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In-Depth Interview: Filmmaker James Vanderbilt on TRUTH, Story of Dan Rather’s Firing from CBS

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James Vanderbilt, producer/writer/director of Truth, talks about the controversy over Bush’s National Guard stint that got Dan Rather fired.The feature film Truth opens nationwide this week, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as producer Mary Mapes.

Your humble host followed these events very closely, and considers the film to be quite accurate and very entertaining.  Having worked for CBS Radio in Chicago and San Francisco for a total of 8 years, I’d say Vanderbilt has captured the CBS corporate culture remarkably well–especially the suits in the news division.

In 2004, as John Kerry’s Vietnam war service was being “Swift-boated” by well-financed smears, many of us in the media raised questions about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.  The film shows that Rather and Mapes rushed a story to the air, only to discover that their work had been booby-trapped by a document that may have been forged.  Under great political pressure, CBS caved in, and ultimately fired Mapes, some executives, and their top anchor, Rather.  For me, their reporting was correct, but the document was used to dismiss the whole story.

Vanderbilt’s film is rich with details, but does not reach a conclusion.  It allows viewers to weigh the evidence presented, while vividly replaying those moments in our recent history.  While I’m not a movie critic, I think Blanchett’s performance is Oscar-worthy; Redford’s portrayal was good, but never got beyond “that’s Redford playing Rather”.  You may be surprised to learn where most of the film was shot.