Hollywood Renditions and Newspaper Depictions of Titanic Crew

When anyone depicts a past event, whether in the newspapers or in the silver screen, do editors, managers, and directors have the obligation to render a product that more closely resembles the past event or is there space for poetic license?
Remembering that a newspaper should print the truth and the silver screen most likely produces anything but the truth most times.
On general terms, this is a helluva good question. I would think that if the producers are trying to pass something off as a true story, then it should have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That's idealism of course, and willy nilly, I live in the real world where this obligation is seldom if ever honored.

As to any part of the newsmedia, I can't say as I trust them much at all. The best advice I ever received on the media came from a US Marine Corps Intelligence officer. The gist of what he told me was that the bare bones facts of a news story will be in the first few sentences spoken or the first paragraph or two written. The rest is opinionation and if the reporter has some kind of agenda, spin control.

In re the entertainment industry, their first concern...their protestations to the conterary notwithstanding...is the almighty dollar or pound sterling. I have no problem with that in and of itself. The trouble is that what makes for good drama is often at the expense of reality and that makes for very bad history. I loved Cameron's Titanic, but I wouldn't want to use it as a source for history. The mistakes are legion and have been discussed extensively here on this forum so I hardly need to go into the reasons why.

Michael H. Standart

For some reason invented before film had sound, pictures dealing with real life events and people have always been allowed to mix and mingle (and mangle) the facts.

Working for magazines and newspapers (freelance albeit) I'd have to say they are much more careful over the truth and do make an effort at fact-checking though I'm not sure how thoroughly. On occasion I have been called by editors to provide sources for material they felt was questionable, and since I usually write only fashion pieces or at most (thus far)book and exhibition reviews, I'm sure writers on politics, science, or other technical subjects would get pressed for sources even more frequently.

This of course doesn't mean untruths don't get printed but I think reasonable efforts are made in publishing to make sure what is being alleged is as true as anyone knows. I just wish films had to meet this criteria.

Whether or not magazines and newspapers present correct facts, I think the perception (or at least the hope) is that they do. Films (or for that matter stage plays) are representational and therefore inherently artificial. Although theatrical productions and films are concerned with creating a neat, well structured, well sequenced story, designed to elicit a certain emotional response from the viewer. Facts just don't always lend themselves to neatness. Therefore, the artificiality of films is acceptable and hopefully understood, so that even "factual" events are presented with a tone of fiction. I cannot concieve of a magazine or newspaper recreating a staged photographic representation of an actual event using actors as though they were the real individuals in the actual event. An artist's rendition is different, since a drawing is obviously not factual. Film presents artificially recreated visuals. (Under normal circumstances, excluding documentary type presentations.) Therefore it becomes acceptable and even assumed that a film representation is at least one step away from the truth.
Dear Steve.
I found your answer fascinating.

I attended the University of Maryland during the Kent State incident and the National Guard came down on us one night. My parents were worried about me because I was very late getting home. But I was a music student and the art/music building (The Tawes Fine Arts Building) was about 3/4 of a mile from the "action" so none of us knew what was going on adn were in the middle of a recital. We all left the building. I came home to see a horrible mess on the TV. But I had just come from the campus and down Route One and saw nothing.

Feeling rather sure of myself, I went to the books tore the next day. And students nearly overturned my car until I managed to show my student identification card and then they dropped my car and went on to the next.

So from my perspective the night before, my parents and the TV were nuts. But from my persepctive in themorning, I was scared for my own life and wished I had listened to my mother and father's warnings.

Thanks for your answer.
"I'm sure writers on politics, science, or other technical subjects would get pressed for sources even more frequently."

Hi, Randy:

Coming from a scientific (and philosophy of science) background, I couldn't pass this one up.

Speaking strictly to science journalism, you're undoubtedly right that sources are probably even more imperative. The big problem, though, is the ensuing descriptions -- from "Scientists prove ..." (the worst!) through "Scientists discover ..." (the least noxious, but still incorrect). Without beating a drum on this, scientists never *prove* anything -- that's for lawyers. And they rarely discover anything -- that's for explorers. What scientists do is to test hypotheses, then publish the Results of those tests along with their *Conclusions*. (I've capitalized in the preceding because the two are deliberately separate sections in any scientific research paper -- the former containing only demonstrable results of the testing, the latter what the researcher *believes* those results indicate.)

Usually, the only things reported in the media are the Conclusions (mere interpretations), and those are often proclaimed as if cast in stone. Our metropolitan area commercial television newscasts are especially notorious for this: one study done, and POOF -- it's a fact!

Of course, the problem there isn't embellishment or fictionalization. It's just a failure to comprehend the tenuousness of a single scientific study, combined with a quest for the sensational in science. The repeated experiments that ultimately may or may not bear out the original findings of the first study are just "old news" by then.

John Feeney
Hey There John,

Thanks for that posting above. I never thought about publications by the scientific community in quite that way before. Prove, discovery and scientific study. I know in my own work-a-day world many people use words interchangibly and it brings on a whole different meaning outside our work community. But at times, I feel that this tactic is used to "get one over on the public" so to speak. Whether it be just those outside our specific group or outside our dvision....this seems to apply. The study becomes the discovery and proof. Very Interesting. This added a lot. Thanks.
John & Steve,

John - You are the man. I will not argue with a man of science. I only mentioned science as it is technical and serious (and not comparative fluff like I write!)and I thought surely such writers must be truly on their toes and not miss a beat in reporting findings, etc.


I do not mean that the creativity an artist must have the freedom to express in any form should be squelched. I mean only that history lends it own art to any story and a creative enough artist can weave his visual or poetic passion around known facts, known names, known events, rather than taking huge and unjustifiably broad liberties with a given story which happens so often and can ruin the effect. This is my opinion only - I'm not looking to get into a debate. I only want to clarify my view so that you know I am NOT in disagreement on the point that freedom of expresion in art, theatre, dance, film, etc MUST be protected and encouraged.

Hmmm...in the US we have that freedom, the one of expression in art, theatre, dance, film and it is one of the most important freedoms that we have. And yet I am glad that we also have artistic folks who also have the passion to maintain the integrity of known facts, names, events...etc. inthe midst of their work. Thanks Randy.
Hi, Randy:

I got a slightly queasy feeling on reading your last, and felt a clarification might be in order. I may have overstated my opener, and really didn't mean at all to malign your field. l hope that wasn't the impression I gave.

If anything, my meaning was that the sources demanded in science journalism lend an excessive authority to the ultimate product, which may or may not accurately depict the true significance of the work. A perfect example of this was "cold fusion". The research was perfectly legitimate, but the results just were not repeatable. (And I suspect that without the media hype that ensued, those two researchers would not have felt the need to "head for the hills".)

My apologies if I seemed to convey any haughtiness there. I just wanted to point out yet another case of the perception of "truth" in the news media being a little more tenuous than commonly thought.

John Feeney