I’ve mentioned before that since being online a lot of newspapers fill their virtual pages with crap that they would only ever put in the print versions on the very slowest of slow news days. Galleries are probably the best example of this trend, and often appear for almost no discernible reason. The only apparent reason for the Teletubbygraph bothering with this one of top movie FBI agents is that there’s a new film about about J. Edgar Hoover. And because knocking these lists and galleries together is a job handed out to work experience folk and people who just happen to be walking past the building, or so I’m beginning to believe, fact checking isn’t always all it should be. And so we have…
Except in the film Costner’s Elliot Ness refers to himself as a “Treasury Agent” and the real life Ness was an agent for the Bureau of Prohibition, which did indeed come under the Treasury during most of its existence. The FBI didn’t even exist under that name until two years after Prohibition ended and four years after the conviction of Al Capone in 1931, pretty much the last event of the Costner movie version (and which the real Ness didn’t actually have a great deal to do with). While the Bureau of Prohibition was moved from the Treasury to the Justice Department in the period in which the movie was set it did not become part of the Bureau of Investigation, the FBI’s name prior to 1935, until a couple of years later in 1933 (when it became known as the Alcohol Beverage Unit), and in any case it was less than a year before Prohibition ended and it was returned to the Treasury where it became a forerunner to today’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
In short, the movie Ness wasn’t an FBI agent, never described himself as an FBI agent and was never referred to as an FBI agent, and nor would the real Ness have called himself an FBI agent as nobody at all in the period would have been called one simply because no agency existed with that name. All of which could be checked on various websites in fifteen minutes or so and on Wikipedia alone in less than half that time. Unless of course you’re doing a photo list for the website of something that still likes to consider itself a serious broadsheet newspaper for no better reason than there’s a new film out about Hoover.
Best I can say is that it could have been worse.