Gilson grapples with truth

The Star Tribune has published two letters responding to my column about the Rathergate film Truth. The lead letter is by Gary Gilson, former executive director of the Minnesota News Council. This seems to be the best of what Star Tribune readers who responded had to say:

Scott W. Johnson (“Lies upon lies: The sad state of ‘Truth,’ ” Nov. 1) condemns the movie “Truth” for making heroes out of the CBS News team that he says “fraudulently” exposed George W. Bush’s deficient Texas Air National Guard service record.

The movie is based on the CBS report that led to the firing of its producer and the demise of Dan Rather at the network. Johnson is right that they were derelict in their duty to verify the documents they used to make their case against Bush. The documents that appeared on the air were not originals; they were created after the fact, with technology that did not exist when Bush’s evaluations were recorded.

But Johnson is dead-wrong about the content of those documents….

Gilson’s formulation of the source of the movie is off. The movie is based on Mary Mapes’s memoir regarding the events leading to “the CBS story” (i.e., “For the Record”) and its unraveling after the broadcast. Then Gilson heads straight into well-trod “fake but accurate” territory. Gilson implies that whoever fabricated the documents scrupulously transcribed accurate information and that the documents’ fabrication is irrelevant to their veracity. The documents’ errors of fact nevertheless betrayed their fabrication every bit as much as the documents’ typography.

And “not originals,” as Gilson describes the documents, doesn’t capture them. They weren’t copies; they were copies of fabrications.

Gilson doesn’t even bother with the first half of the story consisting of an interview with the vice chairman of John Kerry’s national finance committee. The suggestion that Kerry’s man got Bush admitted to the Texas Air National Guard to train as a fighter interceptor pilot was contradicted by the testimony of witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the matter. Their testimony was found in the file of Mary Mapes — you know, the author of the memoir that the movie is “based on” — in the course of the investigation of the CBS story by the Thornburgh panel after the broadcast.

Gilson cites the Boston Globe story criticizing President Bush’s alleged failure to fulfill his Guard commitment. The story was published on September 8, 2004. CBS broadcast its Rathergate story later that day. Byron York looked at the issue in his March 2004 NR story “The facts about President Bush and the National Guard.”

The Globe story took up issues different from those CBS purported to report in its story. I addressed the CBS story, the greatest journalistic scandal of our time. Even the president of CBS News at the time has acknowledged as much.

Gary Gilson is the guy who used to run the organization ruling on the fairness of stories published by Minnesota media outlets. (It closed up shop in 2011.) Gilson states by implication that I lack “respect for facts,” yet Gilson changes the subject and fails to contradict or rebut any of the facts set forth in my Star Tribune column. He disparages my fidelity to the the truth without demonstrating error. I think he owes me a correction and an apology, but I’m not holding my breath.