There’s no question in my mind that James Vanderbilt‘s Truth (Sony Pictures Classics, 10.16) is Best Picture material. It’s brilliantly acted, tightly assembled and cut from the same thematic cloth (i.e., corporate-minded news org dilutes or dismisses important news story) and shaped with the same finesse that produced Michael Mann‘s The Insider. But it’s already taken a torpedo in the form of an unusually early opinion piece posted last Thursday by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg, and if a couple more attack articles from reputable journos come out between now and mid-October Truth will almost certainly come to be regarded by the rank-and-file lazybrains as controversial or damaged goods — a movie that might have a loose screw or iffy content or whatever.

The argument against Truth is not, of course, about how smartly assembled or engagingly complex it is. It is aces in these respects, trust me. The film is especially riveting in its layered, detailed portrait of big-time television news culture — the personalities and priorities of news reporters and stringers vs. corporate overseers. The argument will be that Truth, which is based on Mary Mapes‘ 2005 book “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power,” seeks to whitewash or exonerate Mapes for her disputed reporting on that September ’04 60 Minutes segment that explored ex-President George Bush’s performance in the National Guard in the early ’70s, and that exoneration is not appropriate.

Feinberg and others I’ve spoken to believe that Mapes messed up, plain and simple. They correspondingly seem to believe that approving of Vanderbilt’s film is tantamount to approving of Mapes’ reporting, and therefore Truth must be given the cold shoulder. Which of course would be redundant as Mapes and Rather were already given the cold shoulder 11 years ago. Truth is about looking more closely at the reasons why they were thrown under the bus.

In an HE piece about this argument posted two days ago, I wrote that “the movie I saw doesn’t try to give Mapes and Rather a total pass. It makes it clear that they failed to be careful enough regarding the Killian memos, but also that they were fucked by lying or recanting sources. But Truth is more fundamentally and importantly about how CBS News management all too quickly cut them loose when the heat came down.”

Yesterday Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone wrote that Truth may already be fatally damaged, as other Feinberg-like pieces may post between now and 10.16.

Truth will be hit pretty hard by journalists who have come forward to side with the Bush administration and CBS to say that Mary Mapes was in the wrong,” she wrote in a piece that’s actually about the Oscar chances of Room‘s Brie Larson. “Truth does not say she wasn’t. It isn’t about that as much as how the original Bush story was buried, and the unusually strong punishment Mapes received. It was, to my mind, a sad day for freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

“But it doesn’t really matter what I think. When a woman is involved people run like scared rabbits, as they did with Zero Dark Thirty, Selma and now Truth. This is one of those faux-scandals that will simply damage an Oscar contender [and] then slither quietly back from whence it came. There is something about a woman being in charge that makes people nervous. Dollars to donuts if Mapes had been male none of this would have happened in quite the same way. CBS might have done what Ben Bradlee had done and stood by his reporters who really were on the side of the truth. But they didn’t. They collapsed under pressure. Period. The end.”

Sony Pictures didn’t fight the “endorses torture” argument that was speciously mounted against Zero Dark Thirty. This all but guaranteed that Kathryn Bigelow‘s brilliant intelligence melodrama wouldn’t figure strongly in the Best Picture race. I wonder if Sony Pictures Classics will man up and wage a vigorous debate with the Truth critics, or whether it will just open it and let the winds of fate decide?

And where, once again, is the Truth trailer? Who holds back on releasing a trailer less than four weeks before a film’s opening?