderator for the final (Oct. 13th) Presidential debate.
If true, this would appear to be a clever move to keep the
story about the CBS forged document scandal in the public eye, while
simultaneously punishing CBS for it's biased and shoddy journalism.
But characterizing it as merely a “clever move” misses the
underlying genius. It would be a BRILLIANT political
move, simultaneously skewering CBS and the Kerry campaign.
Let's look ahead and see why.
There are only three ways to remove Bob Schieffer as the
on Presidential Debates can replace Schieffer.
The Kerry and Bush campaigns can jointly agree to replace
Schieffer can voluntarily withdraw, or CBS can order him to
withdraw (and fire him if he refuses).
Option #1 is highly unlikely. The Commission would have no grounds to replace Schieffer, since
he isn't personally implicated in the 60
Minutes II document forgeries and cover-up. For the Commission to act would be seen as violating its own
neutrality and siding with the Bush campaign.
Option #2 requires the Kerry campaign to concede that CBS is
now a tainted and biased network whose correspondents can no longer be trusted
to be fair. The Kerry campaign will
oppose a move to replace Schieffer for the following reasons:
Kerry and his staff reflexively oppose everything
The Democratic hard-core base remains convinced that
the contents of the CBS story are accurate (i.e., Bush is a
"Favorite Son" who received preferential treatment to get into the
National Guard and later disobeyed orders so as to avoid some of his required
service and get out early). These
Democrats believe that Dan Rather is a hero for forging ahead with the story
[pun intended], and they will be extremely pissed if the Kerry campaign
stabs CBS in the back.
Agreeing to drop Schieffer makes Kerry look weak. He'll be seen as desperate to keep the
debates on track, because he's way behind and they're his last remaining hope.
It will be seen as an attempt to distance Kerry from
the CBS forgery scandal, which in turn will feed speculation that Kerry and/or
the DNC were significantly involved.
Option #3 would seem to be a logical course of action,
especially if CBS truly is biased towards Kerry: Let Bob Schieffer fall on his
sword to enhance Kerry's election prospects. But this has it's own set of gigantic problems:
Schieffer will strongly resist. This is a plum assignment in his career, and
he'll consider it highly unfair for him to be tarred, even indirectly, with Dan
Rather's forgery brush.
This neuters CBS as a news organization. It shouts to the entire world that CBS has
lost all legitimacy and its correspondents can no longer be trusted.
CBS affiliate radio and TV stations around the country
will scream bloody murder.
That last item is the key
factor! Until now most CBS
affiliates have tried to stay out of the line of fire, referring viewer
complaints to CBS corporate headquarters while stressing their own
independence. But if Bob Schieffer is
removed as moderator, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the new
"Schieffer precedent" will instantly be applied to local CBS news
Republicans around the country will start excluding CBS
reporters and yanking their credentials to events, on the grounds that CBS is
no longer a trustworthy and unbiased news organization. Local CBS affiliates
will see their reputations and their news reporters' access and their financial bottom lines directly
impacted. They won't stand for
that. They will apply enormous and
irresistible pressure on the CBS network to completely clean up the Dan Rather
So here's the likely
Bush officials become publicly more insistent that Schieffer
be removed as a debate moderator. They
goad the Kerry campaign into publicly resisting. Once that happens, it becomes a hundred times more difficult for
the Kerry campaign to reverse its position (re-emphasize all the reasons under
Option #2 above).
CBS adamantly refuses to withdraw Schieffer as a moderator,
due to the horrible consequences.
The third debate approaches, and Bush indicates that he will
not attend if Schieffer remains the moderator.
The Kerry campaign tries to paint Bush as being afraid to risk another
debate. But the Bush campaign trumps
that by asking why Kerry is so insistent on keeping Schieffer? What
secret information does CBS have implicating Kerry and the DNC in the forgery
scandal, that CBS is using to keep the Kerry campaign in line?
Media coverage of the Presidential race fixates on that
third debate, to the exclusion of all other issues. Will Schieffer be removed?
Will Bush show up? Will CBS get
another black eye? Why is Kerry
defending CBS? Oh, and while we're at
it, let's review the entire forgery scandal for the umpteenth time.
