The New York Times recycles John Ford Pearl Harbor footage

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tags: New York Times, Pearl Harbor

David Austin Walsh is the editor of the History News Network. Follow him on Twitter @davidastinwalsh.

Video editors at the New York Times have some explaining to do.

As Andrew J. Bacevich points out in an article for TomDispatch, a Think Back video on the history of isolationism used footage from the 1943 John Ford documentary December 7th when covering the Pearl Harbor attack. Bacevich was critical of the video for its content -- calling it "two minutes of agitprop" -- but its cause was not advanced by using "faked scenes of the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor."

This is not the first time Ford footage has been used by the media as Pearl Harbor stock footage -- in 2001, a CNN story on the movie Pearl Harbor incorporated shots from December 7th, attributing the film as "actual footage" from the Pearl Harbor attacks. (To be fair to the Times, they made no such claims).

There is in fact only around a few minutes' worth of video from the actual attack, filmed by a doctor trying out a new movie camera (he managed to catch the Arizona blowing up, but the film quality is poor, even by 1941 standards). The rest of the footage that pops up in documentaries -- burning ships and clouds of billowing smoke -- are from the aftermath of the attack.

Ford's documentary won an Academy Award for documentary short subject in 1944, but because of the controversial nature of the film -- it highlighted the Navy's embarrassing lack of preparation for the attack -- it wasn't released in its entire 83-minute original cut until 1991.

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