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  • Writer's pictureBethany Crystal

Confessions from a Former Fact-Checker

  1. Does a half-day golfing count as an out-of-office day?

  2. If the President interacted with another national leader on the golf course, was that a “meeting” or a “vacation” day?

  3. If a President started the day at Camp David, then returned to DC that evening, how should that be counted?

Trained for precision perfectionAs you might imagine, fact-checking was a fairly thankless job. But it was not for the faint of heart. To prepare for the herculean task of ensuring accuracy at all time, I spent four years conducting high-intensity journalism training at Northwestern University. Essentially, this was all to make sure we’d be scared shitless to never to tell a lie in public. To whip me and my peers in shape, our classes featured memorization quizzes on entire sections of The AP Style Guide and obscure spelling words like dybbuk. (Interestingly, that’s the first time I’ve ever managed to actually ever use that word.) Our homework assignments would earn us an immediate “F” if it contained even a single spelling mistake or misappropriated fact. And our professors drilled grammar rules and conventions into our heads with so much conviction that I’m fairly certain I’ll still be puzzling over mind-benders like “lay vs. lie” while I’m on my deathbed. Of course, this obsession with accuracy didn’t come without its consequences. When I interned at a local newspaper during the summer of my sophomore year, I made my first public mistake when I misspelled the name of a musician who conducted a local concert. As punishment, I locked myself in my bedroom and sobbed for three-hours straight as I wrote heartfelt apologies to the conductor, my editor, and the newsroom team. I seriously debated quitting my internship on the spot. That night, I had a terrifying episode akin to the musical mental breakdown, “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” that character Elder Price experiences in The Book of Mormon. Ten years later, and I wish I could tell you that I even remembered the guy’s name. But of course, these things never quite matter as much as you think they do. Some people might debate that facts don’t quite matter as much as they used to. This naturally makes me pretty sad. Who’d have thought that all those courses on libel and defamation would have the potential to be eradicated with just a single Tweet?

A fact by any other nameThe world seems to have flipped 180 degrees in the decade since I’ve graduated. Now, rather than obsess over every minute detail, it’s almost as if we’ve collectively decided that facts no longer matter. Or rather, that anything can be a “fact” as long as it’s been cited or quoted anywhere else first. I was having a hard time coming to terms with this new reality so I made myself a handy guide to help:

Fact Checking Guide: Then And Now


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