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Friday, February 11, 2005

Another Forgery?

Although this blog deals primarily with energy issues, we occasionally make forays into exposing cases of fakes, frauds, and forgeries.

Fox TV personality Bill O'Reilly made news over 35 years ago for punting a ball backwards, and has been making news lately for spewing things out of his mouth ass-backwards. His recent Super Bowl essay chronicling his football heritage is only the latest installment.

The sleuthy Keith Olberman initially deconstructed O'Reilly's claims of winning national punting titles as an athletic youth by pointing out his college club-level affiliations (one step up from intramural). As part of an apparent rebuttal, O'Reilly provided a kind of defense by posting statistical and photographic evidence of his exploits as a Marist student-athlete (best analogy, picture a much, much shorter and slower Rik Smits). Unfortunately, O'Reilly has provided no corroboration for the veracity of the statistical evidence. As far as I can tell, O'Reilly called on no expert witnesses, preferably computer or NASA rocket scientists, to inspect the (evidently) typewritten but blurry N-generation photo-copied stat-sheets.

Olberman also found the after-effects of his early deconstruction most puzzling, bordering on the defensive. Keith relates:
Apparently I struck one of Mr. O'Reilly's many nerves.

Tuesday, I got one of the damnedest e-mails I've ever received, anonymous other than for its return address and the signature "J., Chicago, IL." Whoever wrote it seems to have been the club football equivalent of Deep Throat: "A long time friend of mine (and long time NFL scout) once told me that Bill O'Reilly could have dominated in the NFL as a punter if he had chosen that career path," he began. "And a cousin of mine..." -- maybe the best comparison to this guy isn't Deep Throat but Forrest Gump -- "a cousin of mine, who was the official statistician during that time period said that O'Reilly in fact did lead in punting net average..."
This immediately brings to mind similarities to the Memogate affair of last year, and in particular, Bill Burkett's explanation of a mysterious "courier" who delivered him records pertaining to Bush's service as a member of the Texas Air National Guard during the same late-60's to early-70's time frame. As Al Franken and other O'Reilly watchers have noted, facts and truth don't always mix in the No-Spin zone -- so this demanded further investigation.

Ignoring the suspicious origin of the typewritten evidence for the moment, a casual perusal of the online document reveal several logical idiosyncracies. First of all, the mast-head shows two possibly ambiguous sources for the data (i.e. an undated National Club Football Association yearly stat-sheet). I for one can't tell if St. John's University is the home of the "STATISTICS BUREAU" or Duquesne University is the source for the "FINAL STATISTICS". Either one of these sound rather official. However, any bureaucrat trying to CYA will lay down a purposely bewildering trail of evidence; in this case providing two potentially conflicting sources. Much like relying on two watches, you really can't tell which one gives the correct time, unless of course you go to a tie-breaking source. Which of course probably doesn't exist.

The other nagging point of information is the trailing-off of data near the end of the stat-sheet. If you scan down the page after the crucial punting stats, you find individual interception data that contains a statistical anomaly that looks suspicious at best. The two defenders, Brown and Kloss (?) of Providence College, each had 6 interceptions but totalled 0 yardage. Exercising my anal retentive skills, I can only think of a few interpretations for this bizarre outcome. Either Providence defenders are girly-men who immediately down the ball after a thrilling club-league interception or somebody got tired of filling out the stat-sheet because, well, the all-important punting statistics have already been covered and, hey, its deadline time.

Smelling a rat, and watching how skillfully Little Green Footballers fake punts every moment of their waking lives, I decided to test out my own amateur hypothesis : that, in fact, these may have been recently fabricated documents. Olberman himself had suggested the "font"-word on the Al Franken Show a few days ago. And obviously, with red-line box markings on the posted GIF-file itself, the document has already clearly been tampered with. No way did anybody have color printing 35 years ago (surely not someone from the blue-color environs of Levittown), and only a huge egomaniac would draw a red square with geometric precision around his name and accompanying stats. Who on God's green earth would be impressed by club league stats? Maybe an unpaid groundskeeper?

So the test was to transcribe the statistical data into a "*.txt" document (too blurry for OCR software to work effectively) and load that into Microsoft Word. The default font that the Word software chose was called Courier New. Sensing that Courier New sounded kind of futuristic, I decided to reformat instead to the plain Courier font.1.

The results of comparing the alleged stat-sheet with a modern MS Word reproduction can be seen in the following clickable link:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
Notice how well the lines register with one another, both vertical spacing and line lengths. Any strange jaggies are easily explained away by multiple generations of photo-copies and low-resolution faxing. Not to mention that any curious vertical distortions can derive from pixelation effects as purveyed by the whiz-kid Memogate examiners. On top of that, a better choice of software font by me, such as a "Typewriter"-face, would likely have resulted in an even better glyph match. Truly astounding is how close the default font of circa-2004 word-processing software matches that found from a purportedly 35-year-old document.

Bill O'Reilly, J., or whatever your name is, send us the original documents! Although I hesitate to claim forgery, only a fair and balanced inspection of the original documents will put an end to questions of self-bias in such a continually vain media.

1 Something that J., a "courier" himself may have chosen? Maybe I watched way too many Batman episodes as a child, but I remain convinced that criminal masterminds always leave incriminating evidence along the way. Who knows, perhaps as a cry for help?


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