Fact Checking

Fact checking means going through your script line by line, finding the information that needs to be verified through at least two credible sources. If you can't confirm a fact—and it happens—find a way to write around it. Maybe you don't need to say that 25,000 bikers rode into town. If your sources all agree that it was "over 20,000," then say that instead.

What needs to be checked? Pretty much everything:

• "Brilliant and fearless, Admiral Marks now seized command of the troops." Brilliant and fearless both need corroboration, as does seized command. You don't want to find out after broadcast that Marks was widely considered a coward, or that command was thrust upon him when the admiral before him came down with food poisoning.

• "The congresswoman was exhausted and frustrated, convinced now that the bill she'd authored would not be passed." Exhausted and frustrated need to be confirmed, and you should have solid evidence that at this point, she truly was convinced of the bill's failure, and that she had authored it and not simply supported it. (Confirming an emotional state depends on reliable reports from reliable eyewitnesses, recorded as close to the event as possible.)

You need to fact check interview and sync material as well as narration. For example, an auto manufacturer says, "Forty percent of the tires we got in had the problem. They all had to go back." He's the expert, but you find out that in fact, 25 percent of the tires were sent back because of the problem. You can't hide behind the argument that "He said it, I didn't." As the filmmaker, you are incorporating the statement into your film and, therefore, it will be your statement as well. In this case, the line has to go. Of course, if the falsehood is deliberate, and that's part of your story, or if it's clearly a lie and therefore reveals character, you don't need to cut it. But when it is presented as significant evidence to support the argument you're making, then it must be accurate. However, there is also some room to maneuver. For example, if you've confirmed that 38 percent of registered voters in Millville voted for a rise in property tax, and the mayor says, "I don't know, about a third of the voters wanted it," that's probably close enough to use.

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