The Rathergate film Truth opens today in New York and Los Angeles. It’s coming soon to a theater near you. It opens across the country on October 30.
As we might have anticipated, New York Times critic Stephen Holden gives the film a rave review in “‘Truth’ treads a perilous political tightrope.” The rather glaring fraud at the center of the events becomes “a suspenseful detective story in which the minutiae of typewriters, typefaces and word-processing technologies are explored with an increasingly frantic sense of desperation.” This really says it all:
“Truth” doesn’t try to resolve mysteries that may never be solved or to drum up paranoia for the sake of extra heartbeats. But it still casts a pall of dread, an ominous sense that people in high places, whether in government or the news media, will stop at almost nothing to protect themselves and their interests. The retaliation against Ms. Mapes and her crew is similar to the smearing of the San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb after his articles about cocaine smuggling and the funding of Nicaraguan rebels by the C.I.A. That story, told in Michael Cuesta’s “Kill the Messenger” (2014), a lesser film than “Truth,” though still a powerful one, sends the same warning. Investigative journalism intended to upset the status quo can be dangerous and costly.
Just below the facade of professional decorum in “Truth” run deep currents of fear, suspicion and hatred. In the creepiest scene, Ms. Mapes is interrogated by a panel convened by CBS, whose members treat her with barely disguised contempt. When she eventually lashes out, she seals her own fate. It is a sad ending to a brilliant career.
I’m not sure Mapes will appreciate being lumped together with Gary Webb, but Holden is doing his best to lend Mapes his assistance under the thick gauze of liberally administered clichés. In real life, those “mysteries that may never be solved” have been solved. The only question remaining is who precisely fabricated the fraudulent documents. Was it Bill Burkett himself or was it somebody who gave Burkett the documents that mysteriously dropped into his hands upon Mapes’s urgent requests in late August 2004?
It’s striking how Holden’s “pall of dread” stops short of Mary Mapes herself. By Holden’s lights, she’s not a person in one of those “high places” who will “stop at nothing” to promote herself and protect her interests. She’s an “investigative journalist” who only intended to “upset the status quo.” As such, she’s a hero.
The villains — they’re the political powers that be (or were), the online commentators who questioned the veracity of Mapes’s handiwork, the lawyers who documented Mapes’s gross journalistic wrongdoing, and the suits who fired her for it. Holden’s thick clichés about people in high places apply perfectly to Mapes herself rather than to the putative villains of Mapes’s piece, but Holden is willfully ignorant in a cloud of unknowing.