In which we revisit Rathergate, and the bad movie about to be made of it.

Hey, remember that stupid, incredibly ham-handed, and only-an-drooling-idiot-would-fall-for-it Rathergate scandal?  Well, in case you were a teenager in 2004 and missed it…


:pause:  God preserve us, it really was a decade ago, huh?  I didn’t have kids then.  I wasn’t married, then.  Shoot, I was still smoking.

…anyway: CBS got a bunch of documents purporting to show that George W Bush went AWOL from the Texas National Guard and that people covered it up, because shut up you Republicans.  Dan Rather (remember him?) promptly ran with the story, because if the documents were true it’d have been a bombshell.  Only problem was that these documents were fakes: they were originally written in Microsoft Word 2003 and then made to look like documents from the 1970s*.  Once this was pointed out CBS ended up giving Rather (and, importantly for this article, his producer Mary Mapes) the bum’s rush.

Now, apparently, Robert Redford** is going to make a movie about the whole thing – and, yeah, it is likely that he’s somehow going to ignore objective reality and do a movie where Mapes is the heroine and the VRWC are the evildoers.  Because, well, it’s Robert Redford.  And it’s a shame, because as Megan McArdle noted in this systematic takedown of the pro-Rathergate dogma (one hesitates to call it a ‘position’) you could make a compelling movie about how smart, experienced people can get themselves in massive trouble by uncritically believing whatever story pushes their particular buttons.


Moving on from that, this passage by Megan should be Redford’s touchstone for his film.

Even after all the problems were pointed out; even after Bill Burkett changed his story to say that he got his documents from the mysterious “Lucy Ramirez”; even after the typewriter expert Mapes had been unable to contact analyzed the documents and offered his opinion that they were very unlikely to have been written on the typewriters available at the time … even after all this, Mapes insisted that she was right about the documents, and everyone else was either the enabler or the victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy. Of course, refusing to accept that you’ve made an enormous mistake is natural behavior. But at some point, you have to be able to see the obvious.

Other people could, which is why CBS retracted the story, why Mapes and Rather were pushed out, and why the consensus among journalists — from conservative magazines to Mother Jones — is that the documents were faked and Mapes was had.

Make a movie that shows that and Robert Redford might be yelled at at Sundance. But he might also get more people to watch the flick. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide how Redford will choose, there.


(Image via Shutterstock)

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*We will now pause while the last stubborn diehards in the hills stamp their feet and declare that the documents were true, true, TRUE!  …Dudes.  Dudes.  It’s over.  Your own leaders gave up this fight, years ago.  Come down from the hills.  Take the surrender.  Rejoin the sane.  I say this with nothing but love in my heart.

**I have to give Redford some mild props for being a good sport about what happened to him in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.


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