Sunday, April 23, 2017


Year 9, Day 113 - 4/23/17 - Movie #2,607

BEFORE:  Cate Blanchett carries over from "Cinderella", and my timing here just could not be better. Dan Rather just made some kind of comeback, and this is the story of the scandal that forced him to retire.

THE PLOT: Newsroom drama detailing the 2004 CBS "60 Minutes" report investigating President George W. Bush's military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes their careers.

AFTER: Fill in the blank: "America hasn't been the same since __________". Based on your age and political leanings, you might say "since FDR died", "since JFK was shot", or "since Bill Clinton got caught with that intern".  (Unacceptable answers include "since they faked the moon landing", "since vaudeville was a thing" and "since Ariana Grande licked that donut".).  The perception is that these things come in waves, the country's been on the decline since forever, and things are either feast or famine, depending on who you voted for in the last election.

But let's return for a moment, through the mists of time, to a year that we called 2004.  The President was an incompetent nincompoop who had previously run a string of bankrupted businesses, and had managed to take charge of the U.S. despite losing the popular vote.  And the vice-President, thought to be running the show along with the president's chief adviser, stood accused of having business interests and investments that would benefit greatly from the administration's policies, especially the war in Iraq.  See?  Completely different from our current situation.  (Wait a minute....)

George W. Bush was running for re-election in 2004, and the Democrats chose John Kerry to oppose him.  Kerry was a decorated Vietnam veteran, and by contrast, Bush served in the National Guard which allowed him to not go and fight overseas - and what's suspicious about that was that the Texas National Guard seemed to be fully stocked with young white men who were the sons of either billionaires or politicians, so naturally people wondered if the fix was in.  And it's important to get the  chain of events right here - before anyone questioned W.'s military service, the Republicans found a bunch of Vietnam vets who were willing to throw shade on Kerry's war record, in the infamous "swiftboat" incident.  It was only after that when someone started digging around in Bush's past to find out if someone had pulled some strings to allow him to avoid Vietnam.

This could be the start of what we now call "Fake News" - if you're in power and you don't like what's being said about you, flip the script.  Leak some documents, or draw people's attention somewhere else, while discrediting the people who are saying the true things that you don't like.  Throw enough confusion into the news cycle, and you can get away with just about anything, after you get all of your sycophants to help enough Americans believe what you want.  And that gets us to today's news - when something gets leaked now, the news starts to focus on WHO leaked it, rather than whether the thing that was leaked is true.

So it's no surprise that after airing a report that Bush maybe never even showed up for most, if not all, of his National Guard training, a team of lawyers connected to Karl Rove and Bush Sr. went after CBS and "60 Minutes".  People were fired, reputations were ruined, Dan Rather left the air, and because the integrity of the investigation was questioned, people stopped asking to see proof of Bush's military service.  But logically, just because the reporters didn't dot every "I" and cross every "T" over the course of their investigation, it doesn't mean that their overall conclusion was wrong.  I mean, the irregularities in Bush's military record are still there, right?

And because of that, we're all right back where we started.  Donald Trump also never went to Vietnam, because of a medical condition, bone spurs in his foot.  Only he can't remember which foot it was when asked by a reporter, which is awfully suspicious - dude, I had a bad ingrown toenail when I was in junior high, and I'll never forget which foot it was on.  If the pain was real, you remember.

But the ultimate lesson here is, if you're going to try and take down a President, you better damn well do your research, and you better get all of your ducks in a row first.  Because (and I said this two months ago, you can ask any of my friends...) if you wait too long, that President will do something like start a war, just to insure his re-election.  And we've seen that before, too.  The ultimate comment on our current POTUS probably came from George W. Bush himself - in an interview he said that he disapproved of all the "racism and name-calling".  Which means that one of our most hapless, messed-up Presidents ever said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Maybe I was a mess, but man, that guy's a real shit-show."

So I think this is one of those films that is going to become more important over the next few years, after being accidentally prescient it's a sign of what's to come in the next few news cycles.  I'd like to think that news organizations are working hard right now to expose all of Trump's missteps, lies and impeachable actions, but what's taking so darn long?

As for the film, it's an important topic, but it's just not that cinematic - it's one of the worst offenders ever in breaking the "show, don't tell" rule.  It's mostly just talky talky talk, but mostly in a gripping Aaron Sorkin-y kind of way.  But people talking to each other on the phone and in interview situations usually doesn't do it for me.

Also starring Robert Redford (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Dennis Quaid (last seen in "Everybody's All-American"), Topher Grace (last seen in "American Ultra"), Elisabeth Moss (last seen in "Anywhere But Here"), Bruce Greenwood (last heard in "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Stacy Keach (last seen in "Nice Dreams"), John Benjamin Hickey (last seen in "The Anniversary Party), Andrew McFarlane, Dermot Mulroney (last seen in "Dirty Grandpa"), David Lyons, Rachael Blake, with vocal cameos from Chris Mulkey (last seen in "Whiplash"), William Devane (last seen in "Interstellar").

RATING: 5 out of 10 yellow index cards

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