Truth

Posted on October 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Copyright 2015 Sony Pictures
Copyright 2015 Sony Pictures

Often a movie “based on a true story” confirms and extends our understanding of what happened. This film, based on the “true story” that led to the departure of one of the most respected newsmen of all time, Dan Rather, from CBS, asserts its ambitions with its title and goes on to explore the very nature of truth and our willingness or ability to uncover and recognize it. I did not have strong views about what happened in 2004, just a recollection of the incident as a turning point, with the most respected broadcast journalist in the country being brought down by bloggers, who were able to determine that documents relied on in a story about President George W. Bush were forgeries. In my mind, the story was about the shift from old to new media, where the Davids of the blogosphere could challenge the powerful Goliaths of CBS News.

But in this movie, based on the book by Rather’s producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett, blazingly intelligent and forceful), we see another side of the story, written by James Vanderbilt. This is her version (if there is such a thing as versions) of the truth.

No matter which version of the story you believe, lesson number one of this movie is that you are at your most vulnerable when you feel most powerful. Mapes has just come off the greatest triumph of her career, the Peabody award-winning story about the horrific abuse of prisoners by the US military at Abu Ghraib. She is looking for another great scoop, and as the Presidential election approaches, it looks like she has one. Rumors about special treatment for George W. Bush, both in being allowed to serve in the National Guard and during his time there, have circulated for years, and now there seems to be substantiation, including on-the-record statements by the former Lieutenant Governor and some memos from the younger Bush’s commanding officer. Four document experts were called in by Mapes to authenticate the documents and, with the proviso that as photocopies there was no way to test the ink or paper of the originals to verify them completely, the experts signed off. The other steps taken by Mapes and the staff of reporters, including research expert Mike Smith (Topher Grace, who should be in more movies) and former military officer Dennis Quaid (ditto), are impressive. But it is possible that their supervisors did not ask enough questions and it is certain that moving up the broadcast date at the last minute cut off their ability to lock down all of the story.

And then it all fell apart. Bloggers identified problems with the memos’ fonts that indicated they were created on a computer, not a typewriter, and thus could not have been written in the 1970’s. CBS convened a commission led by a former (Republican) Attorney General to review the story. Their focus was not as much on whether the story was true or not (the memos were just one small part of the story) but whether the reporters had a political agenda.

A lot of people got fired. Smith makes a speech on the way out the door that identifies a culprit more insidious than partisan politics — corporate conflicts of interest. There are times when protection of shareholder value is not consistent with getting the story. The most important question this movie asks is what that means for democracy and for, well, truth.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language and brief nudity in a photograph. Characters drink and take medicine to deal with stress. There are references to torture and child abuse and there are tense confrontations.

Family discussion: What should Mary have done differently? How did her childhood experiences affect her relationship with Rather and her response to her father? Should she have followed her lawyer’s advice?

If you like this, try two other fact-based films about journalists fighting to expose the truth about powerful people: “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight

Related Tags:

 

Based on a true story Drama Journalism

Women in Media — And Media in Crisis

Posted on April 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

As Katie Couric leaves her pioneering role as the first women anchor of a nightly network news broadcast, it appears that she arrived just as what was once the flagship of end-of-the-day journalism was shrinking to not much more than a rowboat, and a sinking one at that. Where once Walter Cronkite united audiences and was seen as the most trusted man in the country, most people under age 30 cannot even name the network anchors — they get their news from “The Daily Show.” Is it a coincidence that John Stewart’s show has been sharply criticized for its overwhelmingly male staff? Or that Couric now reportedly will leave news for a talk show?

Perhaps I am especially concerned with these issues because of my recent participation in the International Women’s Media Foundation conference at George Washington University. The event opened with a Kalb Report interview of Diane Sawyer, who spoke about the impact of budget cuts and new media on the nightly news broadcast.

Women from all over the world shared their stories about the way women were treated as reporters, editors, and managers and as sources and subjects of news stories as well. Domestic violence stories at one paper were characterized as “a family tragedy,” until women in the newsroom insisted that they be described like any other homicide: murder.  A paper in Norway made a commitment to have at least one photo of a woman on the front page every day — and not an actress.   A German newspaper requires that one-half of its staff be female and makes an effort at parity in sources and stories as well.

The IWMF released a major new report, the first comprehensive global study of women in media, covering not just the roles and ranks of women working in the media but the way stories are selected and covered.  Conducted over a two-year period, the report is based on data gathered by more than 150 researchers through interviews with executives at more than500 companies in 59 countries based on a 12-page questionnaire.  The report found:

In the Asia and Oceana region, women are barely 13 percent of those in senior management, but in some individual nations women exceed men at that level, e.g., in South Africa women are 79.5 percent of those in senior management. In Lithuania women dominate the reporting ranks of junior and senior professional levels (78.5 percent and 70.6 percent, respectively), and their representation is nearing parity in the middle and top management ranks.

The global study identified glass ceilings for women in 20 of 59 nations studied. Most commonly these invisible barriers were found in middle and senior management levels. Slightly more than half of the companies surveyed have an established company-wide policy on gender equity. These ranged from 16 percent of companies surveyed in Eastern Europe to 69 percent in Western Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Only a little more than half of the news organizations have adopted a policy on gender discrimination.

