There is an interesting story coming out of CBS this week where the network has refused to air advertisements for Truth by Sony Pictures Classics. The problem is that the film starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford places CBS in a negative light in exploring the network controversy over airing the 2004 news story on former President George W. Bush’s military service record. The story was discredited and CBS fired producer Mary Mapes. Anchor Dan Rather later retired from CBS. [For full disclosure, I worked for CBS as an on-air analyst with Rather and thought very highly of him in our work on the Bush v. Gore coverage].
The movie has received high critical acclaim. Redford plays Dan Rather in Truth and Blanchett plays Mapes in recounting the investigation into Bush’s Vietnam War-era commitment to service in the Texas Air National Guard. The film tells the story from the perspective of Mapes and Rather. Rather left in 2006 and later unsuccessfully sued the network.
CBS views the movie as inaccurate and denounced it as a disservice to the public and journalists. However, that does not answer the question of a media company barring advertisements based on the content of a film. It seems to me rather hypocritical for an organization dedicated to free speech. Sony is advertising on ABC, NBC, Fox and several cable networks, but not CBS.
CBS has an obvious conflict of interest in dealing with the film, which is precisely why I would have argued for neutrality in allowing the advertisements to air. There is no bar on CBS reporting on the film and challenging the accuracy. However, the blackout on advertising leaves the appearance that CBS wants to quash access or knowledge of a film that is inherently critical of CBS leadership in stomping on Mapes and Rather. CBS could well be right about the story and their work. However, that is a matter for public judgment and CBS should not be in a position of censoring advertisements when it does not like the content of a work.
When journalists are seen as censoring information because they disagree with a point of view, the result is an erosion of credibility and integrity of the field as a whole. Media has long subscribed to the view that the solution to bad speech is more speech. Here CBS is seeking to actively shield the public from knowledge of a film that is critical of its management. That is a far worst message than anything that the film make represent or misrepresent.
What do you think?