Obviously Robert Redford has a lot to say about journalism. Back in the mid-’70s “All the President’s Men” helped fill journalism schools with those wishing to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. But Cate Blanchett, Redford’s co-star in “Truth,” is no slouch with opinions on today’s dire state of journalism. “Truth” reassesses the fate of Dan Rather, played by Redford, over after a “60 Minutes” story on George W. Bush’s alleged military service — a report whose veracity was quickly, and perhaps sloppily, called into question, leading to him being "asked" to resign. Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the segment’s producer, who went down with Rather. Still, neither think the film is a simple exoneration, even as it opens old wounds.
I’m a reporter, albeit an entertainment one, and this is a movie about reporters, albeit who are in news.
Robert Redford: So let’s start by talking about journalism.
Let's do it. This is has a lot say about what has changed in journalism since 2004.
Redford: I think journalism is essential for society, as I do art. I can’t imagine a society without art. Journalism is, I think, vital, and somehow always under threat. If journalism threatens the powers-that-be, you have a problem.
Cate Blanchett: But there’s a difference between random opinion and journalism. What this film describes is a landscape, back in 2004, when Dan and Mary found themselves in really unchartered waters with the opinionated blogosphere we take for granted now, and which in fact which dictates a lot of what happens in cultural and political arenas. These people are very powerful. It’s caused a terrible erosion in investigative journalism. The notion of long-form ideas, long-form journalism doesn’t really exist in television anymore, in the way it did when Mary and Dan were at CBS.
“Truth” was by made James Vanderbilt, who wrote the script for “Zodiac,” which, like this, shows how difficult it is to sift out the truth from an avalanche of facts.
Blanchett: What is interesting is that the story itself got lost. No one could see the forest for the trees. Mary and Dan are not in the legal professional, and they vetted the documents as best they could. If they’re guilty of anything they’re guilty of rushing. But by the time they could make their case, the horse had bolted. The blogosphere had taken over the details and dismantled the actual genesis of the story, which had long been socialized in Texas. It wasn’t just Mary and Dan who were aware of the question mark over Bush’s service. There’s a political charge around this particular story, because a lot of things during that political dynasty have not been processed. A lot of changes, visible changes, happened that have not been analyzed both in this country and globally.
Redford: Time is also a factor. One of the things I liked about Jamie’s script is they’re always racing against time, and how that affects behavior and how that affects work. You gotta meet that deadline. Time is not in your favor in the news cycle.
Blanchett: There are a lot of errors made in all walks of journalism, usually because of the time pressure. Does that warrant the punishment Mary and Don received?
Redford: And there’s the history. One of the things I like about this film is that history is always being revised. You think you know it, but then you get further down the road and it’s like, “Oh, Hamilton really didn’t do that.” “Jefferson, that’s not what happened.” I’m fascinated by history because it’s not set. This was a piece of history until now. You saw it one way and that was the way it was left. Now by opening up the story, it changes the historical point of view and that particular story.
Blanchett: History’s often told from the perspective of the victor. If you analyze history from the point of view of the so-called “failures,” it’s a very different landscape.