Dan Rather reflects on 'Truth,' the future of news and the brass at CBS
I’ve been asked a lot over the past several weeks, what is it like to watch Robert Redford play you in a film? The answer is simple: surreal. In some ways you can’t help but feel honored that one of the greatest actors of his or any generation was cast to portray you on the big screen. And yet such feelings are almost overwhelmingly bittersweet for me.
The period during which Redford so adeptly channels my persona in the movie “Truth,” just so happens to also be the darkest chapter of my life.
If it were up to me, Hollywood would have made a film about one of the countless deadlines or datelines upon which I look back with unabashed pride. Who wouldn’t want a legendary actor playing out one’s finest hour? But I guess that wouldn’t sell movie tickets like good old-fashioned controversy.
My life has been mostly one of incredible luck, and I admit to having many faults and some unsightly and vile mistake-laden scars — a few of which have now been dramatized for the world to see.
More than 10 years have past since the events depicted in “Truth” played out in real life, but I fear a lot of the context has been lost along the way. I hope by writing this you may understand better where I am now and how I got here.
Let’s start with the movie. I don’t have any stake in this film. It wasn’t based on anything I wrote. I didn’t have any say over the script and I won’t benefit financially if it succeeds at the box office. I have been asked by the filmmakers to speak on its behalf and I have been willing to do so. I believe the acting, writing and direction are superb and award-worthy. And I believe it shows the complexities and messiness inherent in investigative journalism.
Anyone has the right to question my motives, disagree with one or all of my conclusions and judge the film for themselves. I believe you may find it more nuanced than you might expect. The movie is an emotional one, focusing on human relationships and time-honored themes of loyalty and betrayal as much as the events of the plotline itself.
I am not surprised that the film has brought out the same pack of wolves that circled my wagon more than 10 years ago when we first broadcast our “60 Minutes II” report on President Bush’s service in the National Guard. There are some members of the press, and even some former colleagues of mine at CBS, who have been vociferous in condemning what they see as the journalistic mistakes made in our report.
All of this, of course, has been debated before, and I have said on the record that I believe much of what took place in the lead-up to the segment has been distorted and overstated.
However, because the early reviews on the film were good, we all knew CBS, at least its corporate hierarchy, would counter in some way. That said, I was still a little taken aback by how personal and caustic some of their public statements have been.
Then again, I was also a bit surprised that they have tried to completely expunge me from CBS News history. It seems odd for an organization committed to accurately chronicling events from around the world to pretend that I wasn’t reporting from some of these remarkable moments such as the Kennedy assassination or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Even the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, the story we broke and won a Peabody Award for, is not featured in its entirety online at CBS News.
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