Fact Checkers: Whose Job is It?


A snapshot from the opening of Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” I loved the movie, but was surprised at some of its historical errors.

Being the Academy Awards are around the corner, plenty of news programs are jumping on the Academy train. NPR posted the financial bonus this year’s Academy nominees experienced at the box office. Another post by Dargis and Scott at the New York Times focused on the “historic” feel of these films, and how far the proffered truth might be from the facts.

I am aware movie producers, directors and writers are not strictly bound by historical fact and truth (whatever those might be). I believe these films will stand as testaments of this era’s social values, rather than a careful historical study. It is art, not a true representation of history.

But what about movie-goers who accept such movies as fact? I suppose plenty of film reviews are being tossed about, upholding or correcting their veracity. But will the average citizen seek out these stories and commentaries? Perhaps if enough news outlets pick up on the story and personally deliver it to their reader’s doorstep/laptop/tablet/cell phone.

The fact that people get their (mis)information from all of the wrong places isn’t something new. But who should be pointing out the errors and correcting popular opinion? The conscientious teacher? The engaged parent? The ethically-bound movie critic?

What do you think? I think all of the above would be great; even better, that every theater patron would be skeptical and intelligent enough to take artistic representation with a grain of salt. And to educate themselves.


6 thoughts on “Fact Checkers: Whose Job is It?

  1. Excellent questions, particularly since Disney has committed to sending a copy of the movie “Lincoln” to every high school and middle school in the country where it will, in all likelihood, replace actually reading a book about Lincoln for many students…

    1. Now *that* is somewhat alarming. I think the movie itself would get kids hyped up about American history, but the movie is within a greater context. Taking it at face value in classrooms would be irresponsible.

      1. But then, taking any source at face value is irresponsible. Everyone has interests and biases. The documents that inform us about the era are not objective nor are the historians that read them and write articles and books. Much better to teach an awareness of the problem and the skills to work with imperfect sources than to try and pretend that there is a single objective universal answer to history.
        It is true that movies often get even basics wrong but then few would care about these things had they not seen a movie. At least it increases interest and in some cases gets people to read and ask questions they wouldn’t have done otherwise.
        Also, looking at how cultural documents have “misread” or interpreted historical events is an interesting exercise itself. David Blight has written some excellent books on how people have remembered and think about this era over time.

  2. I am a History Teacher and a History nerd. Historical accuracy is important to me, but I gave up on Hollywood long ago. If I want historical accuracy, I will find a good book, or do my own research. If I want to be entertained, then I will watch a movie. I no longer hold Hollywood to any standards regarding accuracy.
    Which is too bad, because I would love to see a film that is 100% acurate.

  3. I think it’s a great way to talk about directorial intent with the inaccuracies, and to have a contrasting discussion, or even a Venn diagram where kids outline what they’ve learned and how it jives with or is different from the film. I love the idea. It has so many possibilities.

  4. An excellent question without a ready answer. The question is straightforward and simple but any answer complex because we rarely take the time to figure things out for ourselves, preferring for someone else to do the verification. The movie will hopefully open eyes to the time period and hopefully enough people will understood that some choices were made based on entertainment value instead of historical accuracy.

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