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.

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.

14 thoughts on “In which we revisit Rathergate, and the bad movie about to be made of it.”

  1. This movie will be as accurate as much like “Fair Game” was accurate. That movie was made for $22M and made $25M at the box office. “Fair Game” by any measure was a box office flop and this upcoming ‘Rathergate’ movie will be a box office flop too.

    1. So, they actively re-wrote history in their favor, and made a profit on the side.
      Boy, that’ll teach them. I bet they never try *that* again.
      Here’s a scary thought:
      To the extent they know who he is, a good percentage of the population only knows JFK though a movie made by Oliver Stone.
      Most people alive know Watergate through the lens of “All the President’s Men”.
      Yes, I can keep listing off examples. And I’m sure you can too.

      1. More 20-somethings have seen Nixon in “Doctor Who” than in “All the President’s Men”.
        BTW — he wasn’t a villain in “Doctor Who”.

  2. I’ve been wondering why no one on the Right is interested in a 10 year commemoration of the pantsing administered to Mapes & Rather. Is it because Charles Johnson a) played a large role and b) went back to his cuckoopants roots, or is it something else I’m missing?

    1. Because Hollywood will Lie About It.
      They’ll find someway to cast the fraud is genuine. No matter how it strains credulity, no matter how screwed up it is historically, they’ll make Mapes and Rather the heroes.
      If they include Chucky in the story, it will be as a dupe of the conspiracy, who later realized how he was manipulated and recanted. If they mention anyone else who noticed the oddity (it was first noticed by someone on Free Republic, ISTR), that person will be a snaggle-toothed trailer park denizen with an NRA sticker, Confederate flags everywhere, and some clear statement of being a racist.

    2. Because Dan Rather is inherently uninteresting?
      I mean, it’s good he finally got his comeuppance. After all, he made his way onto the national stage with a fabricated story that schoolchildren in Dallas cheered the news of JFK’s assassination.
      But as vile an individual as he was, he was quickly replaced by a dozen more just as bad as he was. Worse, he’s not exactly in penury. And to a lot of people, his only disgrace was getting caught.

      1. If I remember correctly, Rather wasn’t even pushed out the door–he was shifted to a different show so he could hang on until his already-scheduled retirement a year or so later.

      2. I seem to recall hearing Rather pitched the idea of doing a ram-raid on the Zapruder residence to get a copy of the alleged film…
        Rather: “You got a film?”
        Zapruder: “Yeah”
        R: “Lemme see it”
        Z: “No”
        R: “Then I’m gonna report you don’t have a film.”
        Z: “Fine, look, a film”
        * R slugs Z, grabs film, runs *

  3. > if the documents were true it’d have been a bombshell


    Does this actually make sense? I mean, pretty much everybody already knew W was kind of a party boy back in the day, thanks to the Dem’s 2000 October surprise, right?


    So even if there was evidence that he wasn’t the best pilot TANG ever had, I mean… so what? I always felt like I was missing something here.


    > Dan Rather promptly ran with the story


    But maybe this is the real shocker here, that Rather didn’t immediately smell a forgery. I mean, chain of custody isn’t something they just made up to make life hard on prosecutors. It matters.

    1. I remember at the time I had just come back from a trip or something where I didn’t have email, seeing the original story, and having my heart sink. If it had been true it would have undermined everything that I, and a lot of other people, had been saying about Bush’s character as opposed to Kerry’s. Because there was no way that GWB could pretend that he wasn’t hiding this; and while people will forgive a drunk if he gets and stays clean, it’s infinitely harder to forgive somebody who shirks his military duties and then covers it up.

      Then, of course, Chuckie Johnson fulfilled his destiny – that’s right: he was put on this earth solely to help get GWB re-elected, and I hope that the thought keeps Johnson up nights – by demonstrating that the documents were printed out on Microsoft Word, and I stopped worrying about the election at that point.

      1. I had forgotten all about Charles Johnson up until this moment. How is that traitorous SOB doing? Is he still completely unglued from reality?

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