From His Girl Friday to All the President's Men, Hollywood has had an odd fascination with journalists. They're portrayed as glorified detectives that seek out the truth for innocent people or unravel political scandals. But what of the fact checkers? Fact checkers are the uniquely American members of the editorial chain, making sure that everything printed in a magazine is correct. Almost every journalist has spent some time as a fact checker; this Wikipedia article has an assuredly incomplete list of former fact checkers (and yes, I do see the irony in linking to a Wikipedia article when writing about fact checking). As it turns out, Hollywood has given some love to the fact checkers. Here are three of the biggest fact checking movies, along with one online video.
Shattered Glass is the movie all journalism students should see. Besides imparting the important lessons that you can't just stumble on an amazing story and that most reporting isn't fun, it has an extended sequence about how articles get edited at a major magazine. On the other hand, it also shows the best way to beat the fact checking system "“ only use reporter's notes. The movie follows the true story of Stephen Glass (played by Hayden Christensen of Darth Vader fame), a reporter at The New Republic who fabricated most of his pieces. He is outed by a reporter at a rival magazine and done in by some intrepid fact checking. Of course, it really doesn't take much to get through some of Glass' lies- he makes up the phone numbers for his sources, then gives the flimsiest of flimsy excuses for them not picking up.
Makes fact checkers look like: Sherlock Holmes
Bright Lights, Big City
In between making the three Back to the Future installments, Michael J. Fox starred in Bright Lights, Big City, an adaptation of the Jay McInerney novel. Fox plays Jamie Conway, a fact checker for The New Yorker who's also addicted to cocaine. Besides being a fact checker at the so-called "Vatican of fact checking," Conway's life is in shambles "“ his wife left him, his mother has died and he's actually about to be fired. I guess fact checking isn't always as good as it seems.
Makes fact checkers look like: Kate Moss
If Almost Famous made reporters look like party people, it made the fact checkers out to be cops. Young William Miller follows the fictional band Stillwater on tour and writes about his experiences hanging out with the band and their entourage (including the groupie Penny Lane). Everything looks great (after all, he just partied with Billy Crudup) and the story is ready to be printed in Rolling Stone, until a fact checker cancels the story because the band won't verify it. Of course, this being Hollywood, things work out in the end, as the band confirms the story and the nasty fact checker is thwarted.
Makes fact checkers look like: Tightwad Angela from The Office
FCU with Bill Murray
This video, featured on FunnyOrDie.com, shows fact checkers in the coolest light. The fact checkers walk with a swagger, work for a division named with an acronym and wear FCU jackets. The video follows the FCU on a Bond-like mission to find out if Bill Murray drinks a glass of warm milk before falling asleep, which includes meeting a secret source disguised as a hot dog vendor, rappelling down a building and getting to watch M*A*S*H* with Bill Murray. Sure, they probably could have just called Murray's publicist, but that wouldn't have been fun. (Warning: Some of the video may not be safe for work)
Makes fact checkers look like: Jack Bauer