“Truth”-iness: Equal Parts Finger-Pointing, Navel-Gazing

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Facts are proof. But “Truth” is a matter of perspective.

The failure of CBS News to prove the 2004 “60 Minutes II” report about then Pres. George Bush’s military record, or lack of it, led to the resignation of anchor Dan Rather and dismissal of the segment’s producer Mary Mapes.

truthaaThe film of those events, by first time director James Vanderbilt and based on Mapes’ book, blames a failure of institutional oversight, the political concerns of the network’s parent company and a CYA corporate mentality for making them scapegoats in the affair.

But the truth was they didn’t have the facts. They used copies of documents of debatable provenance from an unreliable source who recanted.

This portrait of building a story from scraps and pulling confirmations and comment from reluctant second-hand sources resembles a broadcast news version of “All The President’s Men.”

Instead it shows how they fell in love with a story they thought could fell a president and with the process of reporting it at the expense of connecting all the dots. Contradictions were ignored or dismissed. And management relied on their expertise.

The result is a cautionary tale that is equal parts navel gazing and finger-pointing.

Mapes, who won a Peabody Award for reporting on Abu Ghraib, is portrayed by Cate Blanchett as so over-confident that she and her staff – Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss – fail to heed the engine light.

A maudlin and hard-drinking Rather, played by Robert Redford, laments pressure caused by the changing news landscape from public service to profit center, and Mapes’ personal back story is cited as behind her professional zeal. If her mother’s death hadn’t prevented her from reporting this story in 2000, Al Gore would have been elected president, says Quaid.

Much in the way a crime is rarely as compelling as the coverup the aftermath is the more interesting and revealing part of the film; the story falls apart, they desperately struggle for confirmation after-the-fact and are subject to an aggressive in-house investigation, where the principals confirm they couldn’t handle the truth.

 

**1/2 stars 2 and one half stars

With Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey.

Produced by Brad Fischer, Doug Mankoff, Brett Ratner, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt. Written and directed by james Vanderbilt.

Approximate running time. 121 minutes. Rated R: language, mature theme.

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