After decades in the television news business, Dan Rather says he remains a journalist who seeks the truth.
The venerable former CBS News anchor’s reputation was forever altered when he tussled with his longtime former employer regarding a story that questioned then-president George W. Bush’s military service. That struggle is now being dramatized on the big screen with Robert Redford starring as Rather in Truth.
After the Bush administration questioned the accuracy of the story – and questioned the authenticity of the documents at the heart of the report – an independent investigation concluded that the piece disregarded “fundamental journalistic principles” even as it stopped short of deeming the documents relating to his military service as forgeries.
Rather was given a diminished role within CBS News after the scandal and left for good less than two years later – afterwards filing a $70 million lawsuit against his former employer, claiming they mishandled the investigation. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.
Truth shines a spotlight on Rather’s struggle.
In a wide-ranging new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the 83-year-old Rather says he has no qualms about the accuracy of the now-infamous report.
“We reported a true story,” he said. “There wasn’t any doubt then, and there is no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind now, the story was true.”
CBS, meanwhile, is blasting the new film for what it deems its “many distortions.”
“It’s astounding how little truth there is in Truth,” CBS said in a statement to THR. “There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all. The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom. That’s a disservice not just to the public but to journalists across the world who go out every day and do everything within their power, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to get the story right.”
Despite their seemingly permanent clash, Rather says he still regards his 44 years with CBS News with a sense of reverence.
“CBS has a great history of backing its reporters, Ed Murrow with McCarthy, Cronkite with the Vietnam War, myself and others during Watergate. The movie has brought it back into focus,” he said. “I have been and still am trying to be deep into humility and modesty, grateful for being able to make a living at this. I mean, CBS may have correspondents and anchors who are better at it than I’ve ever been. But they haven’t had anybody who worked harder and cared more about the people and the place that CBS is – its history, its traditions – than I did. And still do.”
The movie is based on Mapes’ 2005 memoir about the incident, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, which she tells THR was “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever gone through in my life.”
However, she credits Rather with remaining loyal as they weathered the storm together.
“Dan never turned on me, he never blamed me, he never made me feel bad, he never made me feel like a failure,” she said. “Of course, I did all that to myself, on some level. But Dan was incredibly loyal.”
Redford, who famously played journalist Bob Woodward in All the President’s Men, told the trade publication he took on the role of Rather because, “This is another example to me of [the Bush] administration worried about what was going to be exposed about a reputation that had holes in it. And so they tried to discredit the journalist. And to me, that’s a story about where the truth is. And that’s a worthy story to go after.”
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Today, Rather works for AXS network and pitches projects through his production company, News & Guts. He says he has no regrets about the lawsuit he admits was “very expensive.”
“I wanted to find out what really happened, as opposed to what I had been told happened,” he said. “Some things are worth fighting for, even if you lose.”