Scott wrote yesterday about a letter to the editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that responded to his column on the movie “Truth.” The letter was written by Gary Gilson, a supposed journalist who, as the former executive director of the Minnesota News Council, used to rule on whether news stories were accurate or not. Gilson’s letter adopted the long-discredited “fake but accurate” defense of 60 Minutes’ attack on President Bush.
Scott didn’t mention it, but the last sentences of Gilson’s letter took an irrelevant swipe at me:
Johnson’s partner in the Power Line blog, John Hinderaker, was once asked by a radio interviewer if Power Line checked the facts on stories it distributed. “No,” he immediately replied. If there are any errors in what Power Line sends out, he said, people out in cyberspace will quickly correct it.
So much for respect for facts.
I have given a great many radio interviews, but the statement attributed to me by Gilson is not one that I have made, or would make, since it is untrue. I was also struck by the imprecision of his smear: what exactly did I say, and where and when did I supposedly say it? So, just a few hours after his letter appeared in print, I sent Mr. Gilson this message on Facebook, LinkedIn and his web site:
Mr. Gilson: I was surprised to see the statement that you attributed to me in the Star Tribune this morning. I have given many interviews over quite a few years, but I am quite certain that I have never said any such thing. I also note that you did not purport to quote me precisely, which I find odd. Would you send me the audio of the radio interview you referred to in mp3 or similar format, so I can understand what you are talking about? Thank you. Please reply to ———-.com.
At 12:43 p.m., Gilson responded:
I heard you say precisely that on the radio, with my own ears. You said, no, Power Line did not check facts, and that you relied on followers to correct errors.
The interview I referred to took place after Time recognized Power Line as Blog of the Year. I do not have a recording of it, but I recall it vividly.
I’ll bet. I have no idea what I said in some unknown, unidentified interview more than ten years ago. I don’t know what I was asked or how I answered. But I certainly never said anything remotely like what Gilson implied: that we are indifferent to truth; that we make stuff up and peddle fake documents, like Mary Mapes and Dan Rather; that we publish random assertions and count on others to correct us.
So three minutes later I sent this email:
Whose radio program was it on? What was the date? What question was I answering? What is your best approximation of the verbatim exchange? I likely can find it in the show’s archives if you supply the particulars, and we will find out exactly what you heard. It won’t be what you claim.
At 1:04 p.m. Gilson replied:
It was most likely on WCCO Radio, which was the only local commercial station I listened to back then. I do not have the exact date, but, as I said, it was around the period Time recognized you.
The question was: Does Power Line check the facts before sending out its posting? Your instant answer was, “No.” That was when you explained that your relied on followers’ corrections.
I have no doubt that I heard you correctly. I was not a casual listener to such topics. I have been a journalist since 1961, with a particular interest in journalism ethics. Your answer was so memorable because it was so startling.
What did you think of the Boston Globe’s investigation of GWB’s military record?
It was “most likely” on WCCO? That answer obviously raised more questions. At 1:57 I emailed Gilson:
What program on WCCO? Who was the host? Morning? Evening? Where were you at the time? In your car? In your home? Somewhere else? Was anyone else with you?
What else do you remember about the conversation? What did the host say, what did I say? Were there any other guests involved? For example, was Scott Johnson on the program?
What year was it? 2004? 2005? Do you remember the month or the season?
I don’t really understand what you claim I said. Is it your assertion that I said we make stuff up and peddle fabricated documents like Mary Mapes? I don’t know how much you read our site, but most of what we do falls under the heading of opinion journalism. When there are key facts, we generally link to a source. Most commonly, we are commenting on a news story, to which we link. Are you saying that if I mention the year when, say, Henry VIII died I don’t look it up first? Can you explain what the discussion was so as to give context to the alleged quote? The exchange as you describe it is inconceivable, makes no sense in the context of our site, and did not happen.
Those queries may have been obvious, but they were not questions that Mr. Gilson wanted to answer. He went silent.
At 7:29 yesterday evening, having waited five and one-half hours for an answer, I sent this email:
It looks as though you may not have gotten my last email, so I am re-sending.
I have just one more question: what fact checking did you do to confirm your vague, decade-old memory of my interview before writing your letter to the Star Tribune?
Once again, Mr. Gilson preferred not to respond. By this time, he had gone to ground, probably regretting his gratuitous smear. I waited until this afternoon for a reply from Mr. Gilson. Having received none, I sent this email at 3:00 p.m.:
Mr. Gilson: You obviously are unable to substantiate your false statement about me that appeared in yesterday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune. I trust you understand that you have libeled me. I hereby formally demand a public retraction and apology for your false statement about me.
So far, Mr. Gilson has not responded to my demand for a retraction and apology. Rest assured that I will not let the matter rest here. There is no shortage of liars and bullies in the world, but perhaps they are more accountable today than in the past.
What is striking about this episode is what a shameless partisan Mr. Gilson is. Not only does he toe his political party’s line, even to the extent of endorsing the absurd “fake but accurate” defense, he recklessly and falsely smears those who have the temerity to tell the truth. And this is the person who, until 2011, was relied upon to rule on the fairness of news stories in Minnesota! That tells you volumes about the corruption of the Democratic Party press in the United States.