Wednesday, January 06, 2016

TRUTH: the one movie CBS doesn't want you to see

I love movies where reporters uncover conspiracies and expose the evildoers to the world. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman was maybe the best. And that’s what the movie TRUTH wants to be.

But here’s the thing:

The big cover-up they’re trying to uncover is kind of a yawn.

When they announced it to the world, most people just shrugged or were watching THAT ‘70s SHOW.

They got the story right. It was just the evidence that wasn’t completely accurate. 

SPOTLIGHT is a way better movie.  

And Robert Redford has gotten old.

60 MINUTES aired a story questioning President Bush’s military service record. In their haste to get it on the air CBS did not do as much due diligence as they usually diligently do. So the CBS producer and Dan Rather were crucified on technicalities. The film “suggests” that CBS’ parent conglomerate Viacom did not want to ruffle any Republican feathers and so ultimately everyone associated with this flawed report got handed their heads, including Rather. No spoiler alert needed – this too is true. Most people know that Dan Rather took himself off the Evening News shortly after this brouhaha.

But nobody died due to this report. No lives were ruined as a result of shoddy reporting. The course of history wasn’t changed. Elections weren’t skewed. Enron wasn't saved.  There were no presidential stains on dresses.  THAT ‘70s SHOW didn’t suffer a ratings loss. (And Topher Grace was one of the investigators.)

So why did we need over two hours to tell this story? Take a hint: 60 MINUTES. I kept thinking, at least if Aaron Sorkin had written it there would be some zip to the dialogue.  I would pay to see a fast-talking pithy Dan Rather. 

The only real fun of this movie was watching Cate Blanchett. She absolutely lights up the screen. Move over Meryl Streep. There’s a new sheriff in town and she’s Australian (although you’d never know it from her accent in this film). Redford played Dan Rather. He was willing to don the suspenders but not wear his hair short. There are some things more important than accuracy like Redford’s tousled locks.

SIDE NOTE: Blanchett’s next role will be as Lucille Ball. I hope they get Redford to play Desi. Just dye the hair.

CBS has refused to air ads for TRUTH. They don’t want to be embarrassed. And yet they air 2 BROKE GIRLS. They also replaced respected veteran journalist Dan Rather with Katie Couric. I'm just sayin'. 

Meanwhile, NBC News and ABC News have also made blunders – projected the wrong candidates winning, getting facts wrong, prematurely announcing someone's death, and then there’s Peter Pan's father, Brian Williams. CNN is no better and it wouldn’t surprise me if Fox News doesn’t even employ a fact-checker. For all these heads to roll over this story seems a better story than the one the movie told. And Cate Blanchett is such a versatile actress I bet she could play Julie Chen if needed.


Graham Powell said...

I dunno about this. All of CBS' evidence consisted of a single faxed copy - they never saw the original - of a document that was supposedly typed on a typewriter in the early 70s but clearly was not. In addition, Rather later interviewed the secretary at the unit, who's a lifelong committed Democrat, and she said that if anyone had typed that document it would have been her, but she didn't do it.

Now, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so this certainly could have been true, but I just think the facts available don't support it. If anyone has more information I would love to hear it.

McAlvie said...

"it wouldn’t surprise me if Fox News doesn’t even employ a fact-checker"

Remember when journalists were the fact checkers? When news organizations didn't have to employ fact checkers as a subset? It tells you a lot about the state of the news media today.

Curt Alliaume said...


Douglas Trapasso said...

(Somewhat) related note: Did anyone catch Rachel Maddow last night? Did she actually say in the first segment that Trump was temporarily a declared candidate in 2012? Cause I don't remember him actually filing any paperwork.

Daniel said...

Aaron Sorkin did write this story. It was season two of The Newsroom.

BobinVT said...

