Fat Steve's Blatherings

Friday, January 07, 2005

Still Clueless After All These Months, part III: When you're in a hole, stop digging

      Corey Pein has responded to his critics on the Romenesko website.  I answered Mr. Pein, as follows.

      In reply to Corey Pein's defense of his article (http://poynter.org/forum/?id=letters, CJR's Pein answers his critics 1/5/2005 1:11:53 PM), I can only say it is as pathetically bad as the original.  What's interesting is that it's bad for the same reasons.

      Mr. Pein's basic method, in both the article and the defense, is "Trust me blindly."  His article was noteworthy for not giving a URL for a single one of the people who called the memos frauds, so you could see what the evidence and arguments are.  Similarly, he starts off his defense by saying
Many critics of my article . . . have obviously not read it.
  No names, no evidence, just assertion.

      Pein says thinks the documents might have been produced in 1973.  The best evidence available is that no 1973 technology could have produced the CBS memos, with the possible exception of a linotype machine operated by a master typesetter.

      Mr. Pein misrepresented Joseph Newcomer's critique of the memos in his articles, and he continues to misrepresent it.  Dr. Newcomer's arguments, in brief: On the basis of his expertise as
one of the pioneers of electronic typesetting . . . [having] personally created computer fonts, and helped create programs that created computer fonts . . . [having been] a certified Adobe PostScript developer . . .[having] written about Microsoft Windows font technology in a book I co-authored, and taught courses in it [,] I therefore assert that I am a qualified expert in computer typography[, and] it takes approximately 30 seconds for anyone who is knowledgeable in the history of electronic document production to recognize this whole collection is certainly a forgery, and approximately five minutes to prove to anyone technically competent that the documents are a forgery. . . . The probability that any technology in existence in 1972 would be capable of producing a document that is nearly pixel-compatible with Microsoft’s Times New Roman font and the formatting of Microsoft Word, and that such technology was in casual use at the Texas Air National Guard, is so vanishingly small as to be indistinguishable from zero.
  Mr. Pein distorts this into an assertion that Newcomer starts with the assumption that the memos are false.

      Mr. Pein also dismisses Charles Johnson and Merryl Yourish.  Charles Johnson wrote:

I’ve been involved with desktop publishing software and scalable software fonts (as opposed to hot lead type) almost since their inception.  I’m a former West Coast editor of a popular computer magazine for a now-orphaned computer, the Atari ST/TT.

      I also co-owned a software publishing firm, CodeHead Technologies, for whom I designed and laid out packaging and manuals for more than a dozen products (in addition to developing most of those products, using 680x0 assembly language).  We used a combination of DTP and traditional typesetting techniques for these jobs, and I cut my teeth on some of the first serious DTP software ever created for personal computers—including Aldus Pagemaker and Aldus Freehand on the Mac, and less recognizable titles available for Atari computers (anyone still using Calamus or Pagestream out there?).
      My software company also marketed a word processing program (Calligrapher, written by a developer in Britain) that had the ability to import and use Postscript Type 1 fonts.  And I had early experience with some of the dinosaur-like dedicated word processors that were available in the 70s/80s.

      Ms. Yourish says:

I have a twenty-some-year background in publishing, starting in college on AM Varityper and Compugraphic typesetting systems, and moving on to Atex . . .  and then desktop publishing. . . .  I can write a book, lay it out, typeset it, edit it, copyedit it, proofread it, and put in the pictures."
  Yourish claims that in extensive personal experience as a professional typesetter,
I never—never—got a clean match on the first try.  Nobody ever did.  Matching type was and is the most frustrating, exacting, painstaking, time-consuming process that exists in any aspect of publishing.
  Mr. Pein's response, as near as I can make it out, is he knows as much or more than Newcomer, Johnson, Yourish.  He never explains how he obtained this expertise.

      Mr. Pein makes much of David Hailey's supposed typographic study of the memos.  He doesn't note that after the study was criticized, Hailey went back and changed what he had written, without giving notice of the alterations (what the current status of Dr. Hailey's study is I can't say, since he seems to have removed it from the web).  Nor does Mr. Pein reveal that Hailey "proved" that the documents could have been produced on a typewriter by reproducing parts of them with word processing software, then using Photoshop(tm) to add the bits that were extra difficult.  Perhaps I'm being dim, but I don't see the logic there, especially when one of Mr. Hailey's conclusions was that the font used was ITC American Typewriter Condensed Medium, which doesn't feature a reduced, superscript 'th,' as the memos did.  Instead, Mr. Pein asserts without argument or evidence that all criticisms of Hailey's work is invalid.  AGAIN: if Mr. Pein or Mr. Hailey thinks the documents could have been produced on a 1973 typewriter, bring out a typewriter available in 1973 and do it.

      Finally, Mr. Pein studiously ignores the flat out lies CBS told, both in the original story and in response when the story was questioned.  In the original broadcast, CBS claimed:

60 Minutes consulted a handwriting analyst and document expert who believes the material is authentic.

Robert Strong was a friend and colleague of Col. Killian who ran the Texas Air National Guard administrative office in the Vietnam era. Strong, now a college professor, believes these documents are genuine.

      Flatly untrue.  CBS consulted four experts.  Two told them they had doubts the documents were authentic, and CBS stopped talking to them.  The other two gave heavily qualified opinions that boiled down to "Possibly the signatures are authentic, but we can't verify anything else about the documents."  And Strong never said the documents were authentic, he said they might be, but didn't know.

      Similarly, CBS lied when they said they'd talked to people who had seen the memos "at the time they were written."  They lied when they claimed they'd checked the documents out over a period of six weeks (CBS got the memos about ONE week before the broadcast).  CBS lied again when it claimed to have "vetted" their source, Burkett, who they said " . . . did have the ability to get access to these documents and he was being truthful."  When they finally did check, they found that Burkett's supposed source denied ever having seen any such memos or ever having given them to Burkett.  CBS may NOT have lied when it said "We are confident about the chain of custody; we're confident in how we secured the documents," but only because they may actually have been that gullible.

      There are more flaws in Mr. Pein's article, but I'll spare you.  See here if you want more.  Let us close with something Mr. Pein asserts in his defense:
I am dismayed that in the flood of responses to my work, many critics are merely repeating what their favorite blogs say instead of making up their own minds.
  Note the lack of evidence on whether the critics made up their own minds.  (Mr. Pein can do long range telepathy?) Note the failure to consider that anyone might have read a variety of sources, followed the links, looked at the documents, thought it over, and come to the conclusion that people like Dr. Newcomer or Mr. Johnson had made a case.  Mr. Pein believes we all took everything on faith, and can't understand why we don't take him on faith.

      Mr. Pein, you and CBS made the same mistake.  We don't take anything on faith, we check it out.  And your article doesn't past muster.

Stephen M.
St. Onge
Minneapolis, MN



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