Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Worry About the Rathergate Movie

by Jim Geraghty

From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Why the Pajamahadeen Shouldn’t Fear Hollywood’s Take on ‘Rathergate’

Megan McArdle spits hot fury over the news that Mythology Entertainment is making a movie about the Rathergate memo scandal . . . based upon the book of CBS producer Mary Mapes, who contended that the story was true and that those bloggers in pajamas who kept proving it wrong — including, ahem, me — are all mean and liars and right-wing maniacs and so on.

Mapes will be played by Cate Blanchett. Robert Redford is playing the man who reported the story on air, CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

I’ll give you a moment to process that.

As I noted, by playing Dan Rather, this will mark the second time Redford has played a character who was secretly a member of Hydra.

Above: Robert Redford, standing beside a decorative artwork
in his office, depicting the original logo for CBS News.

I should be outraged by this. As I mentioned in Raleigh, this is a good example for young journalists of how you can work hard, get your big break, help expose a lie, reveal the truth, and have a small role in changing the way people look at the world and powerful people . . . and then watch Hollywood stars glamorize the liars and make you the bad guy. (I’m guessing they’ll cast Jerry O’Connell to play some guy in little elephant pajamas. )

But I suppose that I shrug and dismiss this as sort of liberal cosplay. They really enjoy having glamorous actors put on costumes and make-up and reenact recent events, emphasizing the heroism of the people they like and often ludicrously caricaturing those they don’t like. You may recall Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA officer was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by Colin Powell’s right-hand man, Richard Armitage. She had her life turned into an action thriller . . . with car chases and explosions . . . where a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the Bush administration leaks her name . . . and Richard Armitage is never mentioned.

The Washington Post editorial board felt compelled to call out the myth-making:

In fact, “Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions — not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false.

There’s practically a whole branch of HBO devoted to this sort of instant revisionism and dramatization: Recount, Game Change, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, where Sorkin basically rewrote news events and coverage of Obama’s early presidency the way he thought it should have gone . . . 

What the hell is with these smug revisionist historians, who take facts, take their own imagination, mix them together, slip in some cameo appearances by big-name political figures and think they can create a memorable, vivid, dramatic story that will influence the public’s viewpoint and memories of recent events . . . 

What’s that?

Oh. Yeah. That.

I guess I shrug because this is just the latest in Robert Redford’s series of exercises in moral inversion. His recent self-directed film The Company You Keep tried to argue that the 1960s radicals who planted bombs weren’t such bad guys . . . by making the convenient plot change that the wanted 1960s radical played by Redford didn’t actually commit the crime. Gee, that kind of changes things, doesn’t it? William Ayers doesn’t have the excuse of blaming the one-armed man.

And trying to rewrite Rathergate so that Rather and Mapes are the heroes is, I suspect, too much of a moral inversion for audiences to accept, in a story that will have no car chases, sex scenes, fistfights, gunfights, or aliens. (I mean, as far as I know.) They’ll have to argue that the famous network news anchor, with the giant network backing him, is the plucky heroic underdog, and that the bloggers — bloggers! — are the powerful, sinister villain.

When Robert Redford is pulling off a sting, running from the Bolivian police, hitting a baseball, whispering to a horse, or offering a million dollars to sleep with Demi Moore, everybody loves him. When he gets preachy, the work is usually insufferable. Lions for Lambs flopped. Come to think of it, so did Fair Game, and The Newsroom is in its final season. The appetite for making these instant revisionist-history pieces is significantly larger than the appetite for watching them.

So that’s why I’m not that worried about the Rathergate movie.