Some call it “Truth” (2)

The film Truth premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this last night. Based on Mary Mapes’s memoir Truth and Duty, the film retells the Rathergate scandal from the perspective of Rather and Mapes. Rather and Mapes were perpetrators of a fraudulent story, but I take it that the film portrays them as heroes and victims. It is, after all, based on Mapes’s ludicrous book and it stars Robert Robert Redford as Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mapes.

We took the occasion of the festival’s opening on Thursday and the film’s premiere to interview Harry MacDougald (“Buckhead”), the man who initiated the unraveling of the fraud. Our podcast with Mr. MacDougald is posted here. The interview presumes some knowledge of the relevant background. If you are interested, I recommend Jonathan Last’s Weekly Standard tick-tock account of the unraveling and my own Weekly Standard column on Mapes’s book.

Can the film really go down the road with Rather and Mapes? The signs are not good. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy favorably reviews the film here. McCarthy himself obviously knows nothing as he provides the film’s version of the story:

[T]he administration’s response catches everyone off guard. The key documents, the Bush team says, were printed in a typographical format only available on Microsoft Word; as all documents in the late 1960s were written with manual typewriters, therefore the documents are fake. Burkett then tries to recant, and the wind that for a time was filling the news crew’s sails is now whipping them in the face.

In reality, “the administration” didn’t do a damned thing about the story. In her memoir, Mapes faults the administration for not raising any question about the fraudulent documents on which she relied before the broadcast. The administration raised no such question afterwards either; they let others do the heavy lifting.

Rather himself likes the film. He appeared on stage after the screening last night. The Hollywood Reporter’s Etan Vlessing gives us a glimpse:

“Naturally I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised. This film is very accurate. A film called ‘Truth’ should be accurate,” Rather told the Hollywood Reporter during a pre-screening party. James Vanderbilt’s movie centers on Rather’s 2006 exit from CBS after a 60 Minutes investigation two years earlier into U.S. President George W. Bush’s alleged draft-dodging [sic] during the Vietnam war.

Rather praised the performances of Redford as the famed CBS newsman and Cate Blanchett as his CBS 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes. “The acting is superior. I think it’s an emotional film. Of course people will say I found it emotional because it’s about me. But I say that as objectively as I can,” he said.

The movie, which played to a standing ovation at the Winter Garden Theater, paints a highly sympathetic picture of Rather’s role in the scandal that cost him his job at CBS. After the screening, Rather appeared on stage with director Vanderbilt and actors Elizabeth Moss and Topher Grace (Redford did not attend).

Rather choked up when asked by an audience member if he would have done anything differently in his career. “Journalism is not an exact science,” he said, adding that there were “plenty of things I would do over.”

Since his exit from CBS, Rather said he had “spent a lot of time practicing humility…and tremendous gratitude.” In the film, Rather and producer Mapes are depicted as crusading journalists whose story is attacked by critics with a political agenda. CBS News chief Andy Heyward is depicted particularly negatively.

The clear suggestion in the movie is that Rather and Mapes were fired to appease the Bush White House and to protect the CBS financial bottom line. Before the screening, Rather looked beyond his 2004 exit from CBS to stress Truth was less about him, Mapes and President Bush and more about the broader corporatization of the news business.

Rather certainly has a lot for which to be grateful, but I hope he keeps keeps “practicing” humility. He hasn’t gotten there yet and he can’t even fake it. See, for example, his own memoir Rather Outspoken: My Life In the News. Time has not dulled the edges of Rather’s hate. Published in 2012, Rather’s memoir (written with co-author Digby Diehl) provides Rather’s perspective in the fullness of time. When it comes to Rathergate, he’s still seething weirdly over the alleged wrongdoing of others:

The legacy of what happened to our story on George Bush and his career in the Texas Air National Guard lives on to contaminate both our politics and our journalism today. There is a through-line, a long and slimy filament that connects the “murder” of Vince Foster to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and to the discrediting of the [fraudulent] Killian memos [on which the Rathergate story was based]. The same dirty thread stretches all the way to the selectively edited ACORN “documentary” and the birther movement.

Rather Full Of It is more like it.

I will have more to say about the film once I’ve seen it. For now, I only want to reiterate that the Hollywood Reporter isn’t exactly up on the underlying story. McCarthy and Vlessing are both vague on it. Vlessing allows this slight intrusion of reality: “Some of the documents on which the report by Rather and Mapes was based were suspected of being forgeries.” Vlessing does note, as I did Thursday, that the film is produced by Mythology Entertainment, which ought to have given him a hint.

NOTE: I have corrected this post to reflect the film’s debut last night at the festival, which opened on Thursday. The film’s debut last night is made clear in Mike Ryan’s review of the film for UPROXX.