3 Stars – Thought Provoking
The question whether any person can objectively report the news is the underlying theme of James Vanderbilt’s debut film Truth. Focusing on the true events surrounding a news team questioning George W. Bush’s military service, Vanderbilt’s screenplay is based on the lead character’s book: Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.
During the 2004 presidential election, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) was an award winning producer for CBS News and 60 Minutes. Having won the Peabody Award for breaking the story on the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse, she is contacted by a source claiming to have documentation proving that President Bush not only avoided service in Vietnam by becoming a pilot for the Texas National Guard but had gone AWOL during his shortened six-year commitment. Only a few months before the election in which the President was running for a second term, the timing and motivation of the 60 Minutes episode caused people to question its authenticity.
Similar to the initial event and the focus of the film, the truth of the film itself has also been called into question. Suggesting that Mapes has “confirmation bias” and did not adequately check the facts of her story because she wanted it to be true, there are those who say her version is what is portrayed in this film rather than verifiable truth.
Using the dialogue of her team to express her various professional and political views, the ensemble cast works well, both as those who worked beside her as well as those in CBS news and its corporate leaders. The most famous person whose career ended in part because of this story was Dan Rather played with appropriate strength and nuance by Robert Redford. Assisting Mapes in the investigation are Mike Smith (Topher Grace), Lt. Colonel Roger Charles (Dennis Quaid) and journalist professor Lucy Scott (Elisabeth Moss). Those who were handling this team were Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood), Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), Mark Wrolstad (John Benjamin Hickey) and Mary Murphy (Natalie Saleeba).
The larger questions raised by the film about political bias and corporate profits undermining the truth of our news reports are important ones. However, the question is not so much about trusting any news source or reporter, but rather recognizing that everyone comes to their experience with biases and beliefs which not only cause them to as journalists to affirm or confirm various facts, but the human brain actually interacts with reality causing us to experience it uniquely. To be humble about this and to read broadly from all sources may be the wisest course of action in our attempt to discover the truth. But humility and reading broadly requires a maturity that is often missing in both those of us who view and those of us who report the news.
- Where do you get your news and why have you chosen those sources?
- The trust that Dan Rather placed on Mary Mapes caused the end to his career as CBS anchor at the age of 75. How do you deal with the fact that even those you trust the most can be mistaken?
- The corporate ownership of CBS News by Viacom ended a year after this event. Do you believe independent news outlets would better serve the discovery of the Truth? How can a small news team do the in-depth investigation and verification needed?