Front Row at the Movies
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Whether or not this movie is the truth depends on who you ask. CBS denies its accuracy and refuses to run ads for it. But Mary Mapes stands by the story.
She and CBS have had this problem before.
“Truth” -- the film opening this week at the Tropic Cinema -- is based on Mapes’s set-the-record-straight book “Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the privilege of Power.”
As you will recall, Mary Mapes is the “60 Minutes” producer who was fired, along with news icon Dan Rather, over a debunked report on George W. Bush’s preferential National Guard service. There are those who say the story was true even if the source was suspect.
The charge was that that Mapes and Rather didn’t do enough homework and ran a faulty story as a segment of the highly revered TV new magazine.
A TV pro, Mapes’ journalistic scoops included exposing the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Karla Faye Tucker’s death row interview, and tracking down Senator Strom Thurman’s black illegitimate daughter. And Dan Rather was the award-winning anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1981-2005.
In this retelling of the event that set off a firestorm and got them fired, Cate Blanchet stars as Mapes, a close-enough clone of the blonde CBS news chief. And Robert Redford steps in to portray Rather. The real newsman likes to joke that he and the handsome actor were separated at birth. They’ve been hitting the red carpet together -- which would imply Rather stands behind THIS version of the truth.
Directed by noted screenwriter James Vanderbilt, “Truth” traces how Mapes and Rather came across the so-called Killian Documents exposing the President’s shirker military service, gave it onlt a superficial vetting, then ran with the story.
Was it a set up? Or sloppy journalism? Were Mapes and Rather the victims of a witchhunt? Or guilty as charged? Was the punishment too severe for a respected news professional and a beloved CBS anchorman? Or justified in a zero-tolerance world? What would Brian Williams say about it?
The scandal is a perfect J-school case for discussing journalistic ethics and procedures. After the movie, you’re sure to be debating the subject with your friends over a cup of coffee.