It was another day of exhausted exultation. I got congratulatory e-mails, phone calls, and pats on the back. Other reporters called repeatedly as they worked to catch up to my story. I was thrilled.
All that changed about 11:00 a.m., when I first started hearing rumbles from some producers at CBS News that a handful of far right Web sites were saying that the documents had been forged.
I was incredulous. That couldn't be possible. Even on the morning the story aired, when we showed the president's people the memos, the White House hadn't attempted to deny the truth of the documents. In fact, the president's spokesman, Dan Bartlett, had claimed that the documents supported their version of events: that then-lieutenant Bush had asked for permission to leave the unit.
Within a few minutes, I was online visiting Web sites I had never heard of before: Free Republic, Little Green Footballs, Power Line. They were hard-core, politically angry, hyperconservative sites loaded with vitriol about Dan Rather and CBS. Our work was being compared to that of Jayson Blair, the discredited New York Times reporter who had fabricated and plagiarized stories.
All these Web sites had extensive write-ups on the documents: on typeface, font style, and peripheral spacing, material that seemed to spring up overnight. It was phenomenal. It had taken our analysts hours of careful work to make comparisons. It seemed that these analysts or commentators -- or whatever they were -- were coming up with long treatises in minutes. They were all linking to one another, creating an echo chamber of outraged agreement.
I was told that the first posting claiming the documents were fakes had gone up on Free Republic before our broadcast was even off the air! How had the Web site even gotten copies of the documents? We hadn't put them online until later. That first entry, posted by a longtime Republican political activist lawyer who used the name "Buckhead," set the tone for what was to come.
There was no analysis of what the documents actually said, no work done to look at the content, no comparison with the official record, no phone calls made to check the facts of the story, nothing beyond a cursory and politically motivated examination of the typeface. That was all they had to attack, but that was enough.
People from around the country, especially those with a harsh political bent, began chiming in on the sites with accounts of their own experience with typewriters in the 1970s. Someone claimed to remember that electric typewriters at the time did not do "superscripts," a small "th" or "st" or some such abbreviation that was lifted higher on the line than the other letters. This was important, because in the Killian memos, the 111th was sometimes typed as the 111th, something that drove the bloggers wild.
Another person claimed there was no peripheral spacing on old typewriters, even though there had been on some of the old official documents.
I remember staring, disheartened and angry, at one posting. "'60 Minutes' is going down," the writer crowed exultantly.