Dan Rather has publicly endorsed the accuracy of Truth (2015), a film version of Mary Mapes’ book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Truth tells the story of Mapes' (played by Cate Blanchett) and Rather’s (played by Robert Redford) last days at CBS News amidst the Killian documents controversy in 2004. At a Q&A panel after a screening of the film in New York City in October 2015, Rather told the audience that the picture is “a very accurate film rendition of Mary's book" and is "very accurate to what happened." Mary Mapes seconded that sentiment, adding, “I'm thrilled with the movie. It is very much my truth, and I think to a great deal Dan's truth, and the truth for the people who worked on this story for us.”
On September 8, 2004, during an episode of 60 Minutes II produced by Mary Mapes, Dan Rather reported on a story that former President George W. Bush's family pulled strings in the early 1970s to get Bush "Jr." into the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid him being sent to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Rather and Mapes and their reporting team relied, in part, on a set of documents later referred to as the Killian documents, which were critical of Bush's time in the National Guard. The 2004 broadcast ignited a social media storm, particularly with right-wing groups in the "blogosphere," challenging the authenticity of the documents and claiming they were forgeries because the documents contained certain typographic elements (namely a super-script and proportion-spacing) that they argued were not available in typewriters in 1973 when the documents were supposedly created. Mapes and her team argued that the documents could not be authenticated because they were copies, the originals ostensibly being burned by the messenger after faxing copies of the documents to CBS, but that lack of authentication did not mean that the documents were fake. During the Q&A, Mapes asserted, "We do know now that typewriters [in 1973] did all the things that they did" in the documents. As a result of the controversy surrounding the authenticity of the documents and the reporting of the story, CBS News terminated Mapes as 60 Minutes producer and forced Dan Rather to step down as anchor on 60 Minutes after his decades-long career as one of world's preeminent and most well-respected investigative journalists.
Rather describes the events following the 2004 CBS News broadcast as the "darkest period" in his professional career as an investigative journalist. Despite the negative consequences resulting from their reporting of the story, Rather and Mapes nevertheless believe the story needs to be told.
“I have no illusions that this will probably be in the first paragraph or no later than the 2nd paragraph of my obituary,” Rather said. “That's the way life goes. I have no regrets about it. I certainly have some regrets about some of the mistakes we made in the process of getting to the truth. I hope that whether you agree with the film or like the film or agree with my work or not, I think it's important to understand that we reported a true story. In the process of getting to the truth, the two basic truths being the first that former President George W. Bush did get into the so-called "champagne" unit of the Air National Guard through political influence; that's a fact. The second is after he got into the guard, after making himself a pilot in very quick time, a very good one, that he disappeared. That's fact two. Nobody disappears from the U.S. military for a year. Those two central facts were part of the truth that we reported.”
Rather and Mapes have no doubt the information they were reporting needed to be reported. The whirlwind media storm that engulfed the core issues came at the expense of their careers with CBS, and Mapes’ book is her way of shining a light on how that happened, and how the truth they were trying to report got shuttered under the details of the controversy.
Rather reflects on his reporting of the story, “We did make mistakes in getting to that truth and I can look back and say ‘might've, could've, should've,’ but this film is accurate. A film called Truth should be accurate. It's very accurate to Mary's book and it's very accurate of what happened.”
Mapes also offered her feelings on what she hopes people take away from the film. “What I hope this movie does is make people think,” she said. “What happened to us and what happened at the essence of this story is that very powerful people were able to twist what we had done to blame us, make us look bad and basically rub us out. We had a media that to a great extent went along with it and still does. In some cases they still report that the documents were forgeries despite that fact that 11 and a half years later nobody was able to prove that definitively. So, I want people to think about what really happened. If there's anything that gives me peace about this movie is that this is what happened. It was not easy. The story was not done as a throwaway or without great thought or without hugely hard work. And it was done by people who cared profoundly about journalism, not about politics, but about truth. I want people to think about that and I really want people to think about what kind of news they want. One of the things I count myself tremendously lucky being able to do is that I have spent years with this guy (refers to Dan). And, Dan, I'm going to brag on you, we're not going to see this type of reporter and anchor and figure again. We're not. So take a good look and listen. This is the guy who strapped himself to a tree in a hurricane, and he was just starting. I worry that there is too much emphasis on mini-scandals and, as Dan’s character says [in the movie] you can get better ratings if you interview people from the show Survivor rather than survivors of genocide. That's wrong. I don't know of a better time in our history when it's as important for us to be well-informed about news overseas because that's where we fight our wars. That's where we lose our citizens. That determines all kinds of things about our world and I really wish there was more coverage of that.”
To that end, Rather also hopes the film can shed light on the way powerful individuals in business and the government manipulate the media. "They want the news for their benefit, not in the public interest," Rather says.
Not everyone is going to agree with Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, and/or the film’s perpsective on the events that have been nicknamed “Rathergate.” Yet, with the filmmakers using Mapes’ book as the source material for their approach to the narrative, the film’s shade of the truth is naturally inclined to reflect that of the parties involved. And to them, it does a fine job.