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Truth (0/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 122 minutes.

OK for children

This movie should have been entitled, “Truth, What is it?”

It’s about the notorious attempt by Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes to torpedo George Bush’s reputation just before the 2004 election with a segment on the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes. Neither Mapes nor Rather investigated Bill Clinton’s blatant draft-dodging and Bill Cosby-like relationships with unwilling women when he was running for President in 1992, but they went after Bush because they claimed he was AWOL during his service in the Air National Guard!

Based on Mapes’ self-serving book “Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and The Privilege of Power,” one would think with this title it would be about the abdication of the press to look into any of Barack Obama’s life that he has gone to great lengths to hide from the public. They don’t care that he never allowed his transcripts to be released; they never looked into his “resignation” from the bar; they never went after him for all the flagrant lies he has told (“if you like your health care, you can keep it”). But it’s not about Barack. Instead, it spins two disgraced, prejudiced journalists as victims instead of the miscreants they were when their reporting was biased and shoddy.

There are so many things bad about this film it’s hard to know what to cover in limited space. But one thing that stands out is Robert Redford’s laughable portrayal of Dan Rather. One thing Rather liked to do was to present himself as a straight-talking tough guy. But Redford soft-soaps Rather, showing him as a smiling, avuncular presence, always placing himself unemotionally above the fray. His performance is so terrible that only shortly after the start of the film one shudders whenever he comes onscreen.

Although this film staunchly defends Rather and Mapes, Rather himself said, after the documents had been thoroughly discredited by independent investigators, “If I knew then what I know now – I would not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired, and I certainly would not have used the documents in question." Self-styled tough guy Rather claims he was forced by CBS to make this statement. If so, I guess he wasn’t so tough after all.

The other actors are Cate Blanchett as Mapes and Topher Grace as a hippie journalist. Blanchett overacts with impunity, but Grace gives a pretty good performance. Dennis Quaid is forgettable as Lt. Col. Roger Charles except for his winning smile. Where would Dennis be without that smile? Stacy Keach plays the pivotal role of Lt. Col Bill Burkett, who supplied the forged documents to Mapes upon which she based her report, and Dick Hibey is very good as Andrew McFarlane, the boss of Rather and Mapes at CBS. Not unsurprisingly, because they want to spin the audience, you can’t tell from Keach’s innocuous performance the true venom of Burkett’s character.

The entire Mapes/Rather report was based on the documents allegedly created by Bush’s former commander, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, deceased, supplied to them by Burkett. But Burkett was a known anti-Bush zealot and had made a back room deal with Mapes that if he gave her the documents she would arrange for a meeting between Burkett and Bush’s opponent, the John Kerry campaign, plus help him with a book deal, among other things. Mapes was also in fairly close contact with the Kerry campaign while preparing the story. None of this is shown in the movie, which they entitled “Truth!” They did not add, “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Standing against this Hollywood movie are the conclusions of the Independent Panel retained by CBS itself. Because these findings won’t get nearly the light of day that this mainstream Hollywood movie will with its tilted story, here are its 10 main findings:

  1. The failure to obtain clear authentication of any of the Killian documents from any document examiner;
  2. The false statement in the September 8 Segment that an expert had authenticated the Killian documents when all he had done was authenticate one signature from one document used in the Segment;
  3. The failure of 60 Minutes Wednesday management to scrutinize the publicly available, and at times controversial, background of the source of the documents, retired Texas Army National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett;
  4. The failure to find and interview the individual who was understood at the outset to be Lieutenant Colonel Burkett’s source of the Killian documents, and thus to establish the chain of custody.
  5. The failure to establish a basis for the statement in the Segment that the documents "were taken from Colonel Killian’s personal files";
  6. The failure to develop adequate corroboration to support the statements in the Killian documents and to carefully compare the Killian documents to official TexANG records, which would have identified, at a minimum, notable inconsistencies in content and format;
  7. The failure to interview a range of former National Guardsmen who served with Lieutenant Colonel Killian and who had different perspectives about the documents;
  8. The misleading impression conveyed in the Segment that Lieutenant Strong had authenticated the content of the documents when he did not have the personal knowledge to do so;
  9. The failure to have a vetting process capable of dealing effectively with the production speed, significance and sensitivity of the Segment; and
  10. The telephone call prior to the Segment’s airing by the producer of the Segment to a senior campaign official of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry — a clear conflict of interest — that created the appearance of a political bias.

Despite the deplorable political bias of the film and its unashamed misrepresentations, one should not be surprised that this is less than good because it’s written and directed by James Vanderbilt, who was responsible for the weak Zodiac script (2007), a feeble telling of the zodiac killings in San Francisco, a ponderous, boring film that took 160 interminable minutes to get through. This one, although “only” 122 minutes seemed even longer.

It’s no coincidence that this film comes out now, after all these years, when another Bush is running for President. These Hollywood people are shamelessly hypocritical. When it’s pointed out how difficult it is for a conservative to get a job in Hollywood and how politically slanted their films are, they haughtily and disdainfully reject the accusations. Yet they make films like this that are brazenly political without any thought of embarrassment, apology, or recognition of the audacious inconsistency.

It’s generally unfair to judge actors personally based on the characters they play in films. But Redford and Blanchett, especially, are promoting this film as the real truth, appearing with Rather and Mapes at forums, so it’s not unfair to make a judgment on them since they are putting their own personal reputations on this film’s point of view.

When the end finally comes, it is actually shown in slow motion. Egads! Get it over with!