Doesn't truth have any place in docu-drama?

Someone
I used to work with called it the “curse of Gilligan” – the fact that
people who try to attack me usually end up doing themselves rather more
harm.

I have a feeling, this week, that the curse may just have struck the TV director Peter Kosminsky.

The reviews of his Kelly drama-docu’ –
‘The Government Inspector’ are mostly pretty awful. “Lacked almost as
much credibility as a Downing Street dossier,” said the New Statesman.
“A docudrama of mass distortions,” pronounced The Independent. The
Telegraph got the central point: “In a story that was all about
distortion, manipulation, and exaggeration, about truth and lies,
surely to deviate from the accepted facts has to be a fatal flaw?”

The
deviation from fact that most critics picked up on was the one about
me: a scene which showed me altering the notes I’d taken on my
organiser of my conversation with David, several weeks later –
effectively accusing me of lying to Lord Hutton, the Radio 4 audience,
and the world.

Even Kosminsky’s own producer, Simon Chinn,
admitted in a letter to me that this false and ridiculous allegation
was only a “theory,” manufactured with the help of a computer expert
who works for, er, the Ministry of Defence.

I explained, as
patiently as possible, to the Kosminsky Inquiry that both the things I
am alleged to have fabricated had also been said by David to the BBC’s
Susan Watts; that one had been confirmed as true by the Foreign
Secretary; and that computer experts working for Lord Hutton had gone
over the organiser and the data in it without finding anything amiss.

But
the truth cut little ice in the face of a TV director with a theory –
and, more importantly, a desperate need for a “new angle” to get his
film in the papers.

An alternative way of saying something new
might have been to explore the personalities of the individuals
involved, or the peculiar pathology of political crises. This would
also have been more satisfactory, and lasting, artistically. Instead,
each of us, including even David Kelly, was less a real character, more
a vehicle for a political statement. The programme may have been filmed
in colour, but it was scripted in black-and-white.

I was deeply
angry at first, but I swiftly came to understand that almost noone took
the allegations against me seriously. Two weeks ago, Kosminsky held a
preview at which the organiser scene was intended to be his PR exocet.

What
the producers wanted was for me to go ballistic, threatening writs all
round, which would have made it a story all right. I decided not to
rise to the bait, although I still wouldn’t rule out suing if anyone
takes it seriously.

The negative publicity seems to have had some
effect. Incredibly, on the day of transmission, after proclaiming for
two weeks his complete confidence in my lack of integrity, Kosminsky
backtracked, telling last week’s Press Gazette that “we didn’t say the
quotes [in my notes] weren’t true”. This didn’t, however, stop him or
Channel 4 broadcasting, later that day, a programme which clearly
suggested exactly that.

Kosminsky’s 1999 show, ‘Warriors’, about
British soldiers in Bosnia, was a fantastic film, which fully deserved
its clutch of awards. But my strong feeling is that docu-drama only
works in cases like that, where the situations are real, but the
characters are generic. Where both people and places are presented as
factual, docu-drama is simply too dangerous a genre. Two years after
Kosminsky’s drama about New Labour, ‘The Project’, was savaged on very
similar grounds, is it too much to hope that this particular director’s
slightly selfrighteous star may be fading?

A Peter Kosminsky
approach was also taken by The Observer columnist David Aaronovitch. In
his column, using the Channel 4 film as a peg, Aaronovitch too claimed
I must have lied about what David Kelly said, quoting David’s taped
conversation with Watts: “Watts asked him about WMD.

‘My own perception is, yes, they have weapons,’ said Kelly. A ‘clear and imminent threat?’ ‘Yes.'”

A
full endorsement of the notorious dossier: damning indeed. Until you
realise that Aaronovitch has somehow managed to leave out key words,
changing the meaning of the quote by exactly 180 degrees. The actual
conversation, from the tape’s transcript on the Hutton website, runs as
follows:

David Kelly: My own
perception is, yes, they have weapons, but actually not at this point
in time….I think that was the real concern that everyone had, it was
not so much what they have now but what they would have in the future.

But that wasn’t expressed strongly in the dossier because it takes away the case for war to a certain extent.

Watts: A clear and present, imminent threat?

Kelly: Yes. 

The “clear and present, imminent threat” is clearly Watts’
paraphrase of the case for war made in the dossier, rather than David
Kelly’s views about Iraqi WMD.

I and my fellow hacks rather admire Aaronovitch’s lonely, heroic
struggle, in the face of ever-growing odds, to convince the nation that
Tony Blair was right and I was wrong. We’re thinking of nominating him
for a Heritage Lottery Fund grant: the last pro-dossier columnist in
British journalism.

But how telling it is that both he, and
Kosminsky, and so many of my other critics, have to resort to
distortion in order to be able to condemn me.

Oh, and how does the curse of Gilligan affect David Aaronovitch?

Well, he is going to work on The Times…

Andrew Gilligan is a reporter and columnist on the Evening Standard.

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