Fact Checking


This is not a column on the debates. This is a column on fact checking.

How did that phenomenon become commonplace? Suddenly, any comment you make (especially if you happen to be running for President) is not only checked for accuracy, it is checked immediately. Right then.

I could not operate like that.

Many years ago my nephew told me about his family’s trip to the mountains. He said, “You know what we saw up there?


“You know what ELSE we saw up there?


I am no park ranger, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t sharks in the Rocky Mountains. But the point is that he said it with so much conviction I was almost convinced he was right. And I never thought it important enough to check to see if there WERE sharks up there.

Which is how society – military or civilian – works. Nuances, subtleties and half-truths are the engines that run the nation’s interactions. Fact checking is the sugar in the gas tank.

If we were fact checked in everything we did, life as we know it would collapse into angry chaos.

White lies would be the first casualties in such a world, but there would be more. Job interviews, fitness reports, end-of-tour awards, sea stories…they would all be threatened.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer a world in which the benefit of the doubt is still a valid approach when confronted with outrageous claims.

I was a weatherman in the Navy. If my bosses had fact checked all my forecasts…well, it wouldn’t have been pretty. I relied on injecting wiggle room in my forecasts by using words and phrases such as “predominantly”, “chance of”, and “becoming.” (Used together in a sentence, the forecast would be, “Partly cloudy becoming predominantly mostly cloudy with a chance of rain in the forecast area.”)

In those days I was bulletproof. With fact checkers in the room I would not have lasted a day.

So maybe for a Presidential debate, fact checkers have a role. But in my world, they can do their research elsewhere. I prefer to live in the gray zone, where I belong. Bad things happen when a person tippy-toes into the world of black and white.

And that’s no lie.

(updated Oct 24)


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