Finally, just days before the event, the CBS suits crack
under the force being applied by their affiliates. They announce that they are doing a thorough house-cleaning. Dan Rather is fired, 60 Minutes II Executive Producer Josh Howard is fired, Mary Mapes
is fired (if she hasn't already been), CBS News President Andrew Heyward is
fired, and dozens of other heads roll.
The new President of CBS News issues a groveling apology to
everyone who was harmed by the forgery scandal, with special mentions to the
Killian family, Brig. Gen. Walter B. Staudt, Laura Bush, President Bush, the
CBS “family”, critics who were proven right, and the general public whose
sacred trust was violated. CBS agrees
to reveal every scrap of information it has on the source of the forgeries. Furthermore, CBS announces new formal
written guidelines for maintaining strict objectivity and non-slanted reporting
in all future news and news-magazine coverage.
An internal commission or ombudsman will be established within CBS to
monitor all coverage and enforce the guidelines in a transparent manner.
In response, the Bush campaign thanks CBS for coming to its
senses and doing the right thing.
Apologies are graciously accepted, hopes are expressed that CBS (and
indeed all other major media organizations) will live up to the new fairness
guidelines, and Bob Schieffer is welcomed back as the debate moderator.
And Kerry is left standing out on the limb that CBS has
now sawed off.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
MEMOGATE: The real story...
I've come up with what I believe to be a plausible explanation of the entire "memogate" episode: Where the documents came from, how and why they got into CBS' hands, how Dan Rather put together his 60 Minutes II story, why CBS sent the White House advance copies, why the White House distributed those copies to other news media, why Bush has not angrily denounced the documents as forgeries, why Dan Rather is so insistent on their authenticity and refuses to back down on his story or reveal his source, etc.
I've tried to construct a reasonable scenario which could encompass all of the fantastic elements of this evolving story, and all the questions which have been raised by both supporters and opponents of Bush.
WARNING: This is a long narrative. Also, it is only speculation on my part, as I've tried to put myself into the minds of the various participates. I've no doubt that my tale is erroneous in many details, but I believe it's a better meta-explanation than what anybody else has so far proposed.
EMPHASIZED DISCLAIMER: I am only guessing about the individuals involved and their possible conversations below. It is my personal opinion. I have no way of know what was actually said, or if I have correctly identified the perpetrators of this hoax. That should all be obvious from the context, but these days one has to make it explicit and crystal clear.
Let's get some preliminaries out of the way.
First, the documents themselves are fakes. This has long since ceased to be matter of serious dispute. I'm not going to rehash all the many, many reasons why. The best forensic analysis I've read is provided by Joseph Newcomer at http://www.flounder.com/bush2.htm. If you are someone who still harbors hopes that the documents are genuine, you can stop reading right now.
Second, the contents of the documents probably contain at least a germ of truth. Most fakes do, or no one would proceed any further. George Bush likely received some degree of preferential treatment in being admitted to the National Guard. That could have ranged anywhere from the silent wink-wink type of door-opening on behalf of a young man from an influential family, to explicit (but undocumented and unprovable) behind-the-scenes string-pulling by influential family friends. Towards the end of his National Guard service, Bush likely finagled an early exit. This could have ranged from a no-big-deal lots-of-people-leave-early type of thing (with the Vietnam War having wound down) to a deliberate avoidance of medical exams and further participation in drills (perhaps punctuated by disputes with his commanding officers).
Third, there were undoubtedly lots of rumors floating around about Bush's service. Rumors and multiple retellings of tales take on a life of their own, especially when the people doing the telling inject their own slants and/or have an ax to grind. Memories fade and change over three decades, and people can often convince themselves that they remember events in a certain way which may or may not be accurate or encompass the entire story.
Fourth, Bush supporters and Bush opponents will each evaluate the "facts" through the prisms of their own world-views. Bush supporters who are certain that the President is a decent and honest man of strong moral character will be extremely skeptical of claims that Bush failed to live up to his obligations. Bush opponents who think the "unelected" President is a lying ambitious intellectually-challenged scion of a powerful and ruthless family will have no doubt that Bush cut corners to avoid Vietnam and get out of the military early (and maybe even went AWOL), and then covered up the evidence.
