The BFI London Film Festival started on October 7th and finished last Sunday, October 18th. This rich event led me to the premiere of Truth, directed by James Vanderbilt. Were present on the red carpet the breath-taking Cate Blanchett (I’m Not There, Blue Jasmine), playing Mary Mapes and the amazing Topher Grace (That 70s Show, Spider Man).
This film relates the incredible story of Mary Mapes, journalist and producer of the magazine ’60 Minutes Wednesday’ on CBS, in the USA. In 2004, preceding George W. Bush re-election, Mary Mapes and her crew decide to investigate on the president’s military record when he was in the Texas Air National Guard. On September 8th, 2004, she aired a documentary about the preferential treatment he had back in 1972, being transferred to the Alabama National Air Guard, in order to avoid combat duty during the Vietnam War.
After gathering all the proof, witnesses and material she needed, Mary Mapes produced and aired the documentary, hosted by the CBS news anchor Dan Rather, who received several Emmy Awards and Peabody Awards for his career, played by the renowned Robert Redford. Not even a day after the airing, the right-winged channels started accusing CBS of false allegations, libel but most of all, having fake documents concerning George W. Bush. This case was also called the ‘Killian documents controversy’. As the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, Bush’s commanding officer could not give the original documents, Mapes went to Bill Burkett, a retired and ill Lieutenant from the Texas Air National Guard, who gave her copies of the official documents. Mapes’ crew had then to prove the authenticity of the documents.
A journalistic matter
When Mary Mapes asked Bill Burkett for the documents, she had to confirm their authenticity. She asked four document examiner to verify them, but only two confirmed. The two others never certified them and pledged against CBS when a law suit was opened. A journalist always has to verity the documents he gets and what the witnesses and sources relate, even though they know it is true.
Moreover, facing a lawsuit means identifying your sources in order to verify their statement. In that case, Mary Mapes promised Bill Burkett he won’t have to be on camera, nor testify against his former colleagues and superiors.
Mary Mapes had to face hatred from the opposition, from the viewers. Some bloggers even called her a ‘witch’.
In order to reveal the truth, Mary Mapes had to sacrifice her ethics as a journalist and act as a person, as a human. And isn’t being a journalist about telling the truth?
More than a story: a person
Yes, Mary Mapes is an icon in the journalistic world. But she also is a person. Her story has made her even more famous, but Cate Blanchett impersonates her marvellously. She emphasizes her human side, how a journalist has to handle lawsuits, insults, pressure, regret but also, apologizing for doing her job. Dan Rather is a more discreet character but the audience knows he is and will always be on her side. Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett are a duo. The story does not work if one of them disappears. This is a love story. The love of truth. It is a fight. The fight against media. Media that fight media. Mary Mapes had to deal with people. With persons she mislead, persons who trusted her. Media are persons. And media, such as news, have to gain the people’s trust to live. This is Mary Mapes’ story.
After this, Mary Mapes was fired from the CBS and never worked for television news again. Dan Rather was forced out of his position as a news anchor.
In fact, the only critic I could make about this movie, is that it focuses on Mary Mapes and Dan Rather’s story more than the work they achieved as a whole team (all five of them, not only the two of them) and how it affected them all.
But apparently, Gil Schwartz does not agree.
CBS’ Gil Schwartz on rejecting ads for the new Dan Rather film “It’s astounding how little truth there is in Truth.” http://t.co/JGtNZO2416
— Lucas Shaw (@Lucas_Shaw) October 16, 2015