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Dealing with “facts” in Your Views

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Greg Peck
November 5, 2012

In this politically volatile era, sorting fact from fiction can be especially troubling. That’s why Factcheck.org and other fact-checking organizations have emerged. But critics and conspiracy theorists even question whether these are objective or have built-in biases.

You can imagine the struggle we often face trying to determine whether a reader sending us a letter for The Gazette’s Your Views column is stating the facts accurately. That task grows even greater in election season, when I regularly receive more than a dozen letters a day and fight the clock trying to edit and get them onto pages.

Some are obvious, but reading too quickly could lead us to print embarrassing flubs in letters such as one recalling “President Kenney,” another focusing on the abortion issue and how it relates to cases of “rape and incense” and still another supporting a candidate whom the writer believed would make a good “citizen reprehensive.”

All three of those came in the same day last week. So did another from a writer who “knows” and supported three candidates—but spelled two of their names wrong.

One letter made factual allegations against a candidate for Assembly and cited the source. We checked it out, confirmed what appeared to be accurate information, then printed the letter, only to have the candidate in question ask us why we didn’t fact check it. We recounted the steps we took and the source we checked, and that ended the debate.

Among letters we rejected last week was one making claims about gun control that we believe contained too many falsehoods.

I’m always glad to see our deadline for election-related letters pass. We regularly set that deadline at 5 p.m. the Wednesday before the election so we have time to edit them and allocate space in our papers Thursday through Saturday. This year, I’ve dealt with that deadline seven times, including primaries. I’m looking forward to a break in the election action.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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