I gotta believe that the events outlined in the movie "Truth" provided CBS with the justification to do what they had wanted to do for some time: get rid of Dan Rather. Since taking over from Cronkite, Rather's broadcast had steadily slipped in the ratings, even falling to third place, unthinkable in the Cronkite era. Add to that series of embarrassing and bizarre acts by Rather: Courage!, What's the frequency Kenneth?, walking off set to protest pre-emption by tennis. Finally, the fiasco that was the Rather/Chung pairing. Of course, they replaced him with Katie Couric, which only made things worse. I'm pretty sure everyone at CBS News, including the honchos, hated George W, and that Rather's sloppiness on this report would have been tolerated if they had wanted to keep him on. I really do miss his "Ratherisms" on election night though: "Gore is going through Oklahoma like a twister through a trailer park". Those were gold.

Tom Quigley said...

Haven't seen the film yet, but from what it sounds like, the writer and director were kind of aiming along the same lines and for the same emotional impact as another film Robert Redford was involved as director in a much better project back in the '90s. I'm referring to QUIZ SHOW starring Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren, the up and coming academic who as a contestant was caught in the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, which essentially ruined his career, and blacklisted Dan Enright and Albert Freedman, the producers of the show "21", and its host Jack Barry from the TV industry for many years. In that film we see not only the machinations of a '50s TV industry which was willing to resort to out and out deception in order to keep the contestants winning who they felt would appeal most to viewers, but the sad demise of the careers of people who were willing to participate in the scam. I thought QUIZ show did an excellent job of wringing the emotion out of the consequences of their actions, especially on Van Doren's part and it will be interesting to see if TRUTH comes anywhere close to that.

Oliver said...

I find it interesting to compare and contrast CBS's response to this 60 Minutes scandal and the fake Benghazi story in 2013. So much for a "liberal media"!

VincentS said...

The problem I had with the movie was that EVERYBODY inside and outside the media knew that Karl Rove (who's only mentioned once in the movie) was gunning for anyone digging up dirt on his boss, George W. Bush and that his bread and butter was discrediting messengers when he couldn't discredit the message. If Mary Maples and Dan Rather were the crack journalists they're reputed to be they should have looked out for that and, as you said, been extra careful to vet every source on the story (e.g. Sonny was killed in the THE GODFATHER because Tom Hagen was not "a wartime consiglieri," and therefore didn't see the ambush the other families would set up for Sonny coming). They fell right into a trap which, fair or not (and it was unfair) is an occupational hazard for journalists going after power. Instead of acknowledging that the movie comes across as a whine from some one with a martyr complex. Putting aside the self-righteous title they, for example, at the end of the movie sanctimoniously flash that after Maples was fired from CBS she won an Emmy for her reporting on Abu Grabe. Well deserved, I'm sure, but what the hell does that have to do with the 2004 presidential campaign or George W. Bush's National Guard service?

Ross Brown said...

Agree with your assessment of the film - a yawn. My one quibble - I can't support the statement "they got the story right just the evidence was wrong." That's not acceptable journalism. It's what makes all the major TV news outlets from Fox News to MSNBC so infuriating now - they're advocacy enterprises, not news organizations. When you accept incorrect evidence just because it "proves" your point, you contribute to a world where facts just don't matter. And I believe facts matter. If you don't have the evidence, wait until you do before going with the story. If your evidence is proved false, you better come up with other evidence, not just "well common sense tells you that X must be true." That's the road to the Donald Trumps of the world saying "a lot of people tell me..."

Anonymous said...

"In their haste to get it on the air CBS did not do as much due diligence as they usually diligently do. So the CBS producer and Dan Rather were crucified on technicalities."

No, that's not right at all. This was not a matter of technicalities in any sense of the word.

They based their report on a forged document. It was easily demonstrable that the document was forged based on the instrument it was typed on. It did not take the FBI to figure that out. That is way out of bounds for professional journalism.
Then they tried to support it with questionable sourcing. That's just very bad journalism.
Then they doubled down on the forged document, that they made no effort to verify. That's bad journalism.
(Even if you hate Bush, there is no other reasonable take on what actually happened)

To a certain extent, the immediate consequences of that journalistic lying, that's what it is, are immaterial, regardless of whatever George Bush did or didn't do back in 1972.

The issue here is the absolute debasement of journalism and objectivity. If you can justify what you believe with forged documents and ignore all the evidence to the contrary, then you can pretty much do anything journalistically - and at some point people will die and there will be all sorts of terrible consequences.

