We’ve been looking at Robert Redford‘s long record as a producer, director, and/or star of several high-budget (and usually low-box-office) pieces of vintage Hollywood propaganda. His latest vehicle won’t be out until October, but if you look at the source material, at the comments he and others have made about the picture before and during its production, and at his own ideology as revealed in his previous films, you can get a pretty clear picture of what’s in store for us. He isn’t the producer or director, but he’s the star, and given the nature of the material, he surely wouldn’t have taken the role if he didn’t believe wholeheartedly in the picture and its message.
Truth: that’s its title. Written and directed by James Vanderbilt, it professes to set forth the facts about why Dan Rather, after 24 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News, was asked by the network to resign in 2005 in the wake of the so-called Rathergate scandal. Redford plays Rather; Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the 60 Minutes producer who was fired as a result of her involvement in the scandal and whose book, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, was the basis for Vanderbilt’s script.
A brief history of the scandal. It began with a set of documents that purported to cast an unflattering light on President George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard from 1968 to 1974. The documents came into Mapes’s hands and, on September 4, 2004, less than two months before the presidential election, were presented as authentic in a 60 Minutes segment on which Rather was the correspondent. The story began to collapse immediately – because the documents, bearing dates in the early 1970s, had plainly been typed many years later on a computer with proportional spacing. In other words, they were forgeries that only an idiot (or somebody born after the 1970s who’d never seen a typewritten page from that decade) would fall for. Yet even as the criticism mounted, Rather and Mapes stubbornly kept maintaining that the documents were genuine.
At first CBS backed them up; on September 20, however, the network reversed itself. An independent review panel was formed, and in the end it criticized CBS severely for having spent more than two weeks defending the indefensible. From the beginning, of course, critics charged that Rather and others at CBS News had aired the National Guard story because they wanted to dent Bush’s chances of re-election; Rather, of course, denied this. And Mapes, in her book and elsewhere, dismissed the entire issue of proportional spacing, claiming that members of the “Bush camp” had disingenuously raised “really obscure type-face issues” to convince ignorant Americans that the documents had been forged. The “Bush camp,” she argued, was intent on “sliming anyone who raised questions about the president.”
This, then, is the “truth” that Redford’s forthcoming movie (which, by the way, Rather himself has enthusiastically promoted) will apparently present. On the contrary, the movie’s “truth” is the very opposite of the truth: whatever one may think of George W. Bush, the fact is that Rather and Mapes were the ones who were engaged in “sliming,” using transparently fake documents to try to smear him – and then, when countless people who had nothing to do with Bush reacted publicly to the manifest fakeness of the documents, turning around and claiming that his “camp” had been involved in “sliming” them.
The entire premise of the film is that Rather and Mapes lost their jobs because they’d stood up for the truth; in reality they lost their jobs as just payment for clinging to a lie.
How can Redford involve himself in such a project? Because for him, as one after another of his movies has richly demonstrated, the concept of “truth” isn’t about real truth – about, that is, the hard facts. It’s about the “higher” truth – the revealed truth, as it were – that emerges when you look at the world through the lens of the ideology that has made Redford, for decades, such a splendid stooge for the likes of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And it’s clear that Dan Rather, when viewed by Redford through that lens, is on the side of the angels.