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.
Rather is still considered evil by some, and some have assumed this would be a simple exoneration of him and Mapes. But when you watch it it’s clear the film’s position is that it’s complicated.
Redford: They made their mistakes. There’s one scene where Burkett’s [the one who originally leaked the intel to Mapes] wife comes in and really reams them out. That’s terrific. They were desperate to get the story. That those flaws are in the film, that’s a good thing.
Blanchett: I don’t think it was Jamie’s nor the film’s ambition to exonerate them. They’re not held up as saints. It’s re-opening the closed book and saying, “Has this really been discussed? Have we really pulled this apart?” Dan did a few interviews prior to the Black Rock period, but I know Mary was completely shut down. She was given legal warning to not discuss it. She was silenced. There are a lot of perspectives that weren’t allowed to be debated. I don’t think the film takes sides, but I do think it reignites a debate that is important to have.
Redford: It opens up a moment in history that never got fully exposed.
I wanted to talk about the performances. In Mary’s case, she’s very human as she unravels, and very grouchy about it too.
Blanchett: I think she oscillated between rage and despair. It’s a journalist’s worst nightmare that some fact wasn’t fully checked.
Redford: And how hard it is to control yourself with those two emotions rolling around.
Blanchett: And particularly for Dan, because he had to maintain a composure and dignity and self-respect in front of the camera. Whereas Mary’s behind the camera, feeling for the man she reveres and admires and is deeply connected to, feeling that somehow she’s responsible for his downfall. That in a way is the biggest cross she feels she bears. There’s also a sense of the toxicity of the political atmosphere — that as soon as you embark on analyzing politics or raising questions, it’s attack politics. You get shut down, not only from a professional standpoint but also personally. Once it enters your personal arena, it’s OK to go after your family and your sexuality and rumors — stupid stuff, like she and Dan were having an affair. I wish! [Laughs]
Redford: That part’s been cut out of the film. It’s too bad.
Blanchett: I like those sex scenes. I thought they were necessary.