Truth is one version of the truth. The story comes via CBS producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) who was fired in 2004 for her role in a Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate. The incident also took down longtime CBS anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford).
The film has a message for all journalists: Even if you have a great story, even if the story is true, you must do a good job of confirming your facts.
Did George W. Bush skip out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 70s? Mapes had information that he did. In Truth, she and her team (including Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss) work to find people who will go on the record about Bush’s alleged malfeasance.
When retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett (a sickly looking Stacy Keach) produces memos from back-in-the-day and another military man confirms their validity in a phone call, Mapes and Rather decide the story is ready for air.
In short order there are accusations that the memos are not legit. First, it is right wing bloggers who challenge them. Later, ABC News expresses doubts that they are authentic.
The CBS eye blinks at the rancor and Dan Rather issues an on-air apology for having aired the story. After a CBS internal investigation, Mapes is canned and Rather is allowed to resign.
Cate Blanchett’s Mapes is a conflicted woman. She wants to defend her team’s story, despite the holes in the reporting. Yet she also wants to keep her job. She is passionate when chasing the story and angry when the story implodes. Redford delivers a robust performance and captures Rather’s TV charisma. (After his lackluster work in A Walk In The Woods, it is nice to see Redford back on his game.)
But there is a major deceit in Truth. It is implied that Mapes and Rather had no political motive in airing the story. If you believe that they were not looking to knock the incumbent down a notch just two months before the 2004 election, I can get you a great deal on the Poplar Street Bridge.
The cozy relationship between CBS parent Viacom and government gets called out in an impassioned speech by Grace’s character. It is not news that the feds have regulated the airwaves since the beginning of commercial broadcasting. The speech purports to shed light but comes off as sour grapes from a person about to be escorted from the building.
Truth is a well-made bit of storytelling and an entertaining chronicle of how NOT to do journalism. Any good reporter knows that a film that names itself Truth must be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. The fact that the production company for Truth is Mythology Entertainment (true) is only appropriate.