Truth, the movie that depicts 60 Minutes‘ 2004 investigation into President George W. Bush’s service record in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, has been dismissed for many of the same reasons that its subjects were: that it was biased and slightly sloppy with the facts.
Recall that in 2004, in the heat of a close presidential election, Dan Rather and CBS News called into question how Bush had secured a cushy slot in the Texas Air National Guard and whether he went AWOL and failed to fulfill his obligations. Critics pounced on the question of authenticity of documents and CBS was forced to apologize. The furor, nicknamed Rathergate, eventually cost Rather his anchor chair with the network.
Rather still stands by the story and he insists the film, starring Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett, gets the facts right. On CNN’s Reliable Sources on Sunday, he said, “They couldn’t attack us on the facts. So they attacked us where we were most vulnerable, the source of the documents.”
The source who gave CBS those smoking-gun documents later changed his story, but despite the general conclusion that they were forgeries, Rather points out that that is not necessarily the case either. In fact, he’s confident that the military documents are authentic, as explained in the film. “I think we proved it beyond reasonable doubt,” he said. “But I understand the argument saying, ‘Well, you didn’t prove it beyond any doubt.'”
Rather maintains the real truth that went unchallenged by critics was how Bush secured that cushy Reserve slot in the first place, and where he spent an entire year when he was supposed to be serving. “Political influence got a young George W. Bush into a special unit of the Air National guard as a war of avoiding service in Vietnam. That’s a fact,” Rather said. “Fact No. 2: once he got in, after performing at least reasonable well, perhaps very well for awhile, he disappeared for a year. Nobody in the U..S military disappears for a year. And No. 3, strangely enough, mysteriously, his military records disappear. Look, the Defense Dept. is among the best in the world at keeping records. So those were facts that we reported. They were truths. They’re uncomfortable truths for some people.”
Rather says that Bush has never denied or specifically addressed allegations that he bailed on his military obligations. He thinks the reaction to the story and CBS’ handling of it, let Bush off the hook. “They succeeded in damaging us [so] that others just stopped looking into the story,” said Rather. “If you do real investigative reporting, if you try to find out what people, particularly people in power, don’t want the public to know; if you do that, you’re going to pay a price for it. And that’s what happened to us.”