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Truth is a film About Journalist Integrity
Back in September of 2004, with the presidential campaign between George W. Bush and John Kerry heading into its final months. On Wednesday, the CBS News broadcast of 60 Minutes began its show with a lead-in segment by veteran journalist Dan Rather on some newly-disclosed documents which seemed to indicate that President Bush may have shirked his duties while in service with the Texas Air National Guard.
Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett star in TRUTH, based on a riveting true story of one of network news’ biggest scandals. As a renowned producer and close associate of Dan Rather (Redford), Mary Mapes (Blanchett) believes she’s broken the biggest story of the 2004 election: revelations of a sitting U.S. President’s military service. But when allegations come pouring in, sources change their stories, document authenticity is questioned, and the casualties begin to mount. This dramatic thriller goes behind the scenes to expose the intricacies of journalistic integrity and what it takes to reveal the TRUTH.
Researching the Truth
The intent of the broadcast was to prevent Bush’s reelection by insinuating that he had used his political connections to avoid service in Vietnam. A highlight of the segment was an interview with former Texas House Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who stated “I was contacted by people from the very beginning of his political career, when he ran for governor, and then when he ran for president, and now he’s running for re-election.” Barnes, a life-long Democrat, at the time was a protégé of President Lyndon B. Johnson, and in 2004 was actively working on raising money for Kerry’s campaign; he stated that he had wielded the clout to help Bush get into the Texas ANG.
As it turned out, the information that Rather and his 60 Minutes crew reported that night wasn’t completely vetted, and, unfortunately for them, wasn’t as bulletproof or accurate as Rather and his crew had hoped. Needless to say, the fallout over the report was epic in nature, being dubbed “Rathergate.” The film Truth details the story of The Killian Documents controversy that were involved in this incident. We follow Rather (Redford) and CBS News head Mary Mapes (Blanchett) in the days leading up to the 2004 presidential election. When veteran Rather choose to air the segment on exposing how President Bush avoided being drafted to Vietnam through his father’s political advantages, the resulting fallout ultimately costs them their jobs and reputations.
A gathering of Journalists
Dan Rather Endorsed the Accuracy of the Film
The film deals very evenhandedly with the events leading up to and it has even been reported that no less than former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has actually endorsed the accuracy of the film which tells the story of his own downfall in what has come to be known as Rathergate. In fact, he stated “Naturally I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised. This film is very accurate. A film called Truth should be accurate.” The film is based on the book by Mapes. Her original report was founded on information that President Bush’s National Guard service was faulty and she relied heavily on documents delivered to her by retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett from the Texas Army National Guard. Burkett gave multiple stories for how he came by the documents, eventually claiming the files of deceased Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian came to him via a woman named Lucy Ramirez. However the story came to her, and whatever the actual truth was, it all became unraveled after the report aired live on the air.
Redford as Rather
A News Drama
As a total aside, Aaron Sorkin’s HBO news drama, The Newsroom took on a similarly-themed “false” story with its Genoa story in its’s second season (Episode 17), where an ACN senior producer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), is bound and determined to win himself a Peabody Award for investigative reporting, and deviously “cooked” an interview with a retired Marine Corps general (Stephen Root). To return to the story of Truth, when questioned about the story and the film based on the incident, Rather stated, “Journalism is not an exact science,” and that there were “plenty of things I would do over.” Still, despite his desire to do things differently, Rather continues to maintain, “We reported a true story. And there has never been any doubt the story was true.”
A Very Politically-Charged Story
For our purposes as a reviewer — apart from how we feel about the actual story upon which it was based — we believe that the film’s producers did an exemplary job in delivering an even-handed depiction of what was obviously a very politically-charged story, giving us the viewers a fair-minded handling of what occurred, and we do recommend the film.
Watching the News Play Out
Dan Rather Endorsing the Accuracy of the Film
“Naturally I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised. This film is very accurate. A film called Truth should be accurate.” — Dan Rather