Monday , December 11 2017

Blanchett politically sensitive in ‘Truth’ – Movie re-ignites heated debate over ‘60 Minutes II’ scandal

Singer Carrie Underwood (left), and musician Brad Paisley participate in the Country Music Hall of Fame benefit concert at PlayStation Theater on Oct 6, in New York. (AP)
Singer Carrie Underwood (left), and musician Brad Paisley participate in the Country Music Hall of Fame benefit concert at PlayStation Theater on Oct 6, in New York. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Oct 7, (RTRS): Monday night’s screening of Sony Pictures Classics’ “Truth” at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences marked a one-year anniversary from the date when production for the Cate Blanchett-Robert Redford drama first started.

“I got a Facebook reminder today about it,” noted producer Brad Fischer on the red carpet. “It took us seven years from when we first came up with the idea. But the first day of shooting is by far the most memorable single thing about it.”

Blanchett admitted that the power of American politics and the story (which follows the unraveling of Mary Mapes and Dan Rather’s careers) made the movie an irresistible — and challenging — project.

“It’s very tricky to portray someone, warts and all,” she noted. “The influence of American politics is so pervasive, so I wanted to be very sensitive to that.”

The screening came two years after Sony, at the very same venue, premiered “Blue Jasmine” — in which Australian star Blanchett portrayed another New York-based American. “I never think about my nationality when I’m acting,” she mused.

For writer and new director James Vanderbilt, the event had a surreal feel. “I am in outer space right now,” he allowed.

As he introduced the film, a humble Vanderbilt acknowledged his good fortune in casting acting icons Blanchett and Redford, joking, “After winning an Oscar for ‘Blue Jasmine,’ the smartest thing to do would be to work with a first-time director.”

Treatment

The film is based on Mapes’ memoir, “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power,” which explores the 2004 “60 Minutes” story that used unverifiable documents to allege that then-President Bush had been given preferential treatment to land a spot in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968 and avoid serving in Vietnam.

Cast members Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid and Stacy Keach also attended the screening.

“Truth” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and the Sony Pictures Classics film opens on Oct 16.

Monday night’s screening was presented by Ketel One Vodka.

“Truth” is revisiting a painful chapter for CBS News. The upcoming movie, starring Blanchett as producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford as Dan Rather, is an unwelcome reminder of past mistakes for several people who lived through the saga of the 2004 “60 Minutes II” report on president George W. Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard.

Some who are depicted in the controversial film, which is based on Mapes’ 2005 book “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power,” are critical of the conclusions drawn by the veteran investigative journalist.

They were hopeful that the picture, would come and go quickly in limited release. But Blanchett is generating Oscar buzz as a best actress contender for her tour de force performance as the hard-charging producer swept up in a firestorm of partisan politics and media scrutiny of her work.

“It’s astounding how little truth there is in ‘Truth,’” a CBS spokesman said in response to Variety’s inquiry. “There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all. The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom. That’s a disservice not just to the public but to journalists across the world who go out every day and do everything within their power, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to get the story right.”

CBS’ ire and the response from the “Truth” filmmakers and distributor Sony Pictures Classics crystallizes the central debate about the incident that has been re-ignited by the film. Was the problem behind the “60 Minutes II” report an issue of corporate interference with the pursuit of a sensitive story? Or was it journalistic mistakes that compromised the reputation of a trusted news outlet and its primary public face, namely Rather?

“Although we understand CBS wants to put this episode behind them, it’s disappointing that they seem to be so concerned about our film,” “Truth” producers Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, writer-director James Vanderbilt (“Zodiac”), Brett Ratner, Doug Mankoff and Andrew Spaulding said in a statement.

“The events depicted in ‘Truth’ are still vigorously debated, and that’s a good thing. It’s a fascinating story at the intersection of politics, media and corporate America and features powerhouse performances from Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford and the rest of the cast. We hope people will see the film and judge for themselves.”

Spark

At a cast and filmmaker screening in Los Angeles Monday night, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker told the industry audience that while the movie would undoubtedly spark heated discussions about journalism, politics and betrayal, “first and foremost this is a movie to be experienced and enjoyed on a big screen.”

“Truth,” which marks Vanderbilt’s directorial debut, depicts the events surrounding the Sept. 8, 2004, “60 Minutes II” broadcast of an investigative report on Bush’s Guard service in the early 1970s. The segment was instantly attacked by critics questioning the authenticity of four vintage memos from Bush’s former commanding officer that were used to bolster the assertion that Bush shirked his duty during the Vietnam era.

The snowballing of specific challenges to the validity of the memos in the “blogosphere” spurred mainstream media outlets — including the New York Times, Washington Post and ABC News — to turn a sharp eye on the internal workings of CBS News. Amid the scrutiny of typefaces, fonts and memo protocols of the era, other figures from the period came forward to question the authenticity of the memos, while the original source who gave them to Mapes admitted he lied about how he had obtained them.

The fallout led to CBS ultimately retracting and apologizing for the report, after staunchly defending it for 10 days.

The network’s news division commissioned an independent panel to investigate what went wrong and how such questionable material wound up on the air. In the end, Mapes was fired and Rather stepped down as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” broadcast prior to the release of the panel’s report in January 2005.

The larger conclusion drawn about CBS’ response to the controversy and decision to appoint an independent panel has stirred the most passionate reaction from the principals.

In Mapes’ book and in the movie, the decision is painted as a politically and financially motivated move to help CBS make nice with the Bush White House and protect the corporate interests of its then-parent company, Viacom, in Washington.

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