By Piya Sinha-Roy
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When actress Cate Blanchett researched an infamous CBS News expose of U.S. President George W. Bush's military service that led to the firing of journalist Mary Mapes, she came away with more questions than answers.
"It's emblematic of the problem that readers face in trying to get to anything resembling the truth," the Oscar-winning actress, who plays Mapes in the movie "Truth," told Reuters.
"The film asks, did the punishment meted out by CBS merit the so-called crime?" Blanchett said.
"Truth," out in U.S. theaters on Friday, is based on former CBS producer Mapes' 2005 memoir "Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power" about CBS's 2004 "60 Minutes" report on the Killian documents.
The documents, supposedly written by late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, purported to show then President Bush had not completed the required amount of training and hours in the military in the 1970s and was given preferential treatment.
Airing two months before elections in which Bush was seeking a second term, CBS's report was challenged by critics and other media who said the papers were fake.
Mapes, Dan Rather and their team came under investigation for their reporting process; Mapes was subsequently fired and Rather, one of the most respected figures in television news, stepped down shortly after acknowledging that he should not have gone ahead with the story as it was aired.
In striving for the "Truth," be it in the reporters' actions, veracity of the sources and the onslaught that decimated Mapes' career, the relationship between Blanchett's Mapes and Robert Redford's Rather anchors the film.
"They're very devoted to one another," Blanchett said. "They traveled to war zones together, they've been in hurricanes together, they've been in newsrooms together and I think they have shared distaste for hypocrisy and bullies."
Blanchett said she admired "the tenacity and the drive and the chutzpah that investigative journalists have to have in order to ask the question that no one else will ask."
When researching Mapes, Blanchett said she watched interviews online in which the producer, post-firing, was "very closed and very defensive."
"When I met her, I felt it was very difficult to reconcile this vivacious, bubbly, engaged, hilarious, vital, searingly intelligent, available woman," the actress said.
"That's a really interesting journey, from the Mary in front of me to the Mary I saw in lockdown."
(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Marguerita Choy)