GOP Activist Made Allegations on CBS Memos
It was the first public allegation that CBS News had used forged memos in its report questioning President Bush’s Air National Guard service -- a highly technical explanation posted on the Web within hours of airtime, citing proportional spacing and font styles.
But it did not come from an expert in typography or typewriter history, as some first thought. Instead, it was the work of Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta lawyer with strong ties to conservative Republican causes who had helped draft the petition urging the Arkansas Supreme Court to disbar President Clinton after the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
The identity of “Buckhead” -- a blogger previously known only by his screen name on the site freerepublic.com and since lifted to folk hero status in the conservative blogosphere -- is likely to fuel speculation among Democrats that the effort to discredit the memos was engineered by Republicans eager to undermine reports that Bush received preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard more than 30 years ago.
Republican officials have denied any involvement among those attempting to debunk the CBS report.
Reached by telephone Friday, MacDougald, 46, confirmed that he was Buckhead but declined to answer questions about his political background or how he learned so much about the CBS documents so quickly.
“You can ask the questions, but I’m not going to answer them,” he said. “I’m just going to stick to doing no interviews.”
Until The Times identified him by piecing together information from his postings over the last two years, MacDougald had taken pains to remain in the shadows -- saying the credit for challenging CBS should remain with the blogosphere as a whole and not one individual.
“Freepers collectively possess more analytical horsepower than the entire news division at CBS,” he wrote in an e-mail, using the slang term for users of the freerepublic.com site.
MacDougald is a lawyer in the Atlanta office of the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and is affiliated with two prominent conservative legal groups: the Federalist Society and the Southeastern Legal Foundation, where he serves on the legal advisory board.
The foundation, created in 1976, advocates “limited government, individual economic freedom and the free-enterprise system,” according to its website.
The foundation has fought affirmative action and domestic-partner benefits for government employees, and successfully challenged a Clinton administration plan to use proportional sampling to estimate population in the 2000 census, rather than making a hard count.
MacDougald helped draft the foundation’s petition in 1998 that led to the five-year suspension of Clinton’s Arkansas law license for giving misleading testimony in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case.
And he assisted in the group’s challenge to the campaign finance law sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). The challenge, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court, was funded largely by the foundation with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the law’s chief critic, and handled by former Clinton investigator Kenneth W. Starr.
The high court upheld the law, which banned unlimited contributions from corporations to federal candidates and political parties.
MacDougald is also a Republican appointee to the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections.
Last week he again plunged into a politically charged controversy -- but this time his participation was anonymous.
Operating as Buckhead, which is also the name of an upscale Atlanta neighborhood, he wrote that the memos CBS’ “60 Minutes” presented Sept. 8 as being written in the early 1970s by the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian were “in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman.”
“The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word-processing software and personal computers,” MacDougald wrote on the website. “They were not widespread until the mid- to late ‘90s. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn’t used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid ‘80s used monospaced fonts.
“I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old. This should be pursued aggressively.”
The late-night posting -- less than four hours after the CBS report aired -- resulted in a flurry of sympathetic testimonials from fellow bloggers, spreading within hours to other sites. The next day, newspapers such as The Times and the Washington Post began consulting forensic experts and reporting articles raising similar questions.
The network has insisted that the four memos, dated 1972 and 1973, had been authenticated by the network’s experts and by “close associates” of Killian, who say “the documents reflect his opinions and actions at the time.”
The memos showed Killian resisting pressure by a higher-up to “sugarcoat” Bush’s performance evaluation and ordering Bush to undergo a physical so he could keep flying.
CBS has also cited an expert, Bill Glennon, an information technology consultant, who said IBM electric typewriters in use in 1972 could provide proportional spacing and the superscript -- the small “th” -- evident in the memos.
It also has sought to counter the arguments by referring to a typewriting script distributor, who says the typing style in the memos has been available since 1931. Moreover, CBS points out, some of the lettering in question was evident in Bush’s military records previously released by the White House.
Still, after Killian’s former secretary came forward this week to say she did not believe the memos were authentic, anchor Dan Rather and other network executives stopped asserting that they were. They said they would “redouble” efforts to resolve unanswered questions.
While bloggers and some conservative activists have hailed Buckhead as a hero in their longtime effort to paint the mainstream media as politically biased, some Democrats and even some conservative bloggers have marveled at Buckhead’s detailed knowledge of the memos and wondered whether that suggested White House involvement.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe speculated openly to reporters that the whole thing could have been orchestrated by White House political advisor Karl Rove. The Bush campaign called the allegation “nonsense.”
The White House had access to the memos before the broadcast. CBS delivered copies to White House communications director Dan Bartlett on the morning of Sept. 8 so he could discuss them in an interview with Rather. Whether MacDougald had help reviewing the memos remains unknown.
The lawyer is an outspoken conservative and a Republican active in local politics.
“I attended a meeting on Tuesday to organize lawyers for Bush-Cheney in my state to monitor and if necessary litigate election issues,” he said in a Buckhead posting last month.
Professionally, MacDougald has represented government waste whistle-blowers and challenged affirmative action laws that give racial and ethnic minorities preferences in higher education.
He is not a major contributor to political causes, having donated $250 to the Georgia Republican Party in 2002, when Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, was chairman. Reed is now a senior strategist for the Bush campaign.
Associates of MacDougald scoff at the notion that he was doing anything but acting alone when he offered his observations about the CBS memos.
“Harry is a very strong conservative and a very passionate conservative.... So if he sees something that looks fishy, he’s going to say something about it,” said Lynn Hogue, a Georgia State University law professor and former executive director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.
“When he’s not absorbed with work, I think he spends the rest of his life in the wee hours of the morning on freerepublic,” Hogue said. “And that’s the outlet through which he shares his concerns and insights, and so rather than being a matter of conspiracy, it’s just him doing what he does.”