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Truth (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 31, 2020



TRUTH (2015)

Starring Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid,  Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, Dermot Mulroney,  Noni Hazlehurst, Philip Quast, David Lyons, Rachael Blake, Andrew McFarlane, Natalie Saleeba, Connor Burke and Chris Mulkey.

Screenplay by James Vanderbilt.

Directed by James Vanderbilt.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.  121 minutes.  Rated R.

Once upon a time, 60 Minutes was considered the grande dame of news shows.  Truth is a look back at the show’s glory days as well as its fall from grace.  Not necessarily because the series itself did anything that wrong, but the world has sadly moved past journalistic integrity.

In a world where a politician… say for example Donald Trump… is willing to lie blatantly, in ways that can easily be disproven, then angrily double down on the lie and convince people watching to blame the media for pointing out the fact that it is a lie, well then our news world is badly broken.

There are lots of things that are responsible for the dumbing down of political discourse.  There are biased “news” organizations like FOX News.  There is the internet, which has given any crazy fringe-dweller a voice and a soap box.  There is the near death of the newspaper, which has taken a huge bite out of responsible, unbiased investigative journalism.

And, some people say, there is the defanging of 60 Minutes. Truth is the story of the scandal – some would say manufactured scandal – which permanently dinged the show’s reputation and led to the firing of Dan Rather, the most-respected newsman of his time.

The need for journalistic integrity has been whittled down further in the time since this case.  A much more flawed, discredited story about the attack in Benghazi was run on Sixty Minutes in 2013 by Lara Logan and nobody lost their jobs, just had to deal with a short paid leave of absence.  Logan recklessly went to air with a story that had no corroboration, just the word of a witness who had been discredited by Federal officials.  Now, less than three years later, she is the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News and is still a correspondent for 60 Minutes.

Less than ten years earlier, that kind of thing, on a much smaller scale, cost the career of one of the most distinguished newsmen on TV.  Now, it barely inspired a shrug.

The story, and the scandal, happened in the waning days of the 2004 Presidential elections.  Vietnam vet John Kerry had been swift-boated, calling his career as a soldier into question.  Meanwhile it came to light that George W. Bush, who spent the war in a cushy National Guard post stateside, might have been AWOL (absent without leave) for as much as a year.

The story made its way to Peabody Award-winning producer Mary Mapes (played with steal and vulnerability by Cate Blanchett), who decided to look deeper into the story.  She and her team – Lt. Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid), Mike Smith (Topher Grace) and Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss) – started researching the story.  They got off-the-record confirmations that there was something there.

Dan Rather (well played here by Robert Redford) himself didn’t have much to do with the research of the story, but he trusted his team and went along with the interviews and telling the story on the air.

However, when a former military man with an axe to grind, Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), claimed to have copies of documents that helped to prove the allegations, the team had to decide whether or not to use them.  Experts said that they could equivocally confirm that the documents seemed to be legit – the handwriting was verified, and the former Lieutenant Governor of Texas had agreed to go on the record to confirm that it was probably real, etc.

Soon after, stories started burbling up on conservative websites suggesting that the documents were fake.  The scandal grew and grew and the wagons started circling.  The general changed his mind about confirming the memo.  Lt. Col. Burkett admitted he had told a lie about how he had gotten the papers.  A federal probe tried to disprove it on partisan lines.

Among many other things that Truth reminds us is that while 60 Minutes acknowledged that they were fed some wrong information, no one from the Bush administration ever denied the actual charges.  A small, small part of the story was refuted, but the story itself was far from disproven.  However, because the story was smeared, it was shelved.  Whether it was true or not didn’t seem to matter, just the fact that a small part of the story may or may not have been faulty.

Truth is a rather terrific film, yet another in the strong series of real-life historical dramas that have been coming out of Hollywood, sadly mostly with little notice.  Truth is also something of a tragedy, a near obituary to journalism like Spotlight.  You probably missed Truth when it briefly played theaters last year.  Now that it’s available on video and on demand, it is well worth tracking down.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2016 All rights reserved. Posted: February 2, 2016.

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