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CBS News, Hollywood and 'Truth': A brief history of a long love affair

Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks in

Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks in "Broadcast News," which wasn't exactly about CBS News -- but was "inspired by" it. Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.


“Truth,’ starring Robert Redford, about the 2004 memo scandal at CBS News, opened Friday, and became the latest in a long line of movies about...CBS News.

Therein lies a question (why?) and herein lies an answer: Because CBS News has made “good copy” for over 75 years. Full of characters, including those of the larger-than-life variety (Edward R. Murrow, Dan Rather), who took a front seat to history, from Munich (1938), through to Watergate (1973) and beyond, CBS News has inspired filmmakers for decades.

"Truth," starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes, is based on Mapes' 2005 book account of so-called Memogate -- her 2004 "60 Minutes Wednesday" story purporting that George W. Bush skipped out on National Guard service, based on old memos which were subsequently questioned. She stands by their authenticity to this day, but in the wake of the controversy, Rather was pushed off "Evening News" and Mapes pushed out of CBS.

 Meanwhile. the network has banned advertising for the movie, claiming it was full of distortions.

Here are some other movies that were either inspired by this long history or were about it:

 “All the President’s Men” (1976): Of course this was about the Washington Post, but director Alan Pakula's great conspiracy trilogy, otherwise known as the Paranoia trilogy, including "Klute" ('71), "The Parallax View" ('74), and "Men” established the template for some of the CBS movies to come: Truthseeker, AKA journalist, gets a hint of giant conspiracy...process of piecing story together begins...journalist/hero prevails! Redford played Bob Woodward in "Men," and plays Rather -- who had a major role in covering Watergate -- in "Truth." 

"Network" (1976): The Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet classic, starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall, was based on a network named UBS, which sounded suspiciously like a network named CBS, and which was about an anchorman who was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore. Finch looked nothing like Walter Cronkite, by the way, nor was his fate HOward Beale’s (recall the famous closing line: "This was the story of Howard Beale, the first known instance of a man who was killed because he had lousy ratings." But it was certainly cautionary -- journalism suffers, and dies, when profits replace truth as the primary objective.

"Broadcast News" (1987): This James L. Brooks classic, with William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks, wasn't really about CBS News, you argue. But indeed it was: Brooks did his primary research at CBS News, and based Hunter's gloriously kinetic Jane Craig on the gloriously kinetic Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of "48 Hours," who continues to do fine work for this network.

"The Insider" (1999): Michael Mann's terrific '99 Oscar winner is in some ways the FOURTH installment of Pakula's trilogy. About so-called tobacco company “whistle-blower” Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) whose interview was spiked by “60 Minutes” (although later aired), it was also an insider’s view of “60 Minutes,” with the clashing objectives of Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), “60” chief Don Hewitt (Philip Baker Hall) and producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). At the time the Wigand piece was spiked, CBS was controlled by Laurence Tisch, also chief of tobacco giant Loews Corp. CBS has long insisted there was no pressure by Tisch to kill the piece. The network wasn’t happy about this movie either.

"Good Night, and Good Luck" (2005): The George Clooney black-and-white celebration of Edward R. Murrow was also a celebration of CBS News (unlike "Truth"). It was about a journalist who did the right thing -- the famous challenge of Sen. Joe McCarthy -- at the right time and a network which did the right thing at the right time, too. Clooney directed and starred (as CBS News president Fred Friendly), while Murrow was played by David Strathairn, who got a best actor Oscar nod. The movie got a total of six Oscar nominations.


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