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Checking Facts, Links: Are You Completely Accurate? (Is Anyone?)

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Martin Schneider writes:

Emily and I generally have little patience with the apparent hordes of pedants who seem just a tad too delighted when the come upon an occasional factual error in The New Yorker. (N.B.: As a copyeditor, my job description is basically "professional pedant," so don't take that slam too much to heart.)

Putting out a magazine is hard, as Emily knows all too well and I've also been able to figure out over the years, and the belief that The New Yorker might possibly (or ever did) achieve pristine perfection with regard to facts is kind of the adult version of believing in the tooth fairy. Magazines have deadlines; facts are elusive; brains get tired; it's hard.

And yet, and yet—this position, in a sense, allows The New Yorker to benefit from its outsize reputation as the Magazine That Never Errs while shielding it from the responsibilities that that status brings with it.

So, you know, yeah—The New Yorker shouldn't ever depart from its implied mission to Get It All Right, which mission (and a sizable budget) allows it to publish a great deal of material on a vast range of subjects with what everyone would agree is a dauntingly high degree of accuracy. That's the story here, not that it got the identity of the 1953 Cy Young Award winner wrong that one time (or whatever).

We get a fair number of people writing in, alerting us to this or that inaccuracy, and we tend to ignore them (fair warning). But recently a fellow named Craig Fehrman contacted us, inquiring about a possible link to an article he had written about a recent error in The New Yorker.

I admit I indulged in a preemptive wince. And actually, I'm not entirely sure that the article doesn't share just a bit of the same mindset as the "mere" error-flaggers out there in the magazine's audience. But his article so transcends that big-brained delight in catching someone out, I thought it would be worth linking to it.

So here it is: "Just The Facts at The New Yorker?" by Craig Fehrman, at Splice Today. I particularly liked his closing point, about The New Yorker's subtle and precarious existence between print and the Internet.

While we're at it, a couple of additional fact-checking links. Andrew Hearst at the indispensible Panopticon blog, posted a big chunk of "Are You Completely Bald?" a 1988 New Republic article by Ari Posner and Richard Blow a few years ago.

Fehrman links to John McPhee's reminiscence from earlier this year about fact-checking as well as an amusing Wikipedia list (loooove those Wikipedia lists) called "Prominent former fact-checkers" which verifies that fact-checking can be the first step in a noteworthy career, but only in a narrow set of egghead-y endeavors. No NHL goaltender has ever started out as a fact-checker (apparently, anyway; I await the Wiki update).


I’m obsessed with “Are You Completely Bald?”, as Andrew knows; it was required reading for all new Nation interns once upon a time.

I tried to get it from some New Republic people a while back when I did a story on their redesign, but what I should’ve done is persuade them that it was enough in the public mind that they should post it on their own site. Since this hasn’t happened yet, if I were Andrew, I might be tempted to post the whole thing and see if anyone notices. Do it, Andrew!

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