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The Fact Checker's Bible: A Guide to Getting It Right

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0385721066
ISBN-10: 0385721064
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

How do those incomparable fact-checkers at the New Yorker do it? Smith used to be one of them (she’s now head fact-checker for the New York Times Magazine), and in this tidy little volume, she shares the secrets of her craft. And even for those don’t aspire to be a journalist or researcher, Smith’s tips are useful: in an information-logged world, we all ought to be able to determine the reliability of what we read. She opens with an excellent lesson in the art of skeptical reading ("do you find the article credible and persuasive?…. Occasionally, flat writing can be a tip-off that an author is parroting someone else’s ideas"), and she offers a useful discussion of fact-checking procedures at some top newspapers and magazines and helpful (though not comprehensive) lists of reliable resources in subjects ranging from films to wine. Much of the book, however, is for professionals, and the journalists, fact-checkers, researchers and editors at whom this is aimed should find it nearly indispensable.
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Review

“The indispensable guide to the field. Smith’s abundant common sense, her relentless zeal for the truth, not to mention her exquisite sense of fairness, make her book a godsend for researchers and writers alike” –-Jeffrey Toobin
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (August 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385721064
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385721066
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Fittingly, the descriptions of THE FACT CHECKER'S BIBLE given in the blurbs above exactly match Sarah Harrison Smith's book. Despite an enviable résumé, something in Smith's tone suggests youthful excitement---inasmuch as she still finds it exciting to track down the ten thousand details that a writer has already dug up in order to ensure that she or he has got them all right. (In literary studies, those people are called critics and biographers.) But considering the number of scandals concerning plagiarism, fabrication, and sheer audacity in American journalism during recent years, this demanding task is a necessary one---even though it is surrounded by so many legal pitfalls that it sounds like Hell, Inc.

(Her chapter on fact-checking poetry and fiction comes off as a little comic, albeit unintentionally, and suggests it is likely that she writes neither: when creating imaginative literature, accuracy is swell but plausibility is paramount.)

Far from being addressed only to colleagues in the profession, this brisk handbook will educate anyone who writes anything, and readers who wish to become better judges of everything they read---in the news, in their own area of expertise, or for pleasure. Smith maintains the fine line where skepticism does not sour into cynicism, and makes better critics of us all.
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I needed to learn the basics of fact-checking rather quickly, and Smith's book taught me everything I needed to know. A must-read for anyone in media or publishing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's helpful to distinguish closed questions from open questions. The population of Cleveland is a closed question. Whether or not Cleveland is good place to live is an open question. In discussing open questions, many subordinate verifiable facts are at issue. This book is about verifying facts that are verifiable, facts sometimes dismissed as details. For publishing houses, this is in part important because the publisher is subject to being sued for libel. For most writers, there should be a general obligation to get the facts straight as a matter of integrity. The examples in the book make that point well. Readers are not well-served by a diet of careless mistakes and author-serving exaggerations. In poetry and fiction, the author correctly shows the potential for libel, no matter that the work as a whole is labeled fiction. Moreover, simple errors like "the roses were blooming in May" are distractions to readers who happen to know that the roses in that location don't bloom in may. The harm is the distraction from the flow of the work, not the danger of rose garden owners suing.
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If you do any fact-checking (or you're interested in doing any), then I recommend this book. It's interesting, well written, clear, concise, and helpful.

Bear in mind, though, that the job of a professional fact checker often differs from that of a copyeditor or proofreader who's checking facts on a manuscript. The former delves deep into the source, its accuracy, veracity, and more. The latter might just need a good online source or two to confirm something the author mentioned in passing. So if you're just interested in which metasearch engine might be best to confirm something, then your emphasis is slightly different (online research). But even so, I think you'll find this a good book and a useful tool. I do, and it's helped my research and fact checking to go quicker and smoother, so it's been well worth it.
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