Dan Rather and Mary Mapes are certainly allowed to despise George Bush. They should not be allowed to practice journalism like that- no one should. Regardless of how much you think you are right or doing God's work.

And to call this "Truth" is as Orwellian as you can get. To use falsehoods to derive your version of the truth is not the truth, pure and simple.

John Dean-0 said...

I think it would be interesting to spend an afternoon at the ballpark with W., but beyond that, nothing about him interests me.

Cate and Meryl have long been equals, I think. Cate did pull off Bob Dylan so why not Julie Chen? Of course, none of that really matters, it's just hot stove stuff.

Redford and Nick Nolte recently co-starred in an entertaining 'little' flick about hiking the Appalachian Trail...A Walk in the Woods. Was a whole lot better than I had anticipated it would be.

blinky said...

Did this take place when news was still "Floods destroy a town" before it became "Floods destroyed your house, how do you feel about that?".

Katherine B said...

Then, as now, we allowed ourselves to be skillfully diverted away from what really mattered - that W went AWOL for a year.

norm said...

Where is your proof that W. was AWOL?, show me the proof not lies or forged docs.

Anonymous said...

Got to meet Dan Rather twice, when he came to the West Coast and did the evening news here. He was very charming, met with everyone, had his picture taken with any one who asked, including me, in the our conference room). At a client party held in the stations (radio and TV) patio, he charmed the pants off Ken Crane (owner of a large TV/home entertainment retail chain), a very dedicated conservative.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Friday question:

Elvis, famously, once said that he didn't like to make political statements because he was an entertainer.
In other words, why should he offend any one side because he wanted to appeal to as many people as possible.

Some Actors and Artists have made their money based on dividing people or taking sides.
Some Actors and Artists have ruined their careers speaking up.

I'm sure you've worked with an actor/director that decided to make statements or comments (or even take action) that may offend a segment of the population.
How did everyone else handle this situation on the show/movie/play since it could hurt the boxoffice or numbers?

Tom said...

Seriously,'re better than this. Despite all the conspiracy theories to the contrary, your hated Fox News would wither quickly if it weren't for the spate of "journalists" who are so eager to produce stories to support their worldview (Rolling Stone, anyone?) that they either get sloppy or even willfully ignore or fail to consider facts that would contradict their narrative. It's no surprise to me that news articles are traditionally called "stories" with all the fairy tales floating out there, and that just serves to build skepticism that bleeds over to legitimate, well sourced reporting.

Rod said...

Ken- Any good Ken Griffey Jr stories? Been hearing lots of Highlights on the local radio up here in Seattle since his election to the Hall of Fame--including a couple of your calls from back in the day. Best you've ever seen?

MikeN said...

Even funnier is how the movie contradicts the stories Mapes is telling.

In her book, she even denies that the font in the memo is Times New Roman. The movie somehow manages to get the name wrong, but they still drop this denial.

Before the broadcast, Burkett told Mapes that he had received the documents from an unknown source in the mail. He subsequently told Mapes that he had been given the documents by one George Conn, an assertion which Mapes was unable to confirm. After the broadcast, Mapes pressed Burkett on the source. Burkett served up his story involving “Lucy Ramirez.” In her memoir Mapes says: "I believed it was quite possible that Bill Burkett was finally telling the truth, the whole weird truth, and nothing but the truth.” The movie has Mapes rolling her eyes.
Even the filmmakers know this is silly.

Igor said...

Ken, a tweet by MLB Network Radio, "The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant now has 3 Hall of Famers" -

The plant or the Isotopes?

Andy Rose said...

Before you draw a Baroque portrait of Rather on his cross, you should really read "Who Killed CBS?" by Peter J. Boyer. At the very least, Rather fiddled while his organization burned around him, and much of the unpleasant picture drawn about the industry in "Broadcast News" is based on what was going on in the Rather-led CBS News of the 80s.

Now, on the all-important issue of hair... Rather's hair really was thick and wavy, except that was several years before the events of this story. He was still heavily blow-dried all the way through the 2000 election.

For some reason, he started cutting it short a few months after that, and then REALLY short around the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Redford is turning 80 this year!Hubbell has aged. I always found him to be interesting as both an actor and a director. Definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and refused to be pigeon-holed.I respect that. Janice B.

