I just watched the trailer for Robert Redford’s latest film, “Truth,” due out October 16. The film depicts the 2004 forged documents scandal that ended journalist Dan Rather’s career with CBS. Redford stars as the newsman.
The movie is based on the book “Truth and Duty: the President, the Press, and the Privilege of Power” by Mary Mapes, the former “60 Minutes” producer who also lost her job over the fake National Guard memos.
Allow me to briefly summarize the shoddy journalistic practices employed at CBS, about which an entire book could be written, for the benefit of those too young to remember Rathergate. For starters, the scandal should really be called Mapesgate because Mapes was primarily responsible for the unethical behavior at CBS. She was absolutely obsessed with the idea that President George W. Bush shirked his duty in the Texas Air National Guard, which she just knew to be true. How fortunate Mapes was to meet a man named Bill Burkett, who happened to provide her the proof she had always wanted.
Sadly, Burkett suffered from the world’s first confirmed case of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Besides having once had a nervous breakdown, he had also advanced other baseless accusations against Bush during the 2000 campaign as well as when he was governor of Texas. Burkett claimed to have documents revealing that young Lieutenant Bush had gone AWOL in 1972, though he kept changing his story as to where he got them. Mapes fell in love with the documents and rushed them to air, despite the fact the network’s own expert would not vouch for them.
In a clear case of coordination, Mapes then called strategist Joe Lockhart, a high-ranking consultant with the Democratic Kerry campaign, to ask him if he’d be interested in talking to Burkett. Totally unethical. She should have been fired just for that. Even Mapes’s own father said of her:
I’m really ashamed of my daughter, what she’s become. She went into journalism with an ax to grind, that is, to promote feminism — and radical feminism, I might say — and liberalism.
Just don’t accuse Mapes of having an agenda. She hates that.
Within hours of the broadcast, sharp-eyed Americans noticed that the memos appeared to have been written using Microsoft Word. Although Mapes and Rather stubbornly refused to admit that they were forgeries, both were eventually canned.
Mapes was lucky enough to get a book deal out of it. I didn’t waste my time or money reading it, but apparently the gist of it is — stop me if you’ve heard this one — that she’s the victim, that she was just speaking truth to power, and that the story was solid even if it was based on false documents. That may sound silly, of course, but people have to understand that in those days dissent wasn’t racist, it was the highest form of patriotism. And by dissent, I mean making crap up to swing an election.
That’s the book that will soon be dramatized on the big screen. Am I the only one in America who’s tired of Hollywood enshrining lies in our collective history through the use of propagandistic movies?
Too many of us learn about history through cinema, a pitfall we should all try to avoid. We shouldn’t confuse movies for depictions of actual historical events. Besides the fact that they’re meant to entertain, most of them are also made by loony leftists.
In that regard, “Truth” reminds me of another cinematic abortion released five years ago called “Fair Game,” which supposedly told the story of Joe Wilson and his CIA officer wife Valerie Plame. Its depiction of events was so far removed from reality that it can only be called fiction.
When the Washington Post asked Joe Wilson about the film’s veracity, he said something very telling in its defense — “For people who have short memories or don’t read, this is the only way they will remember the period.” How’s that for honesty? I think what he’s saying is that even though “Fair Game” may not align with the historical record, in time it will become the historical record. People who just didn’t pay much attention to the story, or were born after the fact, will conjure up images of “Fair Game” when they think of Plamegate.
And they will think that they saw events as they really happened. What a terrible disservice.
In real life, Joe Wilson was sent by his wife Valerie Plame to Niger to investigate reports that the Iraqi government was purchasing or attempting to purchase uranium. In July 2003, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times saying that he hadn’t found any evidence to support that conclusion. Shortly thereafter, columnist Robert Novak mentioned Wilson’s wife’s name in an editorial, thus blowing her CIA cover. Wilson and others jumped to the conclusion that the White House was punishing him for his stand against the Iraq War. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate the leak. He actually already knew at the beginning of the investigation that the perp was Richard Armitage, second in command at the State Department and a critic of the Iraq War. Fitzgerald launched an investigation into a question to which he already knew the answer, and eventually tripped up White House aide Scooter Libby, who lied under oath about the matter. Libby went to prison while Armitage was never even charged.
Who plays Armitage in the film? No one. He never appears on screen and his name appears only in a textual epilogue. Also, Libby is the leaker and he did it to put Plame’s life in jeopardy. In other words, the real story of the Plame leak was scrapped in favor of a fantasy. In time, few will remember that it isn’t true.
No film has used subterfuge to influence public opinion about an historical event quite like Oliver Stone’s 1991 blockbuster “JFK.” It supposedly tells the true story of District Attorney Jim Garrison of New Orleans, the only man ever to charge anyone for President Kennedy’s murder. As it turns out, the man he put on trial, businessman Clay Shaw, also happened to be innocent. The case Garrison’s office assembled against him was a textbook example of reckless prosecution. After a lengthy trial, the jury deliberated for just 54 minutes before returning a verdict of not guilty.
But that’s not how Stone tells the story. In Stone’s film, Garrison is the hero. His investigation meets stiff resistance from the federal government, presumably because Kennedy’s killers are still very much in power. The assassination is a conspiracy of epic proportions, involving top military brass, defense contractors, the CIA, FBI, Dallas Police, Vice President LBJ, anti-Castro Cubans, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and even the President’s own Secret Service. Lee Oswald not only didn’t act alone, he didn’t act at all. Just a patsy. Oswald was conveniently “sheep-dipped” to look like an unstable Marxist then placed in proximity to the murder so the real killers could make a clean get-away.
The Chicago Tribune editorialized:
The danger is that Stone’s film and the pseudo-history it so effectively portrays will become the popularly accepted version.
Very true, and there’s no doubt that Stone intended to make his film an historical reference that would guide public memory of the assassination. Released with the film was a companion book sent to thirteen thousand teachers across the country. To think that any teacher would present the film to her class as truth! But I’m sure some did and do.
Stone offered an insight into his thinking in an introduction he wrote for a book by Fletcher Prouty, the archetypal crackpot and basis for the mysterious Mr. X character portrayed in “JFK.” Wrote Stone: “Who owns reality? Who owns our history? He who makes it up so that most everyone believes it. That person wins.”
Clearly, the truth isn’t nearly as important to Stone as being the master of the narrative, a task made all the more easy when you happen to be a big Hollywood director with a movie studio at your fingertips. The rest of us aren’t so lucky.
History matters. It matters enough that Hollywood should make an effort to tell the story the way it really happened, or at least to label fiction as such. In the meantime, it’s up to the rest of us to watch historical films with a discerning eye.
Cross-posted at Patriot Update