It’s not that much about Truth actually. A far better title for this TV-news melodrama would be Clearing Mary Mapes, who was the CBS producer whose story about George W. Bush’s Vietnam military “career” led to her and Dan Rather’s downfalls. The movie prompts us to be indignant with Viacom, the parent company of CBS News, who threw Mapes and Rather under a bus, and such anger deserves airing, but maybe not with all the journalistic self-sanctification this movie exudes. A final disclaimer, standard in motion-picture credits, acknowledges that the film is based on real events, though narrative liberties were taken.
That kind of misrepresentation, slight though it may be, has enormous bearing on the film’s self-righteousness. Toward the end, Mapes (Cate Blanchett) makes a pretty speech to a panel of Viacom stooges about her absence of political bias, the clearheaded goal her 60 Minutes piece maintained: investigating whether Bush faked details of his time in the Texas National Guard. Her critics were trying to discredit her news team with accusations of bias and incompetence leading them into conspiracy webs. The story was all that ever mattered, she claims.
But that story is missing from this reenactment, too. This is a movie about ambition; I don’t doubt Mapes and company were onto something. Perhaps they were misled and then crucified. But the film, beautifully shot and directed by James Vanderbilt, and based on a book by Mapes, tucks Bush behind Mapes’s saga, including a father-daughter story about physical abuse. She talks about her critics “hitting” her frequently.
This is not, as you might have assumed, a Dan Rather saga and is not much of a Robert Redford movie, either. Worse, it isn’t ultimately concerned with what Bush did. Mapes, the movie tells us, has not held a job since 2004 but apparently hasn’t pursued the story further on her own. All we know is that her career took a big hit, and that’s the most truth we ever learn.