Glenn E said...

The blurred line between broadcasting and fraudcasting has continued for decades. Did anyone ever fact check whether Tina Delgado was really alive, alive? I rest my case.

Greg Ehrbar said...

"Nothing you see on TV is real! Not even the news!"
-Herbert R. Tarlek, husband of Lucille (Uh-huh! Uh-huh!) Tarlek

Anonymous said...

What can be gleaned from John Erlichman's philosophical, fairly dispassionate biography, "Witness to Power," is that Dan Rather was a careerist newsreader, who liked to be batshit crazy in his spare time. JE didn't have any professional problems with any of the White House reporters, except Dan.

In 1971, JE was invited for lunch with a couple of CBS producers after an interview. Unexpectedly, Richard Salant, president of CBS news showed up. JE figured the producers had invited him, and he was welcomed to the table.

During the course of conversation, Salant asked JE's opinion of their white house correspondents, one of whom was Dan. JE brought up one case in particular that Dan got ridiculously wrong, and all he had to do to get it right was to come see him for the background. Dan, unlike all the other major reporters, rarely scheduled appointments to go into depth on anything. JE recalled some reporters were almost professorial on how well they knew their subject matter, while others behaved like prosecuting attorneys, and he respected them all–except Dan, whom he almost never saw for an appointment, even though he was at the white house on a daily basis. He said Dan was either incompetent, or lazy. The other NBC white house correspondent, JE was fine with.

Slanant retorted that Dan had made his reputation covering a fierce hurricane in Texas. JE responded that reporting on a drowning horse was a very long jump to the white house.

The "off the record" story was "leaked" to a washington newspaper columnist, who reported that JE had accosted Salant, and in a fury demanded Rather be fired immediately. It was then carried by other major papers, including the NYT.

After a lot of after-the-fact checking, and interviews with Salant, all the papers agreed that JE had never done anything of the kind, retractions from all parties followed–except Rather, when he gave interviews. He kept repeating the false story, saying "nixon has always had it in for me." He was lying, and he knew it.

Right after JE's conversation with Salant, Rather began asking for, and receiving appointments, just like all the other reporters. This went on for a few weeks, then Rather stopped asking for appointments, unlike all the other white house press reporters. He may have felt frustrated with not being prepared for asking any substantive questions that implied that he knew his subject matter. He never did. JE felt Rather wasn't stupid. Just incredibly lazy. He just didn't want to read about subjects he was reporting on "in depth." If you don't like to read, it's hard to know what you're talking about.


Anonymous said...

According to JE, employees of CBS would occasionally confide in him that Rather was lazy, his reporting shoddy, and he depended on his producers exclusively to do what he should have been doing himself.

Also not known at the time was that, according to Tom Brokaw, CBS had made an offer to Brokaw to anchor the evening news, with plans to elegantly usher Rather out the back door.
Because of the initial news stories, and Rather continuing to lie after the retractions were given, CBS brass refrained from firing him, as it would look like the Nixon administration had ordered his firing, and CBS had done as they were orders.

One other unknown factoid was that after JE was released from prison, he began giving interviews. One a few occasions, he corrected reporters who still, thanks to Rather, believed the "incident" regarding JE demanding Rather's firing.

Soon after he got a call that his probation officer wanted to see him. Rather had personally called JE's parole officer, and threatened a lawsuit against JE if he kept claiming what Rather had said happened, never happened. Rather's intention was to pressure JE via the loss of his probation, via a threatened lawsuit JE knew Rather would never initiate.

JE responded that he wanted a list by the Parole Commissioner of what he could and couldn't say about Dan Rather, so that he wouldn't put his freedom in jeopardy again. His parole officer backed down, and he never heard from Rather via his parole officer again.

There is a TON of other bizarre stories regarding Mr. Rather. There are relatively few, if any about his peers at the time. It would make me wonder why.

It would also make me take pause before I tried saying something to the effect of "he was right, he just didn't have the evidence," as some kind of mitigating factor of Rather's probably pathology, that eventually destroyed his career, because I would be afraid of appearing ridiculous.