If there was a singular, definable moment when the schism between people who had absolute trust in the media covering politics and people with no trust found their moment to converge upon its Rathergate. CBS and “60 Minutes” thought that they had the story that would change an election …. and wound up changing the perception of the media in what wound up being one of the more polarizing events in recent political history that brought down one of the titans of journalism.
Truth focuses on what wound up being one of the biggest victories for the conservative blogosphere as the film follows the story that inspired Rathergate. At its heart is the story behind missing records from former President George W Bush’s military history. CBS and “60 Minutes” had thought they had gotten their hands on documents proving that the President had gone AWOL during his stint in the Texas National Air Guard. The documents turned out to be forged from a dodgy source, exposed by a number of sources as forgeries, and Rather wound up being forced off the air because of it.
The film’s main problem is that it takes history’s conceit, that the documents were forgeries created by Bill Burkett were legitimate and that outside forces have forced CBS’s hand. It’s one thing to dramatize history for the sake of entertainment … but it’s another to change altogether because someone didn’t like how it turned out.
We follow Rathergate from the beginning, where Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) pursuing a story about then President Bush on the eve of his re-election. Assembling a crack investigative staff (Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace) they come along the scoop of a lifetime. A retired Air Force officer (Stacy Keach) has documents that could ultimately sway the election and Mapes has the story of her career. When the documents are exposed as fake everyone is reeling as CBS turns its back on the plucky investigators in the name of big money politics and corruption.
Unfortunately the film’s problems begin with its attempts at rewriting history. It’s one thing to fudge facts, as more historical dramas do, but this feels conjured from a whole other cloth entirely. This is a film that really wants to believe that the Kilian papers were true, and not created in MS Word, and goes to great lengths to make us believe it. This is a film that is openly trying to recreate the series of events to make Mapes, Rather and company look like the heroes in a story where at worst they’re unintentional villains.
We’re reminded about this over and over again. This is a film so naval gazing that one wonders if there’s a deleted scene where George W Bush twirls his mustache and has a “big board of journalists to ruin” somewhere. Truth places the blame on why this story blew up the career one of the titans of journalism solely in places where they never occurred. Instead of what it could be, which is an examination of why so many people got fooled and the reasons behind it, the film becomes about pushing an agenda to change the historical note of one more “noble.”
Truth wants to be a screed about why George W Bush didn’t deserve to be President, and how CBS was right about a story proven false, instead of a tale about how journalism has moved much further from getting the story right to getting it first. The collective failure of all involved to make sure the story was real, and not what they wanted it to be, is a much more intriguing one than a story about how noble journalists had a career changing story turned against them because the story’s subject isn’t one held in high regard in certain quarters of this country.
There’s a brilliant story about the nature of trying to get something first, and not something correct, waiting to come out of this tale. There really is. Unfortunately all that comes out of Truth is an attempt at altering the historical record to one more pleasing to certain portions of the fourth estate.
Writer/Director: James Vanderbilt based off “Truth and Duty” by Mary Mapes Notable Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss