Finally, we get a film that tackles one of the most ignored crimes in media today: the death of real journalism. As someone who has a degree in journalism, who's baffled by how top ten lists (as fun as they are to read and write) have taken the place of actual articles, I often find myself frustrated by not the popularity of fluff pieces but the demotion of traditional articles. Further, these long-form, researched pieces aren't even read word for word. Millenials, who make up most online pageviews, are reading every other sentence (or paragraph in some cases) specifically to find something to pick apart--usually something so petty and unrelated to the piece that it's almost laughable to learn that their criticism of a story they didn't actually read soon becomes the basis of a think piece that is more widely read and garners more traffic than the original story. Go figure.
Which brings us to TRUTH, the new film that addresses this very issue by presenting its effects on a real-life journalism story. You may remember Rathergate back in 2004, the highly publicized controversy swirling around a story veteran CBS anchor Dan Rather reported that disputed the veracity of former President George W. Bush's military service in the Texas Air National Guard back in the 60s. A serious accusation in the midst of Bush's already divisive presidency that sparked a conversation about not Bush's validity, but rather the documents used to help prove the story that apparently had questionable typographical symbols that didn't exist in the 60s. Typographical symbols, people. Not the possibility that someone lied about Bush being in the military, but about type symbols. The case spiraled so dramatically that story producer Mary Mapes's politics were brought to question in a formal board (after which she was fired), Rather later stepped down from his 43-year CBS throne, and several other producers lost their jobs.
Yet still to this day no one has been able to disprove the story about Bush. And it seems no one even cared to conduct that investigation. Because it was more important to scrutinize and sell papers with stories about typographical symbols.
There is a great scene towards the end of the film when Mapes (Cate Blanchett) is sitting opposite the aforementioned board (led by Dermot Mulroney), having to answer a barrage of questions unrelated to her story when she throws down all her cards with a speech that reveals her frustration over where the story had come and where it never will go. I'm sure that is the scene we'll all see through award season, and it is also the best scene of the movie. At least, that's what I thought was the most interesting thing about the movie: its commentary on modern journalism. The actual plot, while wonderfully delivered and portrayed by the entire cast (including Robert Redford as Rather), was frankly akin to a really great episode of HBO's The Newsroom. Don't get me wrong, I loved The Newsroom, but there is something to be said about a big screen high-profile film that could also be a very close cousin of a TV show.
The pace of TRUTH is excellent, and keeps you at the edge of your seat from beginning to end. While writer/director James Vanderbilt's music choices are often ostentatious, his direction was solid and he gets extra cool points for bringing Mapes's own book to the big screen. Is it a great film? No, but it definitely deserves to be talked about.
TRUTH is in select theaters October 16.
Watch the trailer: