If cyber talk was a rope, Utah State University associate English professor David E. Hailey believes he'd be hanging from it by now.

According to Hailey, his only crime thus far appears to be his interest in researching the authenticity of documents critical of President George Bush's military record.

"This is academic research," Hailey told the Deseret Morning News. "There's nothing wrong with this research."

CBS News anchor Dan Rather apologized Sept. 20 on air for earlier presenting the four Bush memorandums in question as authentic.

"All indicators imply they are authentic," Hailey now says in research posted on the USU Web link imrl.usu.edu/bush_memo_study/index.htm. The link leads to Hailey's 17-page paper titled, "Toward Identifying the Font Used in the Bush Memos."

If Hailey had been one of the experts advising CBS, "I would have told them that from my point of view, the memos are worthy of presenting to the public," he states on the link.

By authentic, Hailey says he means the documents were in fact created through a "mechanical" process, such as a kind of typewriter used by the military around the 1970s — others have suggested the memos were digitally altered and therefore fake.

Hailey, who teaches technical communications at USU, spent seven years in the Army, typing training manuals and various memos on typewriters. That's where his interest in typography began. "This is the kind of stuff I've done since 1966," he said.

Critics who have posted comments on Internet "blog" sites — the arena where doubt was first cast about the documents CBS obtained — are calling Hailey a "fraud," alleging his findings are politically motivated and that other USU officials may have somehow guided his study.

Hailey did make a monetary donation to presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign, according to one USU official.

Since posting his findings on the Web, Hailey has for the past week received hundreds of e-mails that he now simply forwards to a file he created called "hate mail." The subject line of one e-mail reads, "In more ways than one, you are a fascist hack."

Hailey's plans are to read through the mail more thoroughly for another research project but not until he is "emotionally stable." He said he couldn't sleep Thursday night because people are attacking his credibility and credentials.

"In a virtual reality situation, they're coming on campus and trying to lynch me," Hailey said over the phone.

Now that Hailey and the school are under fire for the research, the plan is to respond aggressively through the media, according to John DeVilbiss, USU director of public relations and marketing.

"We want to make it right for both the professor and the university," DeVilbiss said. He called critics of Hailey "mean-spirited," adding that in the end the controversy will reflect "positively" on the institution. "It is not a political issue, it is an academic one."

Without a request for an interview, USU President Kermit Hall called the Deseret Morning News with his own take on the situation.

"Whoever it is," Hall said of the e-mails, "is clearly trying to intimidate the university and trying to intimidate Professor Hailey."

Hall called Hailey's research "legitimate" and said the professor has every right to engage in and publicize the research.

"There's been an effort to suggest that the administration put him up to this — the answer to that is, 'wrong,' " Hall added. "There's a suggestion that the purpose of his work is to join some kind of political action — that's wrong."

Hall called the blogging and e-mails the "worst kind of smear" against academic research and the opportunity for academics to share their research within academe and with the "wider" public.

USU English department head Jeffrey Smitten said he is hearing that those from the political "left" like what Hailey has published while most of the negative comments seem to be coming from the "right wing."

An unidentified person claiming to represent the www.wizbangblog.com Web site called Smitten and accused Hailey of "academic misconduct." There were 50 pages of blog entries critical of Hailey on the Wizbang site as of Friday.

Despite the cyber furor over Hailey, USU officials have no plans to remove Hailey's research from the school's Web site. Hailey said he has no plans to take any legal action against his critics — "Where would I start?" he asked — and that he is taking comfort in the support he is receiving from USU.

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com