Reminder: If The Facts Don't Support Someone's Claim, Say That : Memmos Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott writes occasional notes about the issues journalists encounter and the way NPR handles them. They often expand on topics covered in the Ethics Handbook.
NPR logo