Conference attendees used the report as a baseline to develop goals and strategies for improvement to take back to their publications.  Panel members from around the world talked about the importance of a public commitment to specific benchmarks — without imposing counterproductive quotas — that will cover not just reporters, columnists, editors, and managers but choices of sources and stories.

As with all debates on gender issues, there was a conflict between arguments that women are the same as men and arguments that they are different. A discussion on putting journalists in danger included the “genderized” treatment of the attack on Lara Logan.  Participants complained that Logan’s injuries led to sweeping statements that women should not be sent to cover the Middle East, while attacks on male journalists are seen on a case-by-case basis.

But there were also many discussions of the different perspective that women bring to sources and stories, the importance of making women’s points of view available to both male and female readers, and the impact of women as visible, credible role models for the next generation of journalists.

The limited data available from earlier studies show some progress for women in media, more as reporters than as managers.  This report, while incomplete due to the refusal by some news organizations to cooperate, especially on issues relating to compensation, provides the first meaningful baseline for measuring future progress.

But the measure of success is a moving target.  The conference presentations made it clear that the challenges of strengthening the presence of women in journalism are small in comparison to the transformational changes affecting the industry as a whole. U.S.-based print newspapers, which have relied in the past on advertising and classified ads for the majority of their revenue and are now losing readers to the web, are at a disadvantage over newspapers in other countries with less internet access (so far) and more subscription-based business models.

In a luncheon speech, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, President Obama’s appointee for Global Women’s Issues, spoke about the mobile phone as one of the most powerful factors in providing access to the crucial information that helps women achieve equality. The conference participants recognized that the greatest obstacle to keeping well-researched information available is not sexism but the Gresham’s law-impact of avalanches of free online content.

Related Tags:

 

Understanding Media and Pop Culture

State of Play

Posted on September 1, 2009 at 8:00 am

You need six things for a successful Washington thriller: a reporter, a Congressman, a dead girl, a choleric editor, some ugly secrets, and, for some reason, a chase inside a parking garage, not so sure why that last one seems to be so indispensable. “State of Play” has them all. You don’t necessarily need authentic Washington locations, but “State of Play” has that, too, and it is a pleasure to see more than the monuments, with real-life Washington landmarks like Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Americana Hotel providing an extra layer of realism.

There may be some of-the-moment gloss on this sharp Washington thriller, with references to hard times for newspapers and boom times for outsourcing national security, but its essence is struggles between power and accountability and that are always at the intersection of politics, money, and journalism and of course the movies about them, too.

Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck play former roommates with a lot of baggage — Crowe is a reporter for the “Washington Globe” and we can tell he has integrity because his apartment, car, hair, and clothes are such a mess no one would otherwise keep him around. The traditional cub reporter with more spirit than experience but who will show surprising grit and ingenuity before the third act has evolved into a blogger (Rachel McAdams). The traditional handsome young Congressman who may have compromised his ideals and his disappointed wife are played by Ben Affleck (good) and Robin Wright Penn (better). And the traditional peppery newspaper editor who wants copy NOW because every hour we delay print costs some astronomical sum and we’re losing our readers, dammit! (yes, that tradition stretches back to the movies of the 1930’s) is played with frosty fury by Helen Mirren.

There are chase scenes, including one in a parking lot, another standard for Washington thrillers. But the up to the minute details, sharp talk, smooth performances, and a couple of surprising twists hold the interest and keep us engaged.

Related Tags:

 

Not specified

Tribute: Walter Cronkite

Posted on July 17, 2009 at 9:05 pm

As well as I remember those misty images of Neil Armstrong coming out of the lunar module to put the first footstep on the moon, I remember the look on Walter Cronkite’s face as he reported it.

Cronkite died today at age 92.

No one born after 1980 can understand the influence of Walter Cronkite on the generation that came of age in the 1950’s and 60’s because there is simply no one to compare him to. In those days there were only three choices for network news coverage, and Cronkite, voted “the most trusted man in America,” was on CBS, which prided itself on meeting the highest standard for quality broadcast journalism — and never insisted that the news division make money. In the 1960’s, when we had to wait every night to find out from television news broadcasts what had happened that day, it was Cronkite who explained it all to us — the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam, Kent State, Watergate.

But there was no story that he loved more than the space program. He was always completely professional but it was easy to see he was as excited and proud as we were. His integrity and curiosity inspired us all and his legacy should be a powerful reminder of the importance of the quality of journalism he pioneered and exemplified.

Related Tags:

 

Television Tribute Understanding Media and Pop Culture

YouTube Reporters Center

Posted on July 5, 2009 at 8:00 am

YouTube has a fascinating new section with top reporters explaining how they get, organize, verify, and tell their stories. Katie Couric explains how to conduct an interview. Bob Woodward talks about investigative journalism. NPR’s Scott Simon talks about how to tell a story. Ariana Huffington explains citizen journalism. Tavis Smiley talks about “digging deep and getting more.” This is an outstanding resource for anyone who wants to understand — or make — news.

Related Tags:

 

Internet, Gaming, Podcasts, and Apps Shorts Understanding Media and Pop Culture
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik