Dan Rather Endorses Accuracy of Film About Rathergate

AP Photo/Evan Agostini
AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Former CBS News anchor Dan Rather has endorsed the accuracy of Truth, a film which tells the story of his own downfall in what has come to be known as Rathergate.

Dan Rather spoke to the Hollywood Reporter prior to the films world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, saying, “Naturally I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised. This film is very accurate. A film called Truth should be accurate.” Rather also praised Robert Redford’s performance in the film. Redford play Rather and the part of his producer Mary Mapes is played by Cate Blanchett.

THR reports that Rather became choked up when a member of the audience asked if he would have done anything differently if given a second chance. “Journalism is not an exact science,” Rather replied, adding there were “plenty of things I would do over.” Despite his desire to do things differently, Rather still maintains, “We reported a true story. And there has never been any doubt the story was true.”

Truth is based on the book by Rather’s producer Mary Mapes. Mapes put together a splashy 60 Minutes report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service by relying on documents delivered to her by Bill Burkett. Burkett gave multiple stories for how he came by the documents, eventually claiming the files of deceased Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian came to him via a woman named Lucy Ramirez.

Almost as soon as the documents were published, observers noticed that they appeared to have been generated on a word processor rather than a mid-70s typewriter. CBS News staunchly defended the story for 12 days but was eventually forced to admit that, contrary to claims made in the story itself, no one had verified the authenticity of the documents. Indeed, the expert contacted by a review panel determined the documents were fraudulent. Their alleged source, Lucy Ramirez, was never identified by any of the news organizations that looked for her. She appears to be fictional.

In all, the investigation launched at CBS’s request in the wake of the story’s collapse found, “10 serious defects in the preparation and reporting of the story that included failure to obtain clear authentication of the documents or to investigate the controversial background of the source of the purported documents.”

In addition, Mary Mapes was faulted for “calling Joe Lockhart, a senior official in the John Kerry campaign, prior to the airing of the piece.” The report found this contact with a political campaign, “created the appearance of political bias.” Adding to that appearance is the fact that Mapes knew before the story aired that Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.

For their involvement in the sloppy, unverifiable story, Mapes and three other CBS executives were fired. Dan Rather was not fired but was demoted (he chose to step down) from his anchor role at CBS and made a correspondent. And yet, despite all of this, here is how the Hollywood Reporter describes the film:

In the film, Rather and producer Mapes are depicted as crusading journalists whose story is attacked by critics with a political agenda… The clear suggestion in the movie is that Rather and Mapes were fired to appease the Bush White House and to protect the CBS financial bottom line.

Only in Hollywood is Rathergate the story of honest journalists taken down by corporate greed. One wonders if, ten years from now, someone will produce a film about Rolling Stone‘s UVA rape story in which Sabrina Erdely is a crusading journalist taken down by the fraternity-education complex.


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