WCBE

Truth

Oct 28, 2015

Dan Rather is forced to retire, and producer Mary Mapes is canned over Bush's National Guard record.

Truth

Grade: A-

Director: James Vanderbilt

Screenplay: Vanderbilt (Zodiac) from Mary Mapes’s "Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power"

Cast: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods)

Rating: R

Runtime: 121 Min.

by John DeSando

Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.” Hunter S. Thompson
 

Every journalism student should see Truth, a true version of a true event that included liberal CBS; liberal anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford); and liberal producer for 60 minutes, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett). The latter two sacrificed their jobs possibly for the ideal of bringing down George W. Bush in his campaign to become president for the second time.

The journalists thought they had a story about Bush slacking in his National Guard tour, but what they had was forged documents that eventually cost them their jobs and credibility. Mapes was the prime agent of the fiasco, pushing to get a story on 60 Minutes when it was too close to deadline and more substantiation was needed for the source and his documents.

First-time director and seasoned-writer James Vanderbilt takes an almost cool approach, not quite as weighty as All the President’s Men. The journalists young and old struggle with the profession’s verity: Vet your stories and your sources until they bleed truth.  Mapes and her vigilantes are up against a deadline, so more verifying of documents and sources was not possible. Thus, they should not have run with the story, but they did. Dan Rather, for all his experience as CBS news anchor, should not have trusted in Mapes’ research, but he did.

Most of all they should not have trusted Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), who provided the documents purporting to show Bush’s slacking. Because Burkett was a known liar and fervent Kerry supporter, no one should have trusted him before corroborating his information. Journalism students, beware of cutting corners on the road to truth. The film is an excellent primer on best practices.

Truth is a classy, almost unbiased rendition of a true story, an entertaining thriller filled with first-rate actors. If there is one flaw, I submit for your consideration that the film is too reverent of Mapes and Rather, who made a blunder unworthy of their status and experience. They are more heroic than they deserve. As cautionary players on the big media stage, they are fine examples of flawed human beings. 

I think journalism gets measured by the quality of information it presents, not the drama or the pyrotechnics associated with us.
Bob Woodward

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com