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NOTE: This is the debut of a new occasional column pointing out factual inaccuracies, misstatements, falsehoods, disinformation, misrepresentations, propaganda and lies in the mass media—from cable news to talk radio to movies and beyond. In our Orwellian era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” when journalists are vilified as “enemies of the people,” truth—and the ability to discern it—is becoming increasingly endangered. This “post-truth” climate threatens is corrosive to our social discourse. Indeed, something I’ve noticed is that the very word “fact” itself is frequently used incorrectly on the airwaves.

The inability or difficulty to distinguish fact from fiction undermines self-government, which depends upon a well-informed populace. As Timothy Snyder writes in On Tyranny: “It’s a vision that’s very similar to the central premise of the fascist vision. It’s important because if you don’t have the facts, you don’t have the rule of law. If you don’t have the rule of law, you can’t have democracy… Post-truth is pre-fascism...To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so.”

In Roman mythology Veritas was the goddess of truth. Veritas Vigil’s goal is, in the interests of accuracy, to set the record straight. In the immortal words of that great “philosopher,” Sgt. Friday: “Just the facts, ma’am.” In this inaugural piece I consider two examples of factual inaccuracies, from Fox News and Hollywood.

Fox News’ Media Buzz-Saw

A well-informed news commentator would likely know that two of the most famous Democratic presidential contenders in U.S. history, Sen. Bobby Kennedy and Vice Pres. Hubert Humphrey, both entered the 1968 presidential campaignAFTER the New Hampshire primary.

During a Fox News’ Media Buzz segment on Nov. 24—the day Michael Bloomberg officially announced his presidential candidacy - guest Cathy Areu enthusiastically asserted that no candidate had ever entered a presidential race as late as Bloomberg has. In fact, this is completely inaccurate. Without even doing any research a well-informed news commentator would likely know that two of the most famous Democratic presidential contenders in U.S. history, Sen. Bobby Kennedy and Vice Pres. Hubert Humphrey, both entered the 1968 presidential campaign AFTER the New Hampshire primary. (I suspect many other lesser known Democratic and Republican candidates also tossed their hats into the ring later than Bloomberg, but I haven’t researched this.)

RFK announced his candidacy March 16, 1968, while Humphrey announced his bid April 27, 1968. Areu made her erroneous remarks on Nov. 24, 2019—more than 50 years after their announcements and two months BEFORE a single vote has been cast in the Feb. 3, 2020 Iowa caucus and Feb. 11, 2020 New Hampshire primary. On Nov. 25, 2019 I sent emails to Media Buzz (during the program host Howie Kurtz didn’t correct Areu’s mistake) and to Fox News executives Irena Briganti and Porter Berry, pointing out Areu’s misstatement and requesting: “If Ms. Areu is incorrect, for accuracy's sake, can Fox and Media Buzz please publicly correct the record on national TV…? Can you please ask Ms. Areu to correct the record, too? Facts matter. I await your response.”

Two weeks later none has been received. The failure of Kurtz’s program and the Fox execs to reply, let alone air a correction (there wasn’t one on the Dec. 1 Media Buzz), is especially egregious because, as I noted in my email, “this program purports itself to be a media watch show” that critiques the news. Furthermore, as Areu’s moniker (for some reason) is “the Liberal Sherpa,” it’s eyebrow-raising that one of the few (self-anointed, self-appointed) “liberals” the notoriously conservative Rupert Murdoch network deigns to put on the air spews historically inaccurate misstatements, shredding facts with a media buzzsaw.

Introduced as a “liberal analyst” Areu appeared on a Nov. 11, 2019 Fox & Friends segment regarding Bloomberg’s then-unannounced presidential candidacy. Contending that “we still don’t know who” the three-term New York mayor, as if he was some sort of mystery man, Areu added Bloomberg is: “undefined, we still don’t know him… as a politician… He’s doing something no one else has done before —he’s ignored the bloodbath [that is, the Democratic contest thus far] that’s been going on and he’s going to jump in now. New York loved him.”

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Areu went on to slam Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ criticism that the billionaire (relative) latecomer was trying to buy the election, contending “that’s the only thing else they can say… There’s nothing else they know that’s a negative.” Nothing? Really? Seems that “analyst” Areu is as uninformed about Bloomberg’s record as she is about the history of presidential candidates.

Only six days after Areu’s Bloomberg boosterism (aimed at attacking Democrats clearly to the left of the ex-Republican) the ex-mayor-cum-prez-contender - who now needed Black and brown voters - publicly delivered a mea culpa for his racist “stop and frisk” policy. It makes you wonder who Fox’s “Liberal Sherpa” is carrying water for in Murdoch’s Himalayas?

Midway: Location! Location! Location!

In 2001 I wrote a front page story for Variety about historical inaccuracies in the Pearl Harbor movie. Now I’m training my sights on another WWII epic.

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As co-author of the 2001 film history book Pearl Harbor in the Movies I was excited to see Roland Emmerich’s Midway. The sprawling motion picture not only depicted the eponymous 1942 battle, but events leading up to it, such as the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo. Midway was full of heroics, extremely exciting, excellently shot—and I wasn’t disappointed. Except for one detail…

It is to screenwriter Wes Tooke’s credit that the mostly forgotten U.S. attacks on the Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific, which were occupied by Imperial Japan, is dramatized in this movie shot at Hawaii and Quebec. Unfortunately, in this brief sequence verdant mountains and valleys appear onscreen. The Marshall Islands, however, are flat coral atolls. (I know—I’ve been there.) One could excuse this by stating Midway is a fiction film with actors, a script, production values, etc., and not a documentary. However, the movie’s opening credits make a point of insisting that Midway is a fact-based film. But doubling a high volcanic island for low-lying isles undercuts Midway’s claim to veracity in what is otherwise a laudable movie.

Chapter 20 of Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny is entitled: “Be as courageous as you can.Veritas Vigil paraphrases that to: “Be as factual as you can.” And to paraphrase Alexander Pope: “To err is human, to correct the record divine.”

ed rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based journalist and film historian/critic Ed Rampell was named after legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (https://mutualpublishing.com/product/the-hawaii-movie-and-television-book/).