Movies, Facts, and Auditing - Act III

For those of you who missed Acts I and II, we are making the case that the public’s acceptance of the media as the purveyor of truth is leading us to the precipice of disaster. And, as proof, we are exploring an article that appeared in USA Today about a simple (but not cheap) little sequel to the movie “Night at the Museum.” And now — Act III.

Now I present the most damning statement from director Shawn Levy. The article makes the point that, in spite of what is “suggested” by the movie (my quotes), the Smithsonian is not one museum. Levy states, “We’ve created a geographical convenience that is not entirely accurate. It’s semi-accurate, so I feel OK about it”

Semi-accurate???!!!

Isn’t that the clarion call for every misappropriation, every misstatement, every shoddy product or service that you’ve seen? But, to the director/writer who feels facts can be sacrificed for “story,” he feels “OK” about semi-accuracy. We have another word for semi-accurate. We call it incorrect. We call it wrong. We call it unethical. And, in the vernacular of the professional auditor, we call it a lie.
 
Okay, lie is a little strong when we’re talking about a movie. But how many people drawn to the museum because of this movie (again, the point of this article) then blame the museum because it doesn’t match the movie?
 
And there it is, the crux of the biscuit. It must be true because it is in a movie, on television, or on the Internet. These are the Wikipedia-trained inhabitants of idiocracy who march-step to a truth fed to them by a little screen — people who, rather than do actual thinking, begin to think it is the real world that is wrong, not the digital perceptions that are designed by people who think semi-accurate is enough.
 
And this is where the powers that be — the directors who twist natural laws to get that one shot, the writers who are too lazy to look up the facts, the actors who just read their lines — have abdicated their responsibilities. Everyone in the entertainment industry understands the power of what they do. (Why do you think there is so much product placement?) They understand that people watch the soaps and think those actors are the people they portray. They understand people glued to the screen take every word as gospel. They understand that they are writing new truths in their pursuit of box office glory. But they refuse to take responsibility for it. “It’s just a movie” and “I did it for the story” replace their own realization that these lies become truths to the millions who watch, and that their innocent dalliances with fact become reality for a populace that force-feeds itself on the latest explosion of the day.
 
So, what does this all have to do with auditing? (Come on — you knew I’d get there somehow.) Auditors are supposed to be critical thinkers. We are supposed to look at things and question why. We are supposed to dig deeper than the surface to ensure things are really as they seem.
 
Sure, Mike, but these movies are just for fun. You don’t need to take it that seriously. 
 
For fun you say? Of course it’s in fun. And I am not saying everything has to be fact-based. I’ve been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy for years, so I do not insist on stark realities. What I will not tolerate is the blatant misrepresentation of known facts forced to dance to the whims of people who have convinced themselves they are so correct that the reality of those facts does not matter. (And does anything in that previous sentence sound familiar? Think Enron et al. — blatant misrepresentation of known facts. People who think they are so correct that the facts don’t matter.)
 
And this all speaks to the constant, systematic, unending dumbing down of the populace that affects you, me, our auditors, and our auditees. I’m not advocating giving up on frivolities, but I am saying don’t accept facts as facts if you really don’t know. 
 
Here is a story I recently heard from another audit shop that provides an example of this issue. The auditor talked to the auditees about the risks and associated controls. The auditees described their controls. The auditor asked if they actually conducted the steps necessary for the controls. The auditees said yes. The auditor provided the information to audit management, and a clean report was issued because the risks had been identified and mitigated by the audited department.
 
The blind acceptance of a truth that is unproved.
 
It is evidenced by something as innocuous as people accepting what they see on movies/television/the Internet as fact. And it feels as though I see it more and more in everyday life. And my greatest fear now comes to life; I am starting to see it translated in the critical thinking we, as auditors, pride ourselves on.
 
Am I wrong? Have I gotten too upset over a minor thing? In defense, I quote one of my favorite bumper stickers: “If you’re not upset, you’re not paying attention.” 
 
And, if I am wrong, please speak for the defense.

 

Posted on Jun 4, 2009 by Mike Jacka

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  1. Blindly accepting what you’re told is never a good idea.

    I think your point for auditors is that we sometimes accept what management tells us without verifying that it’s true. That’s true.

    You know that small print disclaimer that they have at the very end of the movie credits that says the characters and events portrayed in this movie are fictitious….? Auditors who document what management tells them but don’t test its validity or depth should also add a disclaimer saying that “According to management…..” "We did not test these controls because (enter a good reason here, such as it was outside the scope of our audit, or we will test these controls as part of our follow-up audit)."

    Your point about movies is that they represent an alternate reality that sometimes overlaps our reality, but they are more often different than real. That’s true too. Who’d want to watch a movie about reality? You can see that everywhere.

    I was in New York City a few years ago, sitting in my hotel room watching “Sleepless in Seattle” which includes the heart-warming scene at the end of the movie where Meg Ryan runs into the lobby of the Empire State Building, just as the building is closing for the day, and begs the security guard to allow her to ride the last elevator to the top (so she can meet Tom Hanks).

    I thought, “Hey, I’m just a couple of blocks from the Empire State Building. I should take a walk over and see it.” In non-movie reality, to get to the elevator to the top, you have to walk down a long hallway, wait in a really long line and pay $17 to take the ride. It’s not like the movie. But, hey, it was a movie.

    Nonetheless, I still (sort of) believe that Superman is real.

     

  1. First, the crux of the biscuit is, in fact, the apostrophe, not the fallacy "It's in the media, therefore it must be true", 

    Second,  it is agreed that the media panders to, exploits and exacerbates the human tendency to believe what is convenient to believe, or what one wants to believe.  As the philospher that defined the biscuit's crux noted, "There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life" 

    Third, auditors can fall prey to this tendency as easily as anyone else, our mission to be independent & objective notwithstanding.  As evidence, I point to the thousands of audit shops who so far HAVEN'T come forward during the current economic debacle, brandishing old audit reports and saying, "See, WE TOLD YOU SO!"

    Finally, an absolute insistence on proven, binary truth, regardless of how boring or unattractive it is, guarantees one's status among peers as a total weenie.  This, however, is the cross real auditors must bear, and is no impediment to success. .

  1. Joe congratulations on catching (and expanding upon) the Frank Zappa reference.  A free cup of coffee for you at the next conference.

    Thanks for the comments from both of you.  Appreciate the added insights.

  1. I recommend beocming a member of the NSIAP (if you are not) as the articles in their Newsline address questions of this nature. Here is an excerpt from The Delicate Art of Making Audit Appointments by Telephone .Having made all of the appointment making mistakes over the years, I can now say that there is a great deal of art to doing it well. By thinking of what has worked and by listening to the customers I have learned that the appointment is not mine to make, it is theirs. Let’s face it. We are largely at the customer’s mercy. We all know that according to the policy conditions, near the back of the policy, there is a phrase giving us permission to audit all the records pertinent to the determination of the premium. We also know that if the insured does not “cooperate” with the audit process, they can face cancellation of their coverage or an estimated audit. At the same time don’t we just want to complete the audit without having to “strong arm” our customer? Can your skills help avoid the misunderstandings and extra work that goes along with estimating audits?

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