The Media Mob has learned that a team of Hollywood insiders is currently working on a screen adaptation of Truth And Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power—the 2005 book by former CBS News producer Mary Mapes, in which she defends the 60 Minutes II story by Dan Rather about President George W. Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard, which ran on CBS in September 2004 and eventually led to her ouster from the network.
Who would want to turn “Rathergate” into a feature-length film?
According to sources familiar with the situation, Producer Mikkel Bondesen, (his credits include serving as executive producer on the USA Network series “Burn Notice”) is actively working on the adaptation with screenwriter James Vanderbilt.
Mr. Vanderbilt wrote the screenplay for the 2007 serial killer movie Zodiac—based on the nonfiction book by Robert Graysmith—and is currently writing the screenplay for Spider-Man 4.
In the book, Ms. Mapes was highly critical of how her bosses at CBS and Viacom handled the aftermath of the wildly controversial story about President Bush’s military service. Along the way, she lays much of the groundwork for what could be a juicy White House conspiracy thriller.
“Money is the master,” wrote Ms. Mapes. “That is the bottom line to what happened at CBS that fateful fall when we aired a story that, like all stories, was imperfect, but was absolutely grounded in fact. It was well researched and well documented. But when Viacom saw that the story was not well received and that a conservative firestorm was threatening the corporation’s financial well-being, their collective wallets started itching. As a result, I believe CBS News, 60 Minutes, Dan Rather, and journalism itself got badly scratched.”
(Mr. Rather is currently making similar charges in Manhattan court in a $70 million civil suit against his former employers, in part, for their handling of the aftermath of the story.)
“This was a corporate, political, and public relations operation, designed to take the heat off and allow Viacom to walk away unscathed, unencumbered by lingering anger from the White House or the various Republican-dominated committees that the corporation lobbied constantly,” added Ms. Mapes.
It remains to be seen how much of the screenplay will be dedicated to the alleged bungling of the story and its aftermath at CBS versus the broader story of the President’s military service.
When reached by phone on Monday afternoon, Ms. Mapes declined to comment. The Media Mob has a phone call in to Mr. Bondesen. We’ll update if we hear back.
No word yet on who might play Mr. Rather if the script ever makes it to production. This wouldn’t be the first film made about internal drama at CBS News: In 1999, Michael Mann directed The Insider, an account of 60 Minutes and its struggle with tobacco company Brown & Williamson. That movie was nominated for seven Oscars, including for Best Actor and Best Director.