Does 'Truth' Live Up To Its Name?

by Dino-Ray Ramos

The movie Truth has that title for a reason: in it, it's what Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), Dan Rather (Robert Redford), their team of journalists, and the people they're fighting against are trying to find. And ultimately, that's what audiences are going to search for after walking out of the film. Based on Mapes' memoir, Truth and Duty: the Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, the movie, from writer/director James Vanderbilt, tackles the high-profile 2004 news story that questioned George W. Bush's military service. It's a claim that drew criticism for its potential inaccuracy — the documents used for the report may have been forged — and it eventually led to the firing of Mapes from CBS Evening News, while Dan Rather stepped down from his position. Clearly, the story of the CNN news report, and its repercussions, is a big deal. That said, how accurate is Truth ? The answer to this largely depends on who you ask.

As mentioned, the story is based on Mapes' book, and the movie puts the spotlight on the experience of her 60 Minutes II segment that was one of the most scandalous news stories of 2004 (it claimed that Bush had gotten preferential treatment to avoid Vietnam, back in the '70s). The film hits all the general bullet points of the real events: the reporters' fights, the interviews, and the questionable documents and memos associated with Bush's time in the military. The focus is on Mapes and how she, portrayed by Blanchett, reacts to the consequences and the backlash from the story, which included several producers leaving, the network's public apology, and Rather's resignation.

"CBS was concerned about damage to its reputation and wanted to improve it," Mapes told Variety . "The film deals with some of that, but it also raises larger issues about the complexities of journalism and the search for ‘truth’ in an increasingly corporate media environment... these topics are much bigger than than the Bush National Guard story and are as relevant today as they have ever been."

After seeing the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival, Dan Rather took to his Facebook page, applauding the film's depiction of investigative journalism as well as Redford's portrayal of Rather and Blanchett's portrayal of Mapes, saying both "deserved recognition at award season" for their performances.

The movie recently played at the Hamptons International Film Festival, and afterwards, Rather spoke more about his feelings about the "truth" in the movie during a Q&A with Alec Baldwin. "We made some mistakes," Rather said. "If we had to do it over again would I do things differently? Of course. Journalism is not a precise science. I did at the time what I thought was journalistically and ethically the right thing to do. Our story was true...They couldn’t attack the truth of the story, so they attacked the process by which we arrived at the truth — was it flawed? Yes, it was flawed. Was it more flawed than it should have been? Yes. Am I responsible for some of that? Yes. This is the point: The story was true. It was true then, it was true now."

"I have no financial interest in Truth," he continued. "If you want to know what it’s really like to be inside the newsroom and out on the streets and on the phone, this is the best that’s ever been on the big screen."

As a movie, Truth gets the message of journalistic integrity across. Still, in terms of its accuracy, some people aren't as complimentary as Mapes and Rather. "It’s astounding how little truth there is in Truth ," a CBS spokesman told Variety. "There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all. The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom. That's a disservice not just to the public but to journalists across the world who go out every day and do everything within their power, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to get the story right." Bustle reached out to Sony Pictures Classics for comment, but hasn't heard back at this time.

It's expected that reactions to the movie would differ. As the old saying goes, there are always three sides to the story: their story, your story and what really happened. For first-time director Vanderbilt, you would think this would be a lot to take in. But as the screenwriter of Zodiac, another journalistic-centric true story, Vanderbilt loves exploring polarizing topics as a filmmaker. "What would be wonderful in my directing career, is just to be able to tell interesting and compelling stories, in different forms," Vanderbilt told Bustle recently. "I love true life stories. It's filmmaking about real people. If I can just tell great stories, going forward, that would be such a win for me."

Image: Sony Pictures Classics