Saturday, March 25, 2006

David Remnick on fact checking

David Remnick in Haaretz (it's not a great interview) goes into some depth about the New Yorker's fact-checking:
"When I go to interview, for example, Sheikh Naif Rajoub, one of the leaders of Hamas, I go with a translator, because I do not speak Arabic. I don't want to record too much, because that is double the work. I write pretty fast, and I know what to omit. But that's okay. Because afterward, at the office, our Arabic fact checker - a very talented Lebanese-American woman - will call Sheikh Rajoub and go over it with him, fact after fact. She will ask, 'You said that you will never recognize Israel - is that true?' And he will confirm or refute. 'Is it true that you were born in 1948?' 'Is it true that you have three children?' Every fact found in my article is checked and confirmed. As editor of the magazine, it is embarrassing to be caught with mistakes, and I hope that there will not be any, but I feel very good when I know there is someone checking up after me."
The New Yorker's fact-checkers - "about 20 young employees in their twenties, who specialize in a variety of fields and who care" - make the magazine unique as it relates to what has recently become a burning issue in American journalism: over-reliance on unnamed sources, a hot subject in the wake of The New York Time's failure in its coverage of the war in Iraq, due to reliance on unnamed administration sources who claimed that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

"Seymour Hersh writes about intelligence for us," says Remnick, "and he often quotes from sources without attribution. But as editor, I know exactly who each of these sources is. And the fact-checkers will speak with the sources and will ascertain that they stand behind the words. When Hersh speaks with a source, he will ask him if he is willing to speak with the fact-checkers."