Monday, October 10, 2016
"Truth" the Movie Version hits home
Some movies hit a nerve. If it has an element of historical fact and you already had some awareness and maybe even an opinion it can be compelling to watch. "Truth" amazed me in that it took up a sensitive topic and came out as the 2016 election is happening. In the movie we learn that the protagonist, producer, Mary Mapes had intended to do an investigation of George Bush's military service before the 2000 election, but her mother died and she was distracted. So here we are 16 years later and there is still some political life left in the story.
The story about the investigation made the news. I don't recall" 60 minutes" at the time, but do recall learning about the events in newspapers. Admittedly my inclination was the Republican party had misled Americans and were up to a lot of bad things. Much has confirmed my feelings since then. I remember watching John Kerry make his military salute, reporting for duty as he accepted the Democrat nomination. Not too long after the Swiftboat campaign started discrediting his military record. It has always concerned me that somehow a war hero was discredited while an actual non combatant was protected. That is the baggage I carried over to the movie.
Previously I had written about movie producers and this movie focuses on a television producer. Dan Rather was the key person in what I recalled, but the movie was told more from the point of view of the producer Mary Mapes. The viewer gets an inside view of the background to what appeared on the air.
At the end, Mary makes a speech to the effect the whole issue boiled down to fonts and some confusion over testimony instead of the "truth." What the truth actually was, I can only speculate, but I agree the truth was buried. As she put it, the core issue was that a privileged son was able to avoid going to Vietnam and that was never denied. She defended her integrity by pointing out that in order to fake the documents someone had to have intimate knowledge of procedures and personnel and after mastering all that detail use a Microsoft Word software program. The script suggested news has become entertainment rather than just news. More than entertainment it was part of a business.
I noticed at IMDB a lot of negative political comments, but they seem very partisan and in a way proved that power is afraid of the truth. I cannot vouch for every word in the script, but the general thrust is very easy to believe. I suspect there was some informal political boycotting.
The movie itself was well produced. They gave a good feel for newsrooms and also home offices. Actors were well chosen and directed. I didn't notice the music which I normally listen for, but it was there and supportive.
Special feature not only captured thoughts of the actors, director, writers and producers, but also of the real Mary Mapes and the real Dan Rather.
There does seem to be a concentration of media power. Ronald Reagan took steps that encouraged this development--public service requirement dropped and lowered restrictions on ownership concentration.
Mary Mapes wrote the book that inspired this movie. She was very articulate. After being fired (other participants were forced to retire) she was awarded for her coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal (perhaps a motive for how hard she had been hit). She felt she had to explain herself. More and more reporters felt they have to do the "safe" thing.
Dan Rather who was forced to resign also was very articulate. He noted that today's younger generation pays little attention to main stream news dismissing it as propaganda and sophistry. Trust must be earned. There is often a powerful person who doesn't want the truth to be known.
Robert Redford, an activist (noted by co-star Cate Blanchett) pointed out that if truth goes against power it can be crushed.
A few weeks ago I watched "Spotlight" which was about an extensive investigation into child abuse in the Catholic churches in Boston. One can appreciate that such efforts require a lot of manpower and runs up against powerful opposition. We are better for it and are in danger of losing such efforts.
Dan Rather had been accused of dropping one of his signature farewell words, "Courage" which he did revive with emphasis on his farewell broadcast. I interpret it to mean that we need courage to tell the truth. We lost a lot when Dan Rather was (relatively) silenced.
Writing this after the second debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump I caught a post on Facebook with commentary from Dan Rather. Watch the reader comments as they are mostly supportive of Dan Rather and I think he deserves the last word for this posr.