Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bush memo font study

Bush memo font study

The following evidence from a forensic examination of the Bush memos indicates that they were typed on a typewriter:

1. The specific font used is from a typewriter family in common use since 1905 and a typewriter capable of producing the spacing has been available since 1944.
2. The characters “e,” “t,” “s,” and “a” show indications of physical damage and/or wear consistent with a well used typewriter.
3. The characters that are seldom used show no signs of damage or wear.
4. The quality of individual characters is inconsistent throughout the memos beyond expectations from photocopying and/or digitizing but quality is consistent with worn platen and variations in paper quality.
5. Overlapping characters occasionally indicate paper deformation consistent with hammered impressions.
6. Critical indicators of digital production or cut and paste production are missing.

Implications are that there is nothing in this evidence that would indicate the memos are inauthentic. Furthermore, from the point of view of the physical evidence in the documents (excluding any rhetorical evidence or external evidence, which is not examined in this study) no amount of additional research on the part of CBS would have lead them to exclude the documents from their 60 Minutes report.

There are a number of reasons for identifying the physical source for the recently released memos indicating that President George Bush failed to meet his obligation to the Air National Guard and disobeyed both written and spoken orders to take a flight physical.

A careful forensic examination of even the worst copies may provide some evidence of the documents’ authenticity or disprove their authenticity. For example, if the evidence demonstrates that the documents were originally digitally produced, it would disprove their authenticity.

On the other hand, if evidence indicates they were typewritten, it lends support to the credibility of CBS in general and to Dan Rather and his producers in particular. If evidence demonstrates that the memos were typewritten using a font usually available in the military, but less common among civilians, at least on this evidence they were right to air the memos.

Given the current extent of political animosity, the voice of indisputable evidence can be useful. In short, there is justification for a qualified, independent lab to examine the documents and make the results publicly available.


The information available in such poor reproductions is surprisingly significant.

First, The documents are not Times New Roman, or any similar font, nor are they produced with word processing software (or at least, were not printed using contemporary printing technologies). The documents are almost certainly printed using an impact printer (typewriter or daisy wheel) and are not digitally produced for the following three reasons:

1. The font is a common typewriter typeface invented at the beginning of the 20th century and in continuous use until the computer replaced the typewriter. The font’s name is “Typewriter.” Although the typeface was somewhat modified for civilian communities in the 1960s, it remained commonplace in the military well into the 1970s. In short, the Bush memos were produced in a version of Typewriter commonly used in the military at the time.

2. It is possible to find worn and damaged characters. The top left of the “t” is clearly worn to the extent that it seldom makes an impression. The “e” shows clear indications of physical damage. It appears to have three scratches and/or gouges extending diagonally down and across the bowl and across the lower stroke. The “a” and the “s” show similar indicators of wear and damage.

3. Seldom used characters such as numbers, capitals, and the lower case “o,” “q” and “p” (and the other less used lower case characters) show no signs of damage.

4. Overall inconsistency of the characters goes well beyond what one would expect from photocopying and digitizing and indicates that they were produced using an inconsistent (i.e., “mechanical”) process.

5. There are indications of white “blisters” cause by a character typed on paper that was deformed by the impact of a previously struck character.

…the memos were probably done in a proprietary IBM typewriter font redesigned specifically for proportional typing. In 1984, I wrote articles on an IBM Selectric that uses an uncondensed IBM equivalent. The font used in the memos is a variant of the font used in Figure 1, below.

Figure 1. Example a selection typed with an IBM Selectric typewriter.

Differences between the above font and that used in the Bush memos are consistent with making the above font compatible with a proportional typewriter. The "g" on the Bush memo was narrowed with an up facing ear, the stroke at the bottom of the "t" is shortened, the numbers "6," "7" and "9" are simplified and the “”W” and “R” are slightly modified. With a few exceptions the lower case characters are condensed while the caps are left uncondensed. Oddly, the “s” is doubly condensed while the “m” is extended. These characteristics should make the specific type ball easy to identify.

Typewriter Typeface is in the larger family of typefaces called "Slab Serif." Typewriter includes ITC American Typewriter, Courier, Secret Service Typewriter and similar typefaces characterized by flat square serifs and (usually) consistent stroke widths. Common in this version of Typewriter, the upper serif on the 1 stands out like a flag in a strong wind. In the newer versions, the upper serif droops like a flag in a light wind. (Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Example of “1” taken from Bush memos.

Definition: A Slab Serif is a type of serif font that evolved from the Modern style. The serifs are square and larger, bolder than serifs of previous typestyles. Considered a sub-classification of Modern, Slab Serif is further divided into Clarendon, Typewriter, and Slab Serif (a separate sub-category of Slab Serif) styles. (emph. mine) (

The documents I used for comparison include military orders, letters of recommendation and commendation, security clearance evaluations. The documents were produced at American military installations in Korea, the United States, and England.
con·cept: Bush memo font study