EXCLUSIVE: Robert Redford is attached to play CBS News icon Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett is attached to play his producer Mary Mapes in Truth, a film that will mark the directorial debut of James Vanderbilt, the A-list screenwriter behind the first two installments of The Amazing Spider-Man. The film will explore the scandal that erupted after Rather reported on 60 Minutes II that George W. Bush had gotten preferential treatment that put him in the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam War draft. The ensuing scandal during Bush’s reelection campaign left Mapes fired and Rather’s storied reputation in tatters.
Vanderbilt is adapting Mapes’ 2005 memoir Truth And Duty: The Press, The President, And The Privilege Of Power. Pic will be produced by Mythology Entertainment, the production partnership between Vanderbilt, Brad Fischer and Laeta Kalogridis. Fischer, William Sherak, Vanderbilt and Mikkel Bondesen are producing. They are eyeing a fall start, so this is all moving on a fast track. The project has not yet been set at a studio, but I expect it will not take long.
Shortly after they uncovered evidence of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, CBS News producer Mapes and former CBS News anchor Rather thought they found the story of their careers as Bush’s reelection campaign was getting underway and he was facing competition from Democratic candidate and Vietnam vet John Kerry. The story, based on documents purportedly from the files of Bush’s deceased National Guard commanding officer, alleged that the president’s powerful father, then an ambassador and future president, made calls to put him atop the list for the Texas Air National Guard. The aim was to keep his son from having to fight in Vietnam after he graduated from Yale in 1968. The docs came from a retired lieutenant colonel with the Texas Army National Guard. The story prompted an outcry of criticism from Conservative corners and the pressure spurred an internal CBS investigation into whether the documents were forgeries.
Mapes, who’d worked in TV news 25 years and won the Peabody Award, was subsequently fired for what the network called lapses in judgment. Strangely, the Bush campaign actually benefited from the scandal. His campaign exploited Kerry’s military service by getting some of his former soldiers to speak against him–a move now called ‘Swiftboating’ in campaign circles–and it helped Bush win reelection. Mapes maintained her belief that the documents were real, and that she and Rather were done in by a right-wing internet smear campaign that put the focus on “Rathergate” instead of the issue of whether the president benefited from his father’s powerful relationships to avoid service in Vietnam.
Vanderbilt is repped by WME and Mikkel Bondesen, Redford by WME and Blanchett by CAA and RGM Artists.