Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Fact Checker #1

There's an old fashioned thing called a copy editor and fact checker that newspapers used to have and I was one of them. The job involves splitting yourself in two. As a copy editor, I don't give a damn what the writer is saying, I'm just verifying it's in proper English - spelling and grammar - that's it. First test of being a good copy editor, doing it from the bottom up, paying no attention to content, just making sure there isn't a their that should be a they're or dash that should be a comma. Then you're done copy editing.

Then you start fact checking, or you can do it the other way around if you've got both jobs, but in the old days, it was two different people.

So this putz film critic has declared that The Godfather is the worst movie ever made. This, in your opinion, is not a fact, it is an opinion, an opinion that will go on forever as a representation of the magazine or newspaper paying your salary. Should you call the writer and maybe ask him to reconsider the statement, maybe add "one of" or "in my opinion," something other than a statement of fact that will making everyone at the paper a laughingstock. A statement of fact is a dangerous thing in the golden age of litigation, not to mention the potential of no more advertising dollars from a distribution company that bears a grudge.

As a fact checker, it is your job to question the veracity of absolutely everything, you're like a personal Wikipedia where everything has to be proven. This was a tough job before Wikipedia.

So as a fact checker, I say the bin Laden assassination story is full of holes. Not gaping, just little places where the pieces don't fit. It seems to me that if you don't believe in evolution because of a single missing link in a vast chain of empirical evidence, you can't believe the bin Laden story for the exact same reason. There are missing links.

So the first thing I "fact check" is the traditional Muslim method of burial, which mentions in the ground by sunset with the head pointed towards Mecca and nothing of having your picture taken then moved to the nearest ocean and being dumped off a U.S. destroyer.

As long as there was a way to bury bin Laden
in the ground with his head towards Mecca, the burial at sea was distinctly NOT according to Muslim tradition. The obvious answer, the U.S. didn't want him buried, knowing the site would become an an attraction to the enemy, and ignoring the obvious, that surveillance of such a site would allow them to keep track of the enemy.

All it would have taken was one single country to allow the burial of bin Laden and there would have been no need for a burial at sea, according to Muslim tradition. You wanna tell me there wasn't single lunatic dictator in some backwoods African no-man's-land that wouldn't have taken bin Laden's body just for a tourist attraction? Did the U.S. actually ask every country if they wanted him? That would have been more in line with Muslim tradition than a burial at sea as long as his head was pointed towards Mecca.

Yet the media has blindly repeated Obama's line on this, it was according to Muslim tradition, when it was no such thing.

There. Now you know why I'm not working as a fact checker at any major news organization.