The biggest problem with our believing in “Truth” is a fatal error in casting. Though Robert Redford is not much older than Dan Rather in 2004, the formerly handsome Redford has aged badly and bears no resemblance to the network anchor whom we scrutinized at close range in our homes for so many years. To make matters worse, Dennis Quaid who plays a military consultant to CBS, does look a lot like Rather and would have been perfect casting for the lead role. As we look at Redford with his sandy blondish hairpiece and fair, sun-damaged skin, we wonder why he’s usurping Dennis Quaid’s proper place as the dark-haired, square-headed Rather who remained telegenic as a man in his 70’s.
Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, an overly frenetic, Xanax-popping, boozy journalist with creds who’s on to a very big story about George Bush’s appointment to and AWOL from the National Guard. The pressures of getting this on the air to take advantage of a scheduling opening in 5 days creates the tension, inducing the Mapes/Rather team to go with the story despite imperfect and incomplete journalistic vetting. As scripted, the villains of the movie are the corporate heads of CBS who don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with the president and the heavy-handed Republican lawyers appointed by CBS to investigate this matter before the company decides how to handle it. During the course of this inquiry, Mapes introduces the familiar language of the communist witch-hunts of the 50’s to challenge her inquisitors with their underlying aim, “are you asking me whether I am now or have ever been….’ in this case, a liberal. The implication is that good journalism and broadcasting are free of this taint or of any politicizing, an absurd joke to all viewers who know exactly where reporters stand on Fox, CNN, CNBC and many other networks as well as print media. The movie suggests that “truth” is more important than dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s but that’s absurd too as it is the duty of the journalist to validate the truth of her account as a very important counterpoint to government and other people’s version of it.
Besting Blanchett’s grandstanding is the speech quietly given by the wife of Lt. Colonel Burkett, the man who handed over the explosive letters allegedly exposing Bush’s military service to Mapes. Though the colonel adamantly refused to be interviewed by Rather as part of his original bargain with Mapes, he reluctantly agrees to it when she explains her inability to get adequate authentication of the copies he gave her. We see the very sick colonel struggle with his oxygen tank, clearly under great duress during his interrogation. There is absolute truth to Mrs. Burkett’s condemnation of journalistic indifference to the welfare of their sources as well as their commitments to them. Anyone who has watched the aggression of tv reporters thrusting microphones at victims of violence or at unsuspecting people in shows claiming the armor of investigative reporting, understands the feelings of this character who is portrayed initially as the little woman behind the big man but who turns out to be a shrewd analyst of how news gets produced. Despite the notes at the end detailing Mary Mapes’ prize-winning expose of Abu Ghraib and the loss of her tv career, I found myself more haunted by the plight of Mrs. Burkett. The collateral damage done to many people who are used by journalists in the name of “truth” would make an original and timely film - long overdue.
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