I watched the movie with two other journalists, and we all wondered how Vanderbilt managed to convince himself he was telling a story of noble journalists crushed by power, while showing us horrifying mistakes and lax editorial oversight. It was like watching a version of “Return of the Jedi” where the director thought the hero was Emperor Palpatine. When a source tells you three different stories about where he got some documents, each story crazier than the last, most journalists think “Maybe there’s a problem here.” Why doesn’t Mapes?
If you go along with the idea that Mapes did her job well and that the documents are plausible, then most of the events of the third act are inexplicable. Why were other journalists so down on the “60 Minutes” team? Did CBS employ the only four decent, truth-loving journalists in the country? Why did the independent commission that investigated the case issue such a scathing report? Why were so many people fired?
In order to cover up the widening gap between the narrative and the facts, Vanderbilt resorts to flat, one-note characters. On the one hand we have the team that put the story on air, sterling folks whose only flaws are the sort of things one confesses in job interviews, like “I work too hard” or “Sometimes, I just care too darn much.” Most of the other characters are soulless careerists or vicious partisans, interested only in saving their jobs, Bush’s electoral prospects and Viacom’s precious telecoms legislation.