According to The Atlantic and IMDb, “Truth,” written and directed by first-time director James Vanderbilt, opened in theaters across the U.S., on Oct. 30, 2015. The film is a newsroom drama. It is based on a scandal that trapped the CBS News network and one of its news producers, Mary Mapes. As reported by The Atlantic, Mapes, in an episode of her news-based show, “60 Minutes Wednesday,” covered former President George W. Bush’s military responsibilities at the Texas Air National Guard during the early 1970s.
The controversial coverage cast Bush in a bad light. The telecast, anchored by Mapes’ friend, Dan Rather was aired just before the 2004 Presidential election. According to The Independent, the show accused Bush of shirking his military responsibilities during the Vietnam War. Allegedly, he was easily able to enter the Texas Air National Guard, due to his father’s influence. There, he successfully received preferential treatment, as reported by The Telegraph. The allegations were based on a report written by Bush’s commander Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian. It contained personal statements made by him about the would-be-President’s dishonest behavior. The report was entitled the Killian documents.
The film was inspired by Mapes’ book entitled, “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.” The movie had a prominent star cast, including Cate Blanchett as the protagonist, Mary Mapes; Robert Redford as Dan Rather; Dennis Quaid as Lt. Col. Roger Charles; Stacy Keach as Lt. Col. Bill Burkett; Topher Grace as Mike Smith; and Elisabeth Moss as Lucy Scott.
The on-screen adaptation of Mapes’ experience at CBS News was met with mixed responses. Blanchett delivered a brilliant performance as a crusading journalist, according to The Telegraph. Further, the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival showcased it as part of its line-up of movies, according to Cinema Blend. Still, neither the actress nor the film received any nominations for the Oscars. This was due to the unanimously negative consensus the movie, “Truth” garnered.
The critics slammed the film for depicting an unconfirmed truth that would have been better left unsaid. According to The Atlantic, the Killian documents, which formed the basis for Mapes’ allegations against Bush, were discredited and considered fraudulent. This forced both Mapes’ and Rather’s exit from CBS News. The fraudulent aspect, which the movie “Truth” solely focused on, was that some of the documents had used a typing style non-existent in the 1970s.
The argument, according to Consortiumnews, was that a part of the gathered evidence was produced in superscripts, such as writing a small th, or st, after a numeral. This was only possible using the contemporary Microsoft Word, and not with the IBM Selectric typewriters that were prevalent during those days. At face value, this revelation strongly challenged Mapes’ investigation and cast doubt on her abilities as a journalist. It appeared that she was unaware that such typeface possibilities were non-existent during the 1970s and considered the documents to be genuine.
However, in contrast, it served to lend authenticity to the reporting done by Mapes and her team. According to Consortiumnews, the IBM Selectric typewriters of the 1970s were very much capable of producing superscripted font, a fact unearthed in later investigations.
Instead, Vanderbilt’s directorial vehicle fell flat on its face due to something else, which reiterated that the newsroom drama tried telling an unconfirmed truth that would have been better left unsaid. The film was unable to choose the right reasons for pointing fingers at an important man and sustain its claims. Attacking a former President of the United States definitely calls for some concrete and extensive homework. This appeared to be missing entirely from the movie.
It showed that Mapes’ own research was unable to look beyond the typeface realities of the Killian documents, as legitimate proof of her accusations against Bush. Moreover, even the Thornburg-Boccardi panel, the fact-finding committee formed to question Mapes, was focused on the same typeface realities as the only basis of its investigation and concluded they had been forged. The only reality being that the Killian documents were undoubtedly fraudulent, but due to causes other than the typeface controversy. This was something that the movie, “Truth,” failed to show, in the words of William Campenni while speaking to The Daily Signal.
Campenni was a retired engineer and pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. He served the airbase for 33 years, including the period from 1970-74, when Bush was there. Both of them reported to the same squadron commander, Killian. According to Campenni, one major flaw in the documents pertains to the erroneous use of the acronym, OETR.
The actual acronym used in 1973 was OE/TR, or Officer Effectiveness/Training Report. Campenni first noticed the error on a website created by a blogger with Democratic leanings, Paul Lukasiak, in 2004. The website had a full chapter named, “The OETR Scam,” which contained a record of Bush. It was labeled, “Notice of Missing or Correction Of Officer Effectiveness / Training Report,” which, according to Campenni, was a multi-use sheet for both OERs and training reports.
Inexperienced Lukasiak did not notice that a punch-hole in the report had omitted the virgule (slash), and misunderstood it as an Officer Effectiveness Training Report and created an OETR. Campenni initially dismissed it as a typo. However, when the acronym again popped-up in the controversial CBS segment, it raised the retired engineer’s eyebrows. It reminded him that the OETR might have acted as an inroad for other errors in the Killian memos. Most prominent among them were the referring to the airbase guardsmen by their Air Force serial numbers, used in 1973, instead of their Social Security Numbers, in 2004. There was an invalid order demanding Bush, already a trained pilot, to appear for a physical examination, and even asking him to report on dates when the airbase was closed. This was apart from Campenni’s personal knowledge of Killian and his behavior.
On the other hand, Mapes and her team could have performed better by displaying prudence in reporting. She also, despite being a senior correspondent with a high degree of journalistic intellect and investigative acumen, was unable to spot the punched out virgule in the report’s name. This made her appear no less observant than an inexperienced Lukasiak, who created the website, and Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, who supplied the memos to CBS News, according to The Daily Signal.
Even though it remained unclear if Bush exhibited dishonest behavior during his military service training, the evidence Mapes gathered and reported against him was an unconfirmed truth, that would have been better left unsaid.
Opinion by Bashar Saajid
Edited by Jeanette Smith
The Atlantic: Truth: A Terrible, Terrible Movie About Journalism
INDEPENDENT: Truth, film review: Similarities with Spotlight but it’s a dramatic muddle
CINEMA BLEND: Why CBS Doesn’t Like Robert Redford’s Dan Rather Movie
The Telegraph Truth Review: ‘Cate Blanchett is on the form of her life’
Consortiumnews.com: The Dark Truth in the Movie ‘Truth’
THE DAILY SIGNAL: The Truth About Dan Rather’s Deceptive Reporting on George W. Bush
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