Okay, now let's get on to our narrative.
For the past four years Dan Rather and 60 Minutes have been pursuing the rumors revolving around Bush and the National Guard, trying to nail down sources and put together a broadcastable story. While insisting that he is a fair expositor of the news, Dan Rather nevertheless has personal and political reasons to want to damage George Bush (for example, Rather had a famous confrontation with George H.W. Bush in a 1988 interview, and Rather raised money at a Democratic fund-raiser in 2001). Dan Rather would dearly love to author a story which would counterbalance the impact of the Swift Boat Veterans, cause Bush to lose the 2004 election, and cap Rather's career with a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism as he retires in 2005.
Among the rumor sources contacted by 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes were Ben Barnes and Bill Burkett. Ben Barnes is a big-time Democrat fund-raiser and a former Texas Lt. Governor who for several years has claimed to have used his influence to get Bush into the National Guard. Bill Burkett is a former National Guard officer with a colorful history and a strong dislike for Bush.
Bill Burkett has long believed that George Bush's military service was abbreviated and that Bush used his family connections to cover it up. Burkett has had a couple of nervous breakdowns and blames Bush for much of his troubles. In his own mind Burkett knows that Bush disobeyed orders. He has convinced himself over the years that memos containing those orders once existed but were later destroyed, and he has a pretty clear idea of what the memos would have said. He has told his tale to various people, touting his secret and/or inside knowledge.
In the course of many conversations with Mapes and later with Dan Rather, Burkett satisfies them that he's telling the truth about Bush. They keep asking him if he has any proof, and he always evades the question while dropping hints that he just might. So they try the classic ploy of pretending they know more than they do. Mapes tells Burkett that she has other sources who confirm many of his statements, but those other witnesses are afraid to come forward. If CBS can just show them some evidence, it will be all they need to reveal their story on camera and thereby destroy George Bush.
Mary Mapes: 'Don't you have anything we can use? Old documents or memos? We just need copies to show to our other sources.' Bill Burkett: 'Even if I did, I wouldn't dare use them. I know the Bushes. They tried to destroy me once, and this time they'd do it for sure.' Mapes: 'So then you do have memos?' Burkett: 'Sorry, I just can't take the chance.' Dan Rather (in later conversation): 'Bill, if you have memos, this is our only chance to stop George Bush's re-election. This can save our country from a Bush family dictatorship. You have my word that we will protect you. The memos will never be traced back to you, and we'll only use them to get our other source to appear on 60 Minutes. You know me, and in all my years as a broadcaster I have never, ever burned a source. I swear to you, on my personal honor, that no matter what happens we will never reveal where the memos came from.'
After much repeated coaxing, Burkett finally agrees to provide the memos just to get the other source to talk. Burkett figures he can reproduce what the real but destroyed memos would have said. They don't have to be perfect, since the public will never see them. He doesn't have to go looking for an ancient typewriter (which would leave a trail anyway), he can just do them on his computer and fuzz them up real good.
So he opens up Microsoft Word and types away [see memos]. Does that lettering look right? Oh sure, he remembers that there were typewriters back then which could do that. Oops, the computer just turned that "th" in "111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron" into a superscript. Better not take a chance; delete it, retype it, and move the mouse cursor back to the end of the line. Good, that worked. Type, type, type. Oops, now it superscripted that "st" in "1st Lt." Okay, let's redo that and try leaving a space between the "1" and the "st". Yeah, that worked. Type, type, type. Burkett gets busy composing his memo, and no longer pays that much attention when another "th" gets superscripted. After all, it's no big deal. He's pretty sure that typewriters had that superscript character anyway. Besides, only the unidentified CBS source is going to see these memos. Burkett is much too focused on getting the content right. Same with the other memos.
Now Burkett runs over to the Kinko's in Abilene and recopies each memo over and over until it looks fuzzy enough to be safe. He faxes them to Mapes. Mary Mapes almost faints when she sees them. Here's the smoking gun they've been looking for! Here's the Pulitzer Prize she'll share with Dan Rather for producing the segment of 60 Minutes which will topple a President, right in her hands.
