Cate Blanchett will enter this year’s Oscar race with another lead performance in James Vanderbilt’s Truth, about Mary Mapes, an award-winning news journalist who broke the Abu-Ghraib prison story. It was the same moment in history when Mapes and Dan Rather uncovered a story questioning whether George W. Bush may have gone AWOL from the National Guard during Vietnam. The story almost ended Rather’s career and altered the course of the election. If the Jeffrey Wigand 60 Minutes scandal didn’t take down CBS, this 60 Minutes story might have.
The film appears to center around Mapes as protagonist — why else cast Cate Blanchett — even if the bigger name, obviously, is Dan Rather, played by Robert Redford. Pic also stars Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid. It is being distributed by Sony Pics Classics.
My first thought is that all eyes are going to be on Vanderbilt and whether or not he can make a successful jump from writer to director, always tricky. My second thought is, can Robert Redford be believable as Dan Rather?
At any rate, here is the Wikipedia rundown of the scandal, as such:
Mary Mapes produced a segment for 60 Minutes Wednesday that aired criticism of President George W. Bush’s military service, supported by documents purportedly from the files of Bush’s commanding officer, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B Killian. Those documents had been delivered to CBS from Bill Burkett, who was a retired Lt. Colonel with the Texas Army National Guard. During the segment, Dan Rather asserted that the documents had been authenticated by document experts, but ultimately, CBS could neither confirm nor definitively refute their authenticity. Morever, CBS did not have any original documents, only faxed copies, as Burkett claimed to have burned the originals.
After the report was aired, it was immediately the subject of harsh criticism, primarily from the blogosphere, primarily due to the allegation that some of the documents referenced in the report were forgeries. As a result of the controversy over the use of the documents, CBS ordered an independent internal investigation. The panel in charge of investigation was composed of former governor of Pennsylvania and United States Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh and retired president and chief executive officer and former executive editor of the Associated Press, Louis Boccardi. The panel investigated the memo scandal, subsequently dubbed “Memogate” or “Rathergate.” Following the investigation, Mapes and others involved were accused of lapses in judgement and were fired.
Among the allegations in the 60 Minutes report were that Bush, the son of an ambassador, Congressman and future President, had received preferential treatment in passing over hundreds of applicants to enlist in the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam after he had graduated from Yale in 1968. Then-Texas Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes had admitted making phone calls to get Bush into the Guard, as he claimed to have done for the children of several other influential Texans.
The Thornburgh/Boccardi report, however, stated that some of Bush’s former instructors or colleagues had told Mapes that Bush had told them that he wanted to go to Vietnam, but that he could not go because there were others ahead of him with more seniority. Mapes was criticized for failing to air them in the 60 Minutes Report to balance the claim that Bush had enlisted in the Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam.
Mapes was also faulted for calling Joe Lockhart, a senior official in the John Kerry campaign, prior to the airing of the piece, and offering to put her source, Bill Burkett, in touch with him. The panel called Mapes’ action a “clear conflict of interest that created the appearance of political bias.” Mapes was terminated by CBS on January 10, 2005. Also asked to resign were Senior Vice President Betsy West, who supervised CBS News primetime programs; 60 Minutes Wednesday Executive Producer Josh Howard; and Howard’s deputy, Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy.
Mapes herself continues to deny any wrongdoing. She said that the authenticity of the documents had been corroborated by an unnamed key source and that journalists often have to rely on photo-copied documents as the basis for verifying a story. Further, Burkett admitted lying to Mapes and the 60 Minutes team regarding the source of the documents. Further, she suggested that she would have preferred to do more work on the story, but that her superiors, including CBS News president Andrew Heyward, pushed for the story to be aired on September 8. Mapes later claimed that she was the victim of a right-wing Internet smear campaign, and is dismissive of opinions that the Killian Documents are forgeries.
Karl Rove, assistant to President George W. Bush, called Mapes’ work “the gift that keeps on giving” due to the story’s lurid foundations and the apparent boost it gave to President Bush during his reelection campaign.
It’s probably no surprise that Karl Rove’s name comes up here. It is textbook Rove. He can be outsmarted if you can see him coming. Clearly, CBS did not.