Newsroom Drama 'Truth' Mythologizes Dan Rather's Fall from Grace

Loose Truth

Opinion: The best part about Truth, the newsroom drama starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as his hard-hitting producer Mary Mapes, is that it will whet your whistle for Spotlight, the investigative journalism movie about the Boston Globe and their explosive reports on the Catholic Church, which opens later this year. Spotlight figures to be a much better movie than Truth.

Fact: Truth opens Friday at theaters area wide.

Fact: Odd that Truth is called Truth, when its source material is the memoir of Mapes herself. Rather's longtime producer was shitcanned shortly after the 2004 60 Minutes report on Pres. George W. Bush's military service which featured controversial documents.

Description: Mapes is portrayed as the gutsy heroine who only wants to ask questions. She's got a meekly bearded husband who comforts her with pillow talk on the order of: "When you stop asking questions, they've won."

Description: Robert freaking Redford plays Rather, if you're wondering whether or not the film is sympathetic to CBS' biggest scapegoat. He's captured in dramatic shadow and spotlight throughout. Even if everyone didn't make a point of worshipping him to his face, he'd still seem more like a deity than a newsroom anchor.

Conjecture: The whole goal of the film is to absolve Rather from any wrongdoing in the 2004 scandal. He's the wholesome, heroic ambassador to American Living Rooms — "Courage," was his signoff — who simply got swept up in the reporting! He was getting all his intel from his producer, and she genuinely believed that the critical documents were accurate!  

Conjecture: Most everyone can sympathize with the unforgiving pressures of deadline journalism, of meeting excruciating standards of fairness and accuracy; but a portrayal intended to be this baldly exculpatory, a portrayal which almost literally grinds an ax on-screen for George W. Bush, the CBS executives, and CBS' parent company Viacom, weakens its arguments.

Example: Topher Grace, who plays the young buck reporter Mike Smith on the 60 Minutes investigative team, screams at the execs about White House involvement in silencing CBS as he's being escorted from the office. "Don't you see what's happening here?"   

Background: The story Mapes and the gang are reporting is about George W. Bush and his alleged preferential treatment in the Texas Air National Guard. Bush had been accepted in the first place, the story alleged, to avoid Vietnam. Thereafter, he barely showed up. The 60 Minutes story aired weeks before the 2004 presidential election, and both Bush and Kerry's military records were among that season's hot-button issues, given the ongoing war in Iraq. The film goes to great pains to argue that the story remains, in all likelihood, true, but that CBS' corporate image was so dear to its executives that they caved under pressure. Instead of backing their team, they launched an internal investigation in which the provenance of the story's documents and the political leanings of the reporters were put under the microscope. This investigation is framed as a total sham.

Opinion: The script, for the most part, leaves a great deal to be desired. After exulting in the rapid-fire precision of Aaron Sorkin's Steve Jobs, the vague moralizing and mythologizing here feels more like propaganda than history. Elizabeth Moss, who plays journalism professor Lucy Scott, gets many of the script's worst lines. "This one's important, isn't it?" she seems to ask every few minutes.

Verdict: For many reasons, the original 60 Minutes report was important. And for many others, Truth isn't. Foremost among them is that moviegoers, a lot like civic-minded consumers of journalism, still largely would rather see conspiracies proved than theorized.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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