One of the more enduring lines from John Ford's Westerns is a maxim offered by Carleton Young in the "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." Young plays Maxwell Scott, an aging newspaper editor confronted with facts that contradict one his community's most cherished beliefs. Rather than print the ugly truth, he elects to destroy the evidence. His justification:
This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
I thought of Young's line today while trolling the web for old video and news about Tony Wilson, the infamously impish founder of Factory Records who died this past week.
Over on YouTube, I found a snippet from a television retrospective of his career. It focuses on his success promoting pathbreaking pop groups like The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, New Order and The Happy Mondays.
While there are some fun moments with the man himself, I was struck by how heavily the producers relied upon clips from "24 Hour Party People," the excellent biopic about Wilson starring Steve Coogan.
Nevermind that the movie was a work of fiction. Or that Coogan's version of Wilson is an unreliable narrator with a nearly pathological commitment to self-mythologizing. When a moment calls for video to illustrate qualities of Wilson's personality or events from his life, the producers jump for the legend more frequently than the fact.
And, as much as this tweaks my inner journalism professor, I think I can understand where the TV producers were coming from. I'll try to offer it here as a 2007 update to Ford's maxim.
This is TV, stupid. When the tape is hot, run the tape.