TIFF: Dan Rather Chokes Up at 'Truth' Premiere, Praises Film for Accuracy

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP; AP Photo/Damain Dovarganes
Robert Redford and Dan Rather

"A film called 'Truth' should be accurate," the iconic CBS news anchor said of director James Vanderbilt’s movie about his 2006 exit and the events leading to it.

Iconic CBS news anchor Dan Rather on Saturday praised the Robert Redford-starring Rathergate movie Truth for its accuracy and performances ahead of its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

"Naturally I was pleased, and pleasantly surprised. This film is very accurate. A film called Truth should be accurate," Rather told The Hollywood Reporter during a prescreening party. James Vanderbilt's movie centers on Rather's 2006 exit from CBS after a 60 Minutes investigation two years earlier into President George W. Bush’s alleged draft-dodging during the Vietnam war.

Rather praised the performances of Redford as the famed CBS newsman and Cate Blanchett as his CBS 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes. "The acting is superior. I think it's an emotional film. Of course people will say I found it emotional because it's about me. But I say that as objectively as I can," he said.

The movie, which played to a standing ovation at the Winter Garden Theater, paints a highly sympathetic picture of Rather's role in the scandal that cost him his job at CBS. After the screening, Rather appeared on stage with director Vanderbilt and actors Elisabeth Moss and Topher Grace (Redford did not attend).

Rather choked up when asked by an audience member if he would have done anything differently in his career. "Journalism is not an exact science," he said, adding that there were "plenty of things I would do over."

Since his exit from CBS, Rather said he had "spent a lot of time practicing humility … and tremendous gratitude." In the film, Rather and producer Mapes are depicted as crusading journalists whose story is attacked by critics with a political agenda. CBS News chief Andy Heyward is depicted particularly negatively.

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. Before the screening, Rather looked beyond his exit from CBS to stress Truth was less about him, Mapes and President Bush and more about the broader corporatization of the news business.

"In recent years, lobbyists, very large corporate executives and political operatives have begun to influence the news people get far more than people realize. In my years in journalism, this is the biggest development — the corporatization, the politicization and the Hollywoodization of news," he said.

Vanderbilt said he didn't know much about CBS' Dan Rather scandal in 2004 before he boarded the project, and now welcomed giving ordinary people a revealing window into how they receive their news, or don't. "I was really excited to make a movie where you learn how the sausage is made," he said.

Vanderbilt also pointed to the deep relationship between Rather and Mapes at CBS as a story-driver for Truth. "I was surprised to see how much they respected each other and cared for each other, and that's where I was able to hook into what I wanted the movie to be about," he explained.

Of course, the 2004 media firestorm over the 60 Minutes report into President Bush during Vietnam cost the legendary newsman and his producer dearly. Some of the documents on which the report by Rather and Mapes was based were suspected of being forgeries.

After their report on Bush aired, it became the subject of harsh criticism, and an internal investigation was launched. Rather's reputation was seriously damaged and Mapes, an award-winning journalist, was forced to resign.

Truth is based on Mapes' book about the incident, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Moss, Dennis Quaid and Grace co-star. Truth producer Brad Fischer told The Hollywood Reporter that, aside from the 2004 controversy, his movie is likely to spur a conversation about today's news business having long departed from its former role of providing a public service for its use of the airwaves.

"Over the years, people suddenly realized that corporations that own and control the news can really make a profit, and things started to change," he argued. "Around 2004, when this happened, it was a tipping point, and now we're seeing an escalation of that today," Fischer added.

Rather, who saw his lawsuit against CBS Corp. thrown out in 2009, said he's made peace with the events of a decade ago around his newsmagazine report on President Bush's military record. Instead, Rather said Truth will help answer the public's growing interest in, and fears over the trivialization of media news, and how it happened.

"This is the best film I've seen on the big screen that takes you inside the craft of journalism, and demonstrates how it works, as opposed to how people feel journalism works," he said. Rather also remains unrepentant about his original 60 Minutes report into President Bush, and the controversial scandal it left himself and Mapes embroiled in.

"We reported a true story. And there has never been any doubt the story was true," he said. Rather instead criticizes CBS News' corporate bosses for caving into White House pressure.

"The combination of political operatives, lobbyists working in concert with the White House and powerful political groups overwhelmed the truth," he argued. "Because it was true, those who wanted to attack it had to find the weakest point, and they attacked the (newsmaking) process," Rather added.

Vanderbilt, the screenwriter behind The Amazing Spider-Man and White House Down, is making his directorial debut with Truth, which Mythology Entertainment is producing. Fischer, William Sherak, Vanderbilt and Mikkel Bondesen are producing alongside Brett Ratner, Doug Mankoff and Andy Spaulding.

RatPac's James Packer is executive-producing alongside Steven Silver and Neil Tabatznik of Blue Lake, the financing arm of Echo Lake. Sony Pictures Classics is releasing Truth domestically.

Matthew Belloni contributed to this report.

Updated Sept. 12, 8:10 p.m. Details of the world premiere of Truth have been added, with postscreening Q&A comments by Dan Rather.

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