Truth full movie review - The Most Underrated Film of 2015 Questioning the State of Media Journalism
It is interesting and poignant that actor Robert Redford played Bob Woodward in "All the President's Men" in the 1970's, a film portraying Washington Post journalists who uncovered highly questionable and possibly criminal behavior enacted by the Nixon White House.
At the time of the Watergate Scandal which eventually forced the resignation of then-president Richard Nixon, journalists were as highly regarded as they've ever been in the United States, probing the activities of our elected officials in order the public make informed choices fir whom they vote. Woodward was a republican and as far as we know had no political ax to grind in revealing political dirty tricks financed by campaign funds. Woodward and Carl Bernstein's only driving motivation was to find the truth for the public good. Forty years later in "Truth", Redford plays television news journalist and CBS News anchor Dan Rather who was involved in a 60 Minutes story in 2004 alleging improprieties concerning President George W. Bush's service record in the military during the early 1970's. Questions about the authenticity of certain documents obtained by CBS News arose after the story aired, and journalists, both television and radio, experienced a wave of public questioning and even disapproval.
Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett in an academy-award caliber performance) and a small team of behind-the-scenes investigators working for 60 Minutes had clues that the current US President George W. Bush may have faked his military record and been AWOL, military shorthand for Absence Without Leave or Unauthorized Absence. The story surfaced in early 2004 when the incumbent was in a fierce battle with then Senator John Kerry who was challenging Bush's reelection bid as the Democratic Nominee for US President. Bush had been in the Texas Air National Guard and questions arose as to whether he had received preferential treatment because of his family connections. In other words, he obtained his spot in the TANG to avoid the Vietnam draft. While that alone may be questionable, it certainly wasn't criminal as there had many "draft dodgers" among the US elite. Then some evidence came to light which suggested George W. Bush never actually served in the Texas Air National Guard at all even though the record showed that he was there, but may have been AWOL for at least a year, possibly two, not fulfilling his duties as a trainee and officer. If his military record had been fabricated to conceal he was derelict in his duties as a young officer, it raised serious questions about Bush's character as Commander and Chief of the US Armed Forces.
At first Mapes and her team trace leads but to dead ends, where all living former military personnel of the Texas Air National Guard indicate under no uncertain terms that Bush was legitimately accepted into the program without strings being pulled and that he adequately fulfilled his duties. Then Mapes receives a tip from Bill Burkett (Stacey Keach), a former Lieutenant-Colonel of the TANG. Burkett and his wife meet with Mapes and Mike Smith (Topher Grace) at a restaurant, and there Burkett submits documents which became the focal point of the story. In the film they are presented two documents, but in reality there were six in all. The authenticity of these documents have been continually debated and disputed since 2004. They allege that Bush had fulfilled nearly none of his service commitments to the Texas National Guard and the documents are memos about how his military superiors should deal with his situation, most likely because Bush is a member of one of the most powerful political families not only in Texas but in the United States.
Mapes and her team take the documents and attempt to the best of their abilities to authenticate them with CBS News' document and hand-writing experts. Generally, according to the film, they were more or less authenticated. With the documents and other pieces of the puzzle, they rush a story onto 60 Minutes II which used to air Wednesday nights in the early 2000's. But shortly after the story airs, the world comes crashing in on the 60 Minutes team as other news organizations begin questioning the authenticity of the documents. However, it's not just questioning. The right-wing news media led by Fox News engages in a smear campaign against 60 Minutes and in particular Mapes.
This is an engaging story, one of the best films of 2015, and one of the best films about television journalism, according to the real Dan Rather, who was forced to step down as anchor in the wake of this story. To add insult to injury, CBS corporate has "disapproved" of the film, but they won't say why. They refused to allow advertisements of the film's release to air on any of their network affiliates. What is particularly troubling about CBS' responses is that they and 60 Minutes going on about 45 years have been the "gold standard" of television journalism. Since the so-called Wigand/Tobacco story of 10 years before "Memogate/Rathergate" when CBS corporate feared CBS News might be interfering with a corporate take-over deal involving Viacom in which certain stock-holders would earn millions, this story does not paint a flattering picture of CBS and CBS News. In one very telling scene, Mike Smith explains to one of the other young heads of CBS News that in the 21st century, corporations are taking much interest into what news organizations are broadcasting and which stories shouldn't be aired. Why? Because their corporate interests may be threatened, which begs the question, which is I think the point of the entire film: who owns "the truth"?