NEW YORK — CBS has refused to run advertising for "Truth," the film starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford that revisits a painful episode in the network's past involving a discredited 2004 news story on former President George W. Bush's military service record.
CBS has denounced the movie, which opens Friday, as a disservice to the public and journalists.
Redford plays Dan Rather in "Truth," with Blanchett as producer Mary Mapes. Together, they were behind a "60 Minutes II" story that questioned Bush's Vietnam War-era commitment to service in the Texas Air National Guard. But CBS apologized for the story after documents used were called into question and could not be verified. Mapes and three news executives were fired.
Sony Pictures Classics sought a multi-million dollar ad buy to promote the film on Stephen Colbert's "Late Show," the "CBS Evening News," ''CBS This Morning" and "60 Minutes," but was turned down, said Sherri Callan, president of Callan Advertising, the company that places ads for Sony.
Instead, Sony is advertising on ABC, NBC, Fox and several cable networks. CBS, which confirmed the rejection, told Callan it was not comfortable accepting the ads because of inaccuracies and distortions in the movie, and that it would offend longtime CBS News employees.
"It's astounding how little truth there is in 'Truth,'" said Gil Schwartz, longtime chief spokesman for CBS Corp. and a character in the movie. "There are, in fact, too many distortions, evasions and baseless conspiracy theories to enumerate them all. The film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom.
"That's a disservice not just to the public but to journalists across the world who go out every day and do everything within their power, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to get the story right," he said.
"Truth" is told from the points of view of Mapes and Rather, who left CBS News on bitter terms in 2006. He unsuccessfully sued the network and has complained of being "erased" from CBS history. Rather and Mapes have always contended that despite the discredited documents, the underlying story about Bush was true.
In the movie, Rather is portrayed sympathetically by Redford, the actor who played crusading journalist Bob Woodward generations ago. One of the final scenes shows Rather signing off from his last "CBS Evening News" broadcast, with staff members giving him a standing ovation when the camera light switched off.
Brad Fischer, one of the film's producers, expressed surprise about CBS' public denunciation.
"I don't think anyone expected them to send flowers," Fischer said. "To get an official statement from them that is negative was not surprising to anyone involved in the film. I think the one thing that surprised everyone was the tone and the emotional nature."
Redford and Rather have appeared on NBC's "Today" show to talk about the movie, and Blanchett was on ABC's "Good Morning America." Don't expect similar discussions on CBS News: The network's popular "Sunday Morning" broadcast considered Redford for an interview but it was nixed by Executive Producer Rand Morrison, said an executive familiar with Sony's promotional plans who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the role.
Blanchett appeared on CBS' "Late Show" on Oct. 8, however. Colbert asked her about the film and played a clip of her Mapes portrayal.
In the movie, the independent panel charged with examining CBS' reporting was depicted as hostile and eager to probe into whether Mapes was politically motivated to go after Bush, at the time in the midst of a tough re-election campaign. The panel's report said the facts did not conclude CBS was motivated by an anti-Bush attitude. But producers were criticized for a "myopic zeal" in rushing the story to air.
Some at CBS News are angered by an implication that news executives were pressured to quash the story by corporate owners Viacom, which had business reasons to maintain friendly relations with the Bush administration. A low-level producer is depicted in the movie giving an angry speech about Viacom as the story was falling apart. Mapes was only months removed from a career triumph — breaking an award-winning story about mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, a story embarrassing to the Bush administration whose veracity wasn't questioned.
The issue presented to filmgoers is whether the so-called "truth" of a story matters more than faults in trying to nail it down. Fischer points out that portions of the film are unflattering to Mapes, particularly the rush to get the story on the air.
Fischer said filmmakers were attracted by the intersection of news, politics and business and the story's status as one of the first to be undone by an Internet outcry.
"I'm excited for people to see the film, and talk about the issues and ask the questions themselves," he said, "because I don't think the movie really draws a conclusion about these things. I don't think it's our job as filmmakers to draw a conclusion, but rather to pose the questions."