As journalistic stories go, this is no All the President’s Men, but that’s not really a put-down. It’s interesting and well-made, but the bottom line is, what’s at stake here is really not all that Earth-shattering. Will Dan Rather be disgraced and have to resign? Um … color me not too damn worried.
The story here concerns one of the nastiest dirty tricks I have ever heard of in politics. In the 2000 presidential election, someone cobbled up a very convincing document that purported to show how George W. Bush got into the National Guard (and thus out of combat in Vietnam) through his family’s political connections. That was bad enough, but it also indicated that W. basically blew off even that cushy assignment, getting terrible ratings from his superiors and then not even showing up. CBS news broke the story … and then it all went to hell. The document’s authenticity was questioned, and before long careers were hanging (like a dangling chad a few months later) on whether or not the character “th” was available on typewriters when the document was dated. In the end, Dan had to broadcast a retraction, and eventually resigned. The producer of the story, Mary Mapes, was fired. And the Republicans really chowed down on the story, screaming that it was proof of the liberal media’s bias against all things holy. I doubt that it really affected the outcome of the stolen election of 2000, but it presaged things like the “Swift Boat” character assassination of John Kerry four years later.
And the huge irony is, it was all true! W. really did get into the Guard through the intervention of powerful friends. He really did blow it all off. You almost have to admire the sheer balls it took to pull off that double feint.
Dan Rather is played by Robert Redford, which is a bit of a stretch, to me. Cate Blanchett is great, as always, as Mary Mapes. It is worth seeing, but not a great movie.