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Truth is crucial when labeled as a ‘true story’

The story seemed too good to be true – and it was.

Thomas E. Jones – a then-16-year-old messenger in Washington, D.C. – was to deliver a telegram to President Harry S. Truman that indicated the surrender of the Japanese during World War II on Aug. 14, 1945. According to Quincy Perkins, a filmmaker from Florida, the end of the war was delayed because Jones stopped to eat a pancake breakfast with friends and was then pulled over by a police officer for making an illegal U-turn before delivering the telegram. This false version of the story is portrayed as the actual events in Perkins’ short film The Messenger.

The inaccuracies in Perkins’ film came out after Jones’ family members found out that Jones was reported in the film as dying on Dec. 31, 2005. This infuriated his family because Jones is still alive and well, living with his wife, Nancy, in Maryland. The inaccuracies fooled many news agencies, including USA Today, into believing Perkins’ film was telling the true story.

The reality of what happened on V-J Day? Jones and Earl Allison, both messengers for the RCA communications office, were instructed to deliver a coded surrender message to the Swiss Legation building. Allison, who was driving (not Jones), thought they were to go to the White House, which is why he made a U-turn. They were stopped for making the illegal U-turn, so that part is true. But a pancake breakfast was never involved, and the two did not dawdle, as they had an inkling of what the top-secret message was about.

Perkins’ film is the latest instance of artists taking the truth and distorting it to tell a good story. Earlier this year, author James Frey came under fire for his purported memoir, A Million Little Pieces, since he embellished upon the actual happenings in the book. After it came to light that Frey was not telling the whole truth – or even half of it – he wrote an author’s note that will appear in future editions of the book in which he says he “didn’t initially think of what (he) was writing as nonfiction or fiction, memoir or autobiography.” If Frey was unsure if the book was anything but the whole truth, then he shouldn’t have misled readers by labeling it as a memoir.

The same goes for Perkins, who did not do all the necessary research for his project. Perkins said that he had trouble finding the real Jones, so he assumed that Jones was dead and hired an actor to portray him. When artists such as Perkins and Frey ignore reality and make stories that aren’t exactly reality but label them as truth stories, they mislead the public and hurt many.