The next stop is Ben Barnes. Barnes knows that Bush cut ahead of the line to get into the National Guard. He's not adverse to claiming that he personally was responsible (and is now repentant), but realizes that it's a hard sell. After all, he's clearly a partisan Democrat with a strong self-interest in defeating George Bush. Still, it would be a huge coup if he could be responsible for electing John Kerry. He'd become an enormously influential figure in a Kerry Administration. But he's not going to go out on a limb all by himself, with no other evidence.
Mapes lays it on thick: 'We have documentary evidence and other sources who will swear that Bush got favorable treatment in the National Guard. All you need to do is tell how you pulled strings to get him in. That ties in with our hard evidence, and you'll just be the corroborating witness.' Barnes: 'I've got to see that evidence.' Mapes: 'Here it is. These are only copies, of course, and I can't leave them with you, but I can tell you the source is unimpeachable.' Barnes: 'Okay.'
Now the 60 Minutes II crew starts assembling the story, but they still have problems. Burkett refuses to let them put the memos on the air, and they promised him they wouldn't. But without the documents they don't have a second source to back up Barnes and bolster their case. They've got to make Burkett change his mind.
They come up with a clever idea: They'll get a reaction out of the White House. They decide to fax the memos to the White House and ask for a comment. It will place Bush in a terrible bind. After all, Bush could have no way of knowing that copies of the memos still existed or what other memos CBS might have. He'll have to come out with a mealy-mouthed statement about how it doesn't matter and he fulfilled his Guard obligation and this is dirty politics. Then CBS can move forward with the broadcast, having Bush's tacit admission that they are genuine.
Burkett is persuaded to allow them to do this. He figures that Bush is likely to panic and blurt out the truth, and then the memos will no longer matter. Besides, Burkett has been told that other witnesses will nail Bush's hide on the program, and this is just a way of smoking Bush out ahead of time.
Karl Rove gets the faxed documents and goes running to Bush with the bad news. Bush: 'This can't be right. I never got any orders from Jerry Killian to report for a medical exam.' Rove: 'Well Dan Rather is going to be putting these on his 60 Minutes broadcast. He's got to have people lined up who will vouch for them.' Bush: 'Karl, Jerry would never write down anything like this. Somebody's feeding bullshit to CBS.' Rove: 'Okay, let's start by calling in the FBI and checking if these memos are real.'
An hour later two high-power experts are pouring over the documents. Within fifteen minutes they're telling Bush and Rove that the memos are not only fakes, they are really, really bad fakes. Rove: 'How easy would it be for other experts to see that?' Expert: 'Anyone can see it. I can't believe that CBS found a legitimate expert to authenticate these. No professional is going to risk his reputation by saying that these are genuine, especially if he only has copies to go by.'
But what's the White House going to do? Rove expects 60 Minutes to show a small picture on the TV screen with a blow-up highlighted overlay of a couple of critical sentences from each memo. It won't be enough for experts to analyze. The general public will believe it, and White House denials will be brushed aside.
Now Rove comes up with a counter-ploy: Re-fax the documents to the rest of the news media. That way they'll have the evidence available for their own experts to analyze and knock down. Don't say much of anything; just reiterate the usual boilerplate that the President fulfilled his National Guard obligation and was honorably discharged.
The 60 Minutes crew is a bit surprised by the White House tactic, but immediately concludes that Rove is trying a pre-emptive strike, to minimize the significance of the memos. In a way it's even better than an angry response. It shows that the White House is shell-shocked! The White House reaction proves that the memos are genuine, despite the doubts which have been raised during the pro forma review by CBS' outside experts, and despite the denials of Killian's son.
So Dan Rather goes back to Bill Burkett and tells Burkett that they've got Bush on the run. 60 Minutes must have permission to use the memos on the air. The White House knows the memos are the real thing (and of course Burkett is privately sure that real memos once existed which said essentially the same stuff). Besides, the memos are out there now. The other major networks and newspapers have copies. That wasn't Dan Rather's intention, and he's sorry it happened, but what's done is done. Now it's time to twist the sword and finish Bush off.
