The Truth About ‘Truth’: Mary Mapes Says CBS News Didn’t Get It Wrong

BTS Truth Dan Rather Mary Mapes Robert Redford
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

I would like to ask Les Moonves out on a date — to the movies. I want to see “Truth” with him. Heck, I’ll even buy the popcorn.

Here’s why. Last week, in a question-and-answer session at a Variety breakfast, Moonves was asked about the film version of my spectacular firing from CBS News in 2005.

“Truth” is an uncannily accurate film about what happened when Dan Rather and our team reported an absolutely true story about then-President George W. Bush’s hit-and-miss Vietnam-era military service. We aired an exclusive interview with a Texas politician who admitted he got Bush a coveted spot in a National Guard unit, along with evidence that Bush went missing from service for more than a year.

Our report also used documents that traced to Bush’s former commander. All of us knew from the start that these memos could not be “authenticated” — a legal, not a journalistic, term — because they were copies, not originals. We were able to confirm the signatures and thoroughly vet the documents’ content and details. A panel of attorneys could not declare that the documents were fake.

We had already angered the Bush people by breaking the story of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib a few months earlier. Now, our Bush-National Guard story led the White House and its sympathizers to “release the Kracken.” We were all targeted — individual journalists, CBS as a corporation and, yes, even Moonves.

Whenever the film has come up, Moonves has said the same thing — that there is “very little truth in ‘Truth.’ ” He apparently feels so strongly that he turned down scads of money to run ads for it on CBS.

I would love to have the chance to tell him why he is wrong — because the film is very much my truth. It is not a view of what happened from his beautifully appointed corporate suite. But it is exactly what happened in the dingy offices of “60 Minutes II”; what happened in our editing rooms; during our tense interviews with sources; what happened when I was grilled before a brutal panel of attorneys; what happened in my Dallas home when I tried my best to keep my life together; and what happened in my heart when the job I loved so much was lost in a firestorm of political anger, confusion and media animosity.

It is what happened to journalism in an age of media consolidation and political polarization. It is what is still happening today in a presidential campaign when reporters are not allowed to use the word “lie” to describe a big, fat lie.

Moonves doesn’t know these things. He couldn’t know this stuff.  He is a very smart guy in a very tough business who has already forgotten more than I will ever learn about the entertainment industry. And while he was in charge of CBS News, he never lived and breathed journalism the way I did — the way everyone at CBS did. He didn’t know my work, my history or me.

I would love a chance to sit in a darkened theater with him and tell him that this is precisely how the story played out. I want him to know that Cate Blanchett captures perfectly my despair and eventual “oh, what the hell” defiance, that Robert Redford so channeled Dan Rather that it took my breath away, that James Vanderbilt is an incredibly sensitive and elegant writer and director, that everyone who worked on the film brought their “A” game.

I want him to know that it was a terribly difficult time for all of us, including him. I understand that. I’d like him to understand that my truth is, by necessity, different from his.

I’d like him to see “Truth” with someone who knows the truth.

Mary Mapes produced the “60 Minutes II” report on George W. Bush’s National Guard service, and wrote the book on which “Truth” is based.