If there is such a thing as winning at fact-checking, Rep. Joe Courtney gets a gold medal for calling out factual errors in Stephen Spielberg's Lincoln. The Connecticut congressman wants it fixed, too.
Courtney was watching Lincoln over the weekend — better late than never, right? — when he was a little taken aback by the scene showing two Connecticut congressman voting against ending slavery. "'Wow. Connecticut voted against abolishing slavery?'" Courtney remembers other theater-goers asking after the scene. "I obviously had the same reaction. It was really bugging me." Being a Connecticut congressman himself and a onetime history major at Tufts, Courtney went digging for facts in the archives, and facts are what he found. "After some digging and a check of the Congressional Record from January 31, 1865," Courtney explained in a letter to Spielberg and DreamWorks explaining his findings. "I learned that in fact, Connecticut's entire Congressional delegation, including four members of the House of Representatives … all voted to abolish slavery."
Courtney goes on to ask, quite politely, that this "distortion of easily verifiable facts" be corrected "if possible … before Lincoln is released on DVD." Neither Spielberg nor Dreamworks has responded yet, but this has to be embarrassing for both parties. It's not like they didn't do their research. Spielberg and Tony Kushner, the movie's screenwriter, did a fair amount of research in the years-long process of making the film and met with the country's top Lincoln scholars. Since the premiere, the film's historical accuracy — historical assertiveness, even — has been praised by film critics and historians alike. People fact-checked Lincoln, too, and while folks like Joshua Zeitz at The Atlantic found some nuanced errors, everyone apparently missed the Connecticut vote count detail.
The big question now, of course, is whether Spielberg will actually change the film. If he does, Courtney definitely wins at fact-checking, and if he doesn't, well he's still an exceptional Connecticutian. We'll know by February 26, when Lincoln is scheduled be released on DVD. Until then, we're on the edge of our seats.