Burkett reluctantly gives permission, after more assurances from Dan Rather that his identity will never be revealed.
The 60 Minutes blockbuster airs, and Dan Rather settles back to savor the results. They aren't long in coming. A poster on Free Republic quickly notices the proportional spacing type font and wonders aloud whether the memos are genuine. In a matter of hours the first wave of doubts reverberates around the Internet and turns into a tsunami.
Dan Rather isn't worried. He's talked to Burkett many times, and Burkett is absolutely sincere in his description of how Bush got out of the National Guard. Rather knows that the memos are genuine because of the way the White House reacted to them. This is just the usual Republican smear attack. They can't admit the truth, so they set out to discredit the source. But this time Dan Rather is sitting in the catbird seat.
As the storm builds, Rather verbally blasts anyone at CBS who dares to question his story or raise doubts about authenticity of the documents. Rather is not going to let a few right-wing cranks sitting in their pajamas in front of computers undermine his reputation or that of CBS. There will be no hedging and no retractions, because Dan Rather is taking George Bush down once and for all.
The rest of the story you know. The slow-motion CBS train-wreck still in process. Dan Rather's career is coming to an inglorious end, with his reputation (and that of CBS News) shattered beyond repair. The big story has become the forgery, and the cover-up of the forgery. Instead of mortally wounding George Bush's re-election hopes, Dan Rather has almost guaranteed Bush's re-election.
How plausible is the above scenario?
It answers all of the extant questions. The original source of the forged documents was not the Kerry campaign or the DNC or Moveon.org or Karl Rove or some incompetent teenage hoaxer. It was an individual with limited computer and forgery skills, peddling anti-Bush charges, who felt himself cornered by 60 Minutes producers and decided to recreate documents to verify his story which he knew to be true. He never expected the documents to be subject to intense public scrutiny by numerous outside experts.
Dan Rather and CBS had reasons to believe the fundamental story was accurate, and they were willing to take the risk of short-cutting normal journalistic procedures and safeguards in order to break a story which could literally change the world. Instead it blew up in their faces.
The White House played it brilliantly, giving a little shove to encourage CBS to run with the questionable documents, and then staying silent most of the time and letting others do the heavy lifting of exposing the forgeries.
I believe these are plausible answers to the constantly-asked questions as to who and how and why anyone (outside of a mental ward) would attempt to perpetrate such a crude hoax and think they could possibly get away with it.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
CBS Entertainment torpedoes CBS News
Don't underestimate the CSI Effect!
A lot of people are wondering whether the news of Dan Rather's forged documents, which he trotted out on 60 Minutes to try to damage President Bush's re-election campaign, will have legs. It's absolutely certain that the documents are fakes (and not very good ones at that), but CBS News continues to stonewall, and Rather continues to insist they are genuine.
Will the story fade away? Can Rather and CBS survive by just hunkering down and brazening it out, ignoring facts and the torrent of ridicule until everyone finally moves on to other matters?
I don't think so.
Over the past four years the CBS Entertainment division has trained tens of millions of arm-chair sleuths in the intricacies of forensic science. It's not uncommon for a CSI episode to draw over 25 million viewers, with CSI: Miami only a few million behind and NCIS coming up fast. Yet another spin-off, CSI: New York, is about to debut.
The general public (myself included) laps it up. Every week people watch Crime Scene Investigators crack cases with DNA evidence from fibers of hair, computer simulations of gunshot trajectories, graphic overlays of matching fingerprints, etc., etc. It's fascinating to see these TV investigators unravel mysteries and solve puzzles using advanced scientific techniques that catch the criminals no matter how clever they think they are being or how well they try to cover their tracks.
The "CSI Effect" has already changed the way juries are viewing evidence. Now it is going to change the way voters treat the old-guard news media.
