[Paleopsych] Widsom of crowds
Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D.
ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Mon Sep 13 13:45:43 UTC 2004
Here is an interesting example of the wisdom of crowds, in today's
Opinion Journal, by John Fund:
The energy of the internet to solve difficult problems (oil, space) has
not yet been effectively tapped. There may be great ways to do it.
I'd Rather Be Blogging
CBS stonewalls as "guys in pajamas" uncover a fraud.
Monday, September 13, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
A watershed media moment occurred Friday on Fox News Channel, when
Jonathan Klein, a former executive vice president of CBS News who
oversaw "60 Minutes," debated Stephen Hayes, a writer for The Weekly
Standard, on the documents CBS used to raise questions about George W.
Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service.
Mr. Klein dismissed the bloggers who are raising questions about the
authenticity of the memos: "You couldn't have a starker contrast between
the multiple layers of check and balances [at '60 Minutes'] and a guy
sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing."
He will regret that snide disparagement of the bloggers, many of whom
are skilled lawyers or have backgrounds in military intelligence or
typeface design. A growing number of design and document experts say
they are certain or almost certain the memos on which CBS relied are
Mr. Klein didn't directly address the mounting objections to CBS's
story. He fell back on what high school debaters call the appeal to
authority, implying that the reputation of "60 Minutes" should be enough
to dissolve doubts without the network sharing its methods with other
journalists and experts. He told Fox's Tony Snow that the "60 Minutes"
team is "the most careful news organization, certainly on television."
He said that Mary Mapes, the producer of the story, was "a crack
journalist" who had broken the Abu Ghraib prison abuse story.
But leaning on reputations does nothing to dispel the doubts raised by
bloggers, experts and relatives and associates of the late Lt. Gen.
Jerry Killian, the memos' putative author. Gary Killian, Gen. Killian's
son, says CBS apparently didn't call several people he suggested they
contact who would have contradicted the CBS story. Bobby Hodges, a
former Texas Air National Guard general whom "60 Minutes" claimed had
authenticated the memos, says that when he was read them over the phone
he assumed they were handwritten and wasn't told that CBS didn't have
the originals. He now says he doesn't believe the memos are genuine.
Hugh Hewitt, the unofficial historian of the blogging movement, says
that "bloggers have been overwhelmed with e-mails from active-duty and
retired military who scoff at the form of the memos." They point out the
man cited in the memo as pressuring Mr. Killian to "sugar coat" the Bush
military record had left the Texas Air National Guard a year and a half
before the memo was supposedly written. In addition, typewriters with
perfect centering ability were nonexistent in 1972 and 1973, and
National Guard regulations barred the maintenance of such records. Mr.
Killian's widow adds that her late husband kept no personal files from
his Guard duty, notes that CBS won't reveal its source, and says the
memos are bogus. Earl Lively, director of operations for the Texas Air
National Guard in the 1970s, told the Washington Times that the memos
are "forged as hell."
CBS's fallback defense is that its story was only partly based on the
documents and points to its on-camera interview with former Texas House
speaker and lieutenant governor Ben Barnes, who claimed that he pulled
strings to gain a place for Mr. Bush in the National Guard. But Mr.
Barnes is clearly unreliable. The New York Times reported last February
that an unnamed former Texas official--later revealed to be Mr.
Barnes--was telling reporters he had interceded on behalf of Mr. Bush
but that his story "was subject to change, and there were no documents
to support his claims."
Indeed, Mr. Barnes's own daughter says her father's story can't be
trusted. Amy Barnes Stites called a talk radio show Thursday to report
that her father had told her a different version in 2000, when Mr. Bush
first ran for president. "I love my father very much, but he's doing
this for purely political reasons," she said. "He is a big Kerry
fund-raiser and he is writing a book also. And the [Bush story] is what
he's leading the book off with. . . . denied this to me in 2000 that he
did get Bush out (of Vietnam). Now he's saying he did." When hostess
Monica Crowley asked Ms. Stites if she believed her father had lied in
his interview on "60 Minutes," she replied "Yes, I do. I absolutely do."
"60 Minutes" may have a sterling reputation in journalism, but it has
been burned before by forged documents. In 1997 it broadcast a report
alleging that U.S. Customs Service inspectors looked the other way as
drugs crossed the Mexican border at San Diego. The story's prize exhibit
was a memo from Rudy Comacho, head of the San Diego customs office,
ordering that vehicles belonging to one trucking company should be given
special leniency in crossing the border. The memo was given to "60
Minutes" by Mike Horner, a former customs inspector who had left the
service five years earlier. When asked by CBS for additional proof, he
sent another copy with an official stamp on it.
CBS did not interview Mr. Camacho for its story. "It was horrible for
him," says Bill Anthony, at the time head of public affairs for the
Customs Service. "For 18 months, internal affairs and the Secret Service
had him under a cloud while they established that Horner had forged the
document out of bitterness over how he'd been treated." In 2000, Mr.
Horner admitted he forged the memo "for media exposure" and was
sentenced to 10 months in federal prison. "Mr. Camacho's reputation was
tarnished significantly," Judge Judith Keep noted.
Mr. Camacho sued CBS and eventually settled for an undisclosed sum. In
1999 Leslie Stahl read an apology on the air: "We have concluded we were
deceived, and ultimately, so were you, the viewers."
If it turns out that the Killian memos are indeed forgeries, the
Internet will have played an invaluable role in exposing the fraud much
faster than the 18 months Mr. Camacho had to twist in the wind. Free
Republic, a Web bulletin board, raised early warning signals about the
memos within hours of last Wednesday's "60 Minutes" broadcast.
Powerlineblog.com, a site run by three lawyers, reposted those comments,
which were amplified by indcjournal.com. Then design expert Charles
Johnson, who blogs at littlegreenfootballs.com, retyped one of the memos
using Microsoft Word and showed them to be a perfect typographic match.
A defensive Dan Rather went on the air Friday to complain of what he
called a "counterattack" from "partisan political operatives." In
reality, traditional journalism now has a new set of watchdogs in the
"blogosphere." In the words of blogger Mickey Kaus, they can trade
information and publicize it "fast enough to have real-world
consequences." Sure, blogs can be transmission belts for errors, vicious
gossip and last-minute disinformation efforts. But they can also correct
themselves almost instantaneously--in sharp contrast with CBS's
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