I just saw a preview screening of the movie “Truth,” which is set in a time period we women over 50 remember well. This is a gripping story that brings us back into the world of television news, when the whole country watched it every night in their living rooms. Robert Redford plays Dan Rather. Cate Blanchet plays Mary Mapes – a producer on 60 Minutes II who both lived the events and wrote the book which is the basis for the film. Her book is “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power.”
The revered show, “60 Minutes II,” reported on a possible Bush scandal. The story was pursued by a tough, smart, yet vulnerable, career woman (a lasting and appealing archetype of our generation). It’s the blow-by-blow account of what was called “Memogate,” a huge event for CBS. You may not remember exactly what happened to Dan Rather – I didn’t. Here’s what was reported at the time”
“CNN: Nov 24, 2004 Longtime anchor Dan Rather will leave the “CBS Evening News” on March 9th, the network said Tuesday, just months after Rather’s use of questionable documents in a report critical of President Bush’s National Guard service.”
The 60 Minutes group worked on a story that H.W. George Bush may have used family connections to dodge Vietnam, by landing a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968. Even worse, they are also pursuing the idea that he actually ducked the duty entirely, being largely a no-show. Politics were hyper-partisan during this period. (This was during the tense and close campaign when Kerry was accused of the”swift boat” episode). The news story could be huge, and the mission to find witnesses and gather information was mesmerizing – all, lead by Mary Mapes. The movie builds as an exciting mission to report the story and the subsequent discovery of vulnerability in the supporting documents.
According to the movie, the cause of Rather’s downfall wasn’t a personal failing (unlike so many prominent men since then). It was part of the whole frantic television news environment and some political paranoia. News was about getting a scoop first; and the more shocking the, better. The crisis revolves around questions about sources. Rather was the head of news programming and therefore had to bless what was going on the air. He was supposed to represent authenticity and reliability.
The whole news drama is probably much worse today, but now news reporting is dispersed over so many sources and outlets, that the authoritative anchor voice isn’t so important. Stories are much more likely to be rushed to the air.
The standouts in the movie:
- Robert Redford – He’s Dan Rather, a calm reassuring presence. Always good to see Redford on screen. I did find it a little disconcerting trying to merge these two such well-known figures.
- Cate Blanchet – She’s perfect as the driven heroine in the frantic world of the news cycle. It’s set at the time women’s career fortunes were so new and fascinating. She’s bright and likable (supportive husband, cute child), while on a mission to bring in the biggest story of her career.
- There is an appealing intelligence and energy propelling the whole story.
A small quibble:
1. It could use a little cutting in building the story’s first half.
2. Was the panel deciding the fate of the CBS crew really that large, that unreasonable, and so politically biased? They were representing Viacom, the CBS corporate parent. According to the movie the panel was probably responding to pressure from the Bush administration. The panel members are clearly cast as villains determined to cancel the program and the participants’ careers instead of really investigating the matter. Clearly their views about Rather continue.
CBS pointedly did not invite Rather to be involved in the 50th anniversary reporting of the Kennedy assassination. He had helped organize CBS’ plans for President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Dallas on November 22, 1963; and, as a young reporter, he was a key component of assassination coverage. He’s one of the few reporters still alive today.
Mary Mapes never worked in television again.
In any case, it’s a great story and very involving. Dianne Morris
Photo and trailer courtesy of Sony Pictures
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