The biggest name in TV news, Dan Rather, has been caught red-handed peddling forged documents. And he was caught by hundreds of average citizens sitting at their computers, collaborating over the Internet, and analyzing the evidence. Here's a real-life instance where everyone can live their fantasy of being a CSI expert. Anyone can retype one of the forged documents into Microsoft Word and see that the two match precisely as to font, tabbing, word-wrap, line spacing, letter spacing, centering, superscripts, and so on. They can prove to themselves and to their friends that (absent time travel) it is statistically and scientifically absurd for a 1973 memo to just coincidentally be identical to a document they themselves created on their computer in a matter of minutes using MS Word's default settings.
This is a "gotcha" moment which can't help but mesmerize today's generation of CSI aficionados. As Gil Grissom would say, "follow the evidence". And that's what people all over America are doing.
Now that their forensic knowledge has confirmed the forgeries, CSI fans will want to see the culprits punished and humbled. That's a much better way to end an episode than by letting the bad guys get away with the crime. Especially when the principal bad guy turns out to be an arrogant celebrity who thinks he's above the law and untouchable by the peons.
How ironic that Dan Rather's final television career role should see him cast as the unwitting guest star in yet another CBS spin-off:
CSI: The Blogosphere.
Thursday, September 02, 2004
Bush will go to Russia very shortly.
Especially if the hostage situation there ends badly, with scores or hundreds of children murdered by terrorists.
This is shaping up to be Russia’s own 9/11 wake-up call, far more so than the October, 2002 Moscow Theater siege. Here we’ve had two jetliners blown out of the skies and a subway suicide bombing just within the past week, and now this horrific school hostage situation.
Russia is about to formally join the War On Terrorism. Putin has no choice; he must direct his country’s anger against an identifiable enemy, lest that frustrated anger turn against him and his government.
For Bush, this is his opportunity to redraw the geopolitical map of the world. He can go to Russia and express his condolences and proclaim his solidarity with the Russian people in the common battle against terrorists. He and Putin can declare a formal alliance between the United States and Russian in this war.
Putin can adopt the Bush Doctrine as Russian foreign policy: No nation on earth will be allowed to harbor or support terrorist groups, and any nation which does so puts itself at risk from pre-emptive action by Russia and the United States. Putin may be willing to halt nuclear assistance to Iran and back the U.S. demand that Iran foreswear the development of nuclear weapons. In return, Putin gets a free hand (and U.S. military assistance if he wants it) to employ whatever force he wants against Chechnya and neighboring states which harbor anti-Russian terrorist groups.
The political advantages to Bush are enormous. Major terrorist attacks anywhere in the world are a reminder to U.S. voters that the danger remains very real. A trip to Russia by Bush would highlight and further dramatize the threat to children that terrorism represents. Every parent can empathize with what the parents of those school children are feeling. Every parent trembles at the thought that the same evil could someday touch their neighborhood school, and that their own child could become a hostage or dead victim.
If the 2004 election is framed as a choice between a Presidential candidate who promises to strike back after an attack on our children versus a Presidential candidate who promises to act pre-emptively to prevent such an attack in the first place, there’s little doubt which way most parents will vote.
There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether a terrorist attack within the U.S. just before the election would help Bush (with a rally-around-the-Commander-In-Chief effect) or hurt him (by undercutting the implicit claim that his Administration has successfully prevented additional attacks since 9/11 and hence is winning the war). The attack in Russia, if sufficiently publicized, can give Bush a major political boost without the political downside that would have accompanied a similar event within our country.
Furthermore, a trip to Russia can’t be successfully painted as political exploitation if it ends with a tangible alliance against terrorism. It is a logical and reasonable response to events; Bush can’t suspend doing his job as President until the election is over. The Kerry campaign will reflexively oppose whatever Bush does, which will backfire badly.
A trip to Russia is a surprise move which sucks all the oxygen out of the Kerry campaign. It focuses media attention on Bush and his battle against this world-wide monstrous evil of terrorism, and it freezes the Presidential race in the post-Republican-convention-bounce condition. The timing meshes perfectly with our own 9/11 anniversary remembrance events.
There's a certain irony in contemplating a partnership among the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia to oppose terrorism, with Germany and France effectively aligned on the other side. Who could have imagined that after 60-plus years, the old World War II Grand Alliance might be resurrected with pretty much the same cast of European characters, both allies and enemies?