It also depicts how much journalism has lost it’s bite since ’70s superstar Robert Redford played Watergate’s super-reporter Bob Woodward in “All The President’s Men,” 40 years ago. Here, Redford plays super-anchor Dan Rather. We’ll come back to investigative journalism’s aging and tooth loss.
The Heart of the Matter
Bush the Younger, during the Vietnam draft, had landed an exceedingly sweet assignment in the Texas Air National Guard, apparently reserved for the privileged pups of powerful political pops.
But Bush junior, regardless, apparently couldn’t handle the light duty. He played hooky, blew off mandatory testing without comeuppance, went AWOL, and ultimately got out early, thereby avoiding combat. How? As Will Ferrell doing a Dubya impression might have put it—with… “strategery” [strə-tee-jər-ee]. In other words, he had strings pulled for him. Or so it’s claimed.
Mapes puts together a world-class team of journalists; Topher Grace’s brilliant, hyper-committed, feathering-the-edge-of-conspiracy reporter, Dennis Quaid’s avuncular, former-military tough-guy, and Elizabeth Moss’s moral-compass ethics expert.
What follows is a first-rate journalism clinic that moves at a riveting clip as the investigative team take to their respective wheel-houses (with much quipping) and build the case, a la trail-sniffing, educated-guessing, lead-following, phone-calling, on-and-off-the-record reporting, and so on. A long string of cold-calls all end with the person on the other end of the line stating vehemently, “No strings were pulled!”
But once the story breaks, the whole enterprise gets immediately lit up by the blogosphere’s razor-sharp minds and acerbic tongues. Some of whom have, naturally, political agendas.
The team got sloppy due to deadlines, put all their money on a key-evidence memo (a faxed copy with no original, that the right-wing bloggers and the Rupert Murdoch media-machine have a field day claiming is fake). This questionable memo also came from a source who refused to be named (Stacy Keach).
Which of course sets off frenzied backtracking and fact checking, with irate bosses breathing down their collective necks. But ultimately the whole endeavor hinged on their having put all their eggs in one basket, and then the handle broke. Sneaking an Internet peek, Mapes is emotionally bludgeoned by cries of “Gut the witch!”
At the Top of Her Game
The “Let’s nail Bush” and the ensuing “Now let’s get the nail out of our own foot” parts are the overt storyline, but the movie is actually really about Mary Mapes—mother, wife, and intense hunter-killer investigative reporter. She’d blown the Abu Ghraib scandal sky-high, was at the top of her game, and had a great deal to lose.
Since the screenplay (written by top-notch, first-time director James Vanderbilt) is based on Mapes’s book, the story is naturally skewed to her take on things. One could also argue, seeing as how the movie masthead is that known tree-hugger, Robert Redford (said with immense respect and affection), there might be a somewhat liberal interpretation of the turn of events.
Mapes and Rather are shown, if somewhat glibly, to have an ersatz father-daughter relationship, as Mapes’s actual father was a ruthless physical and verbal abuser.
One of the film’s most powerful scenes is when the normally fire-breathing Mapes gears up to lambaste her bullying dad on the phone for publicly dragging her name through the mud, accusing her of radical feminism, only to revert instantaneously to her cowering, tiny inner-child. It’s heartbreaking, and will most certainly capture yet another Oscar nomination for Blanchett.
Toward the end, there’s a CBS-ordered, right-leaning, let’s-cover-our-collective-behinds legal panel—Mapes and her lawyer staring down an entire law-firm of lethal, honey-tongued litigators. The ensuing one-woman, single-handed smackdown of this intimidating predator pack is highly satisfying.
Redford’s Roles Show Journalism’s Decline
Robert Redford recently appeared at a forum sponsored by the New York Times. Huffington Post’s Stephen Schlesinger reported: “Redford pointed out that when he played Bob Woodward in “All The President’s Men,” Woodward always had the backing of the Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee even when he made occasional mistakes during his Watergate investigation.
This support enabled Woodward … to track down the full details of the Watergate burglary, despite withering criticism, leading to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.”
He goes on to say there was no such luck regarding Rather and Mapes’s errors. The errors didn’t actually detract from their story’s essence, but their bosses at CBS nevertheless hung them out to dry.
Dan Rather himself, also on the panel, said that the pressure on CBS came straight from the Bush administration, backed by an exaggerating right-wing attack machine. That kind of Larry McCarthy-headed smear tactic had been in place since the terrorization of the nation, with the Willie Horton debacle.
Dan Rather gave his blessing to “Truth” as being an accurate portrayal, saying that while journalism’s info-gathering process can often be a “crude art,” it doesn’t detract from the overall truth. Tracking down the dangerous but morally imperative truth, takes—as Dan Rather famously liked to conclude his news shows—”courage.”
However, movies such as “Truth” tend to be highly politically charged and have complicated backgrounds. For more insights, read Minneapolis attorney Scott W. Johnson‘s article. Regarding “Rather-gate,” it’s likely the case that multiple cases of strategery abound.
Director: James Vanderbilt
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, Dermot Mulroney
Running Time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Release Date: Oct. 16
4 stars out of 5