Even in the best of times, the truth can often be a subjective, unreliable concept to work with. During an American presidential election, as journalists and news junkies know all too well, the truth has an extraordinary ability to be buried, distorted, and wholly discarded.
Truth recalls the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating President George W. Bush’s military service record and the controversy that followed. The report unfavourably depicted Bush military service in his re-election year and due to questions surrounding the accuracy of the report, legendary anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and his producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), suffered career ending blows to their reputations.
As soon as the report aired, a firestorm erupted and immediate attempts were made in the blogosphere to discredit the report and those behind it. Despite the best efforts of the investigative team to make the report airtight, mistakes were made. Soon, to the overwhelming frustration of the CBS team, the focus was as much on the journalistic process rather than the facts of the story. The anti-report movement gained steam quickly and as is the way of politics in the age of information, if you can’t convince them, confuse them.
There are an awful lot of speeches in this film or at least it seems that way and about half of them land; the other half are a dreadful bore. The best writing (and speeches) not surprisingly coincide with the film’s best performances. Redford is solid as Dan Rather without delving into impersonation. Blanchett is excellent as producer Mary Mapes. It’s been said that she went “full Blue Jasmine” for the role which is hilarious and mostly accurate. Mapes is a confident industry professional with her world and traditional journalism crumbling around her.
Overall, the film is a high-brow affair that works a lot of the time. With this cast, director, and story, it’s a hard one to mess up. This controversy was a turning point in American history and helped shape the next decade of journalism standards and media consumption.
The film subscribes to the probably accurate notion that the journalists made errors but were treated unfairly by the public, other journalists, and political groups. Remarkably, there is still debate to this day regarding the legitimacy of the documents behind the report. The fact that the truth is so clouded even in hindsight speaks to the difficulty and importance of journalism and also to the manipulative power of political rhetoric.
Rather and Mapes made mistakes while trying to do their job and report a story in the public’s interest but did so during an American election. Sometimes there just isn’t appetite or space in the public discourse for truth no matter how true it may be.