A new movie called Truth opens Friday in St. Louis. The film tells Mary Mapes’ version of the Truth. She was a CBS producer who was fired for her role in a 2004 Sixty Minutes report that the network later admitted was inaccurate.
The message of the movie is simple: Even if your basic story is correct, your supporting evidence must be legitimate.
Mapes and her crew assembled a story that had holes in it. They thought that they had the “smoking gun” to reveal that incumbent President Bush (43) had skipped out on his Air National Guard duties in the early 1970s. The memos they showed on air were immediately attacked as fake by right wing websites and soon after by other news organizations including ABC News. Eventually, CBS disavowed the report and Dan Rather issued an on-air apology.
I was reminded of the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial. An L.A. police detective named Mark Fuhrman was one of the key prosecution witnesses. But defense attorneys were aware of his background and used that information to prove that he lied about his use of racial slurs. Johnny Cochran and his team convinced the jury that if Fuhrman lied about using slurs, everything else he said was subject to doubt. Despite other strong evidence that Simpson committed murder, he was acquitted.
When we as communicators tell a story, whether in a blog or social post, a media release, website copy, marketing email or other content venue, we need to make sure that we don’t sabotage our efforts by including questionable information.
If you are promoting a service or product that has, say, three strong verifiable selling points, be careful about adding other claims that may cause prospects to wonder about the validity of those three rock solid points.
The 2006 Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth—there’s that word Truth again—shared meaningful insight about climate change. But the film faltered when it implied that Hurricane Katrina was a result of manmade global warning. Knowledge that monster hurricanes have wrought havoc for centuries blunts the Katrina claim and calls the entire content of the movie into question.
I wrote about The Truth earlier this year. Click HERE to read that post.
By the way, I recommend the movie Truth. It is a well-told, well-acted story that provides lessons for all journalists and all communicators. Whether what you see onscreen is completely true is for you to decide. Interestingly, the production company for Truth is… Mythology Entertainment. (True.)