[Times reporter] Koblin memorializes Mary Mapes’s Bartlett’s-worthy quote from the Times love-in: “There is a tremendously strong perception that we bungled, bungled, bungled very badly. I think we were within the normal journalistic range of bungle.”
For “bungle” I would read “bias” and “malice,” and then concede Mapes may have been within the normal journalistic range of bungle at CBS News, and among Mapes’s fans at the Times.
If they tackled the NY Times movie review I can't find it. Spoiler Alert - the Times loved the movie and barely alerts the reader to possible problems with the intersection of this film and, well, reality, or at least those small slices that both parties still share.
Review: ‘Truth’ Treads a Perilous Political Tightrope
By STEPHEN HOLDEN OCT. 15, 2015
The title of “Truth,” a gripping, beautifully executed journalistic thriller about the events that ended Dan Rather’s career as a CBS anchorman, should probably be appended with a question mark. More than most docudramas about fairly recent events, it is so well written and acted that it conveys a convincing illusion of veracity.
Just as there are conspiracy theorists who will never be satisfied with the Warren Commission report on the Kennedy assassination, there are some who passionately believe that Mr. Rather and his producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) conspired to tarnish George W. Bush’s reputation.
Well, wait - are the people may be agnostic about their motivation but believe that CBS ran off the conventional journalistic rails by relying on non-authenticated documents also conspiracy kooks?
The Sept. 8, 2004, episode of “60 Minutes II” alleged that family connections enabled Mr. Bush to avoid the draft in the Vietnam era by serving in the Texas Air National Guard. After Ms. Mapes’s failure to authenticate documents indicating that Mr. Bush, during his term of National Guard service, was lax in his duties and went missing, she was fired, and Mr. Rather stepped down as anchorman.
Their defenders believe that Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes and her team were fed to the wolves for political reasons. The movie insinuates that CBS, to avoid further embarrassment and to curry favor with conservatives should Mr. Bush win the election, allowed it to happen. “Truth” doesn’t voice an opinion, and none of its characters express their political beliefs even in private. Still, its treatment of Mr. Rather, who exudes the stately aura of a grand old man, and Ms. Mapes, who was a kind of surrogate daughter, makes it perfectly clear whose side it takes.
Yes, and the reviewer makes his side clear as well:
“Truth” which tells Ms. Mapes’s side of the story, is sympathetic, but doesn’t try to exonerate her. Ms. Blanchett, in one of her greatest screen performances, offers a compelling portrait of a driven, high-strung television journalist fearlessly operating in a cutthroat professional climate. She is relentless in tracking down documents that appear to have been written in the early ’70s by Mr. Bush’s commander, Jerry B. Killian, who died in 1984. And when she finally secures an interview with Lt. Col. Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), an ailing National Guard veteran, who produces incriminating documents that seem to be authentic, her case momentarily seems airtight.
She fearless, she's relentless, and she made a little mistake. A bit later:
Ms. Mapes is the heart and soul of “Truth.” The family breadwinner, she lives in Dallas with her husband, Mark Wrolstad (John Benjamin Hickey), and young son. Ms. Blanchett plays her as fiery-eyed go-getter who pursued the story with a dogged ferocity. Her eyes flashing, she describes a tip linking Mr. Bush to the bin Laden family that went nowhere as “a juicy piece of brisket.”
But she wasn't anti-Bush, you conspiracy kooks.
The screenplay brings in her bitter relationship with her abusive father, whose unkind words about her after the scandal breaks incite savage, profane invective from the right-wing bloggers who call her “feminazi” and “witch.” Ms. Mapes has a thick skin but not so thick that she isn’t wounded by her father’s public scolding and asks him to stop speaking out.
And that is all we hear about savage, profane right-wing bloggers.
The reviewer inadvertently hints at one explanation for the collapse in journalistic standards:
In such a hypercompetitive environment, undercurrents of anxiety and tension of run deep. To combat the stress, a conspicuous amount of alcohol is consumed by both Mr. Rather and Ms. Mapes.
Drunk, stupid and anti-Bush is no way to go through life. But let's not lose sight of our heroes!
“Truth” doesn’t try to resolve mysteries that may never be solved or to drum up paranoia for the sake of extra heartbeats. But it still casts a pall of dread, an ominous sense that people in high places, whether in government or the news media, will stop at almost nothing to protect themselves and their interests. The retaliation against Ms. Mapes and her crew is similar to the smearing of the San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb after his articles about cocaine smuggling and the funding of Nicaraguan rebels by the C.I.A. That story, told in Michael Cuesta’s “Kill the Messenger” (2014), a lesser film than “Truth,” though still a powerful one, sends the same warning. Investigative journalism intended to upset the status quo can be dangerous and costly.
The mysteries are unresolved! And investigative journalism can be dangerous! Especially when people get all nit-picky regarding facts and authenticity.
Meanwhile, we still await the movie on the corporate interests and vested power that shut down NBC News after they aired the 1998 Juanita Broaddrick interview with Lisa Myers alleging Bill Clinton raped her. Of course, NBC waited until after the Senate had declined to convict Clinton, so who knows? And Lisa Myers did step down sixteen years later, so maybe the wheel of vengeance turned slowly. Oh, there I go with the conspiracies again...
BACK WHEN LIFE WAS LESS MYSTERIOUS: Here is some contemporaneous Times coverage of the Rather/Mapes debacle:
CBS Apologizes for Report on Bush Guard Service
After nearly two weeks at the center of a news media storm, Dan Rather and CBS News admitted yesterday that they could not authenticate four documents the network had used to raise new questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service and said the news report had been a "mistake in judgment."
Network officials said a former Texas National Guard officer had misled their producers about how he obtained the documents, which came under scrutiny almost as soon as the network broadcast its report on the CBS Evening News and "60 Minutes" on Sept. 8. While CBS stopped short of calling the memos a fraud, it said it could not now say for certain where the documents came from.
"Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report," said Andrew Heyward, the CBS News president.
The day's concessions were a sharp turnaround from more than a week ago, when CBS News officials and Mr. Rather, for decades the face of CBS News, were standing steadfastly by the report, dismissing days of accusations from document experts that the records were fakes produced on a modern computer.
Network officials yesterday admitted that the man who gave them the documents had lied about where he got them, and that inconsistencies in the cloak-and-dagger account he gave them in the past few days had left CBS unable to say definitively where they came from. Moreover, CBS was unable to reach the person the man identified as his source, Mr. Rather said .
In an interview broadcast on CBS last night, the former guardsman who gave the memos to the network, Bill Burkett, acknowledged that he had lied. Mr. Burkett told Mr. Rather that he had felt pressure from CBS to reveal his source, and so "simply threw out a name" to explain how he had come by the documents. He insisted he had not forged them.
And as a supplement to the primary debacle:
CBS Says Producer Violated Policy by Putting Source in Touch With Kerry Aide
CBS News said yesterday that the producer of its flawed report about President Bush's National Guard service violated network policy by putting a source in touch with a top aide to Senator John Kerry.
"It is obviously against CBS News standards and those of every other reputable news organization to be associated with any political agenda," the network said in a statement.
The source, wanted to talk strategy with some top people in the Kerry campaign, but no one would take his calls until CBS producer Mary Mapes intervened on his behalf. In an agenda-free way, of course.
Mr. Burkett told USA Today in an interview published yesterday that he had agreed to turn over the documents -- appearing to be from the personal file of Mr. Bush's squadron commander -- if the network would arrange a conversation with the Kerry campaign. CBS officials said they did not believe there was any such deal. But the network said in a statement that it was against its standards "to be associated with any political agenda" and that the matter would be investigated. It also publicly rebuked the "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes for putting Mr. Burkett in touch with Mr. Lockhart.
Mr. Burkett has said that the documents were not discussed, and that he wished only to make his case for a more aggressive strategy to defend Mr. Kerry's military service.
A decade has passed and the fog of memory has left the Times confused.