50,000 American boys died in Vietnam. How many came from wealthy families?
The philosophical chasm permeating our country’s political process will dictate whether you like or condemn this film. As most of you know, Director James Vanderbilt’s Truth describes the events that took place in 2004 that led to the resignation of Dan Rather from CBS News.
Based on a book written by Mary Mapes, the producer of “60 Minutes” at that time, the movie examines the controversy surrounding an exposé appearing on the eve of the presidential election. In summary, the news story claimed that President Bush used political influence to both join the Texas National Guard and to subsequently ignore his obligations to that unit. Though the story was initially praised, it was immediately attacked as being based on flawed documentation. The movie explores how this controversy led to the destruction of many careers at CBS.
I have never been a Dan Rather fan, though Robert Redford does a splendid job playing him as an uncomplicated man. His mantra, courage, was what defined his approach to the news, and it is worth noting that he never let his professional dedication interfere with a snort of whiskey if it was available.
But the movie centers around the performance of the great Cate Blanchett, here playing Ms. Mapes. Ms. Mapes was in charge of putting the Bush story together from a factual standpoint, and her great mistake was trusting sources that readily backtracked under immense political pressure.
Ms. Mapes has never worked in news since being fired by CBS, and many diehard Republicans still criticize her for using “fraudulent” documents. It is tragic that those critics continue to ignore the fact that the documents have never been proven to be forgeries. They also choose to forget that Ms. Mapes won the Peabody Award in 2004 for the exposé on Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Watching the film, it is hard to question the sincerity of the “60 Minutes” crew. Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss are fun to watch as they tried to assist Ms. Mapes in an effort to verify this explosive story. The entire matter fell into their lap based on documentation that was admitted copies of the missing originals, and you are left wondering if the problem with the newscast was that it simply headed in the wrong direction.
Quite frankly, the heart of this film does not center on whether President Bush used influence to get into the National Guard in 1968, because it is clear that he and many other influential draft age males found a way to avoid service in Vietnam. Truth simply captures the sad reality that the poor and middle class die for our country’s values while those belonging to the privileged class are able to stay at home.
If you doubt any of this, let’s not forget that John Wayne used his connections to dodge military service in World War II. Furthermore, Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, Grover Cleveland, James Mellon, Philip Armour, Jay Gould, George Pullman, Jay Cooke, Jim Fisk and Collis P. Huntington paid for substitute soldiers to take their place during the Civil War. As Mr. Mellon famously said, “There are plenty of lives less valuable.”
It is also worth noting that the Republican Party was engaged in a national campaign in 2004 to attack Democratic candidate John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. Though he served and was wounded in the process, President Bush’s campaign looked the other way as the groundless Swift Boat attack against Mr. Kerry gained steam. For those who criticize Truth, I would just ask them to explain how both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were able to dodge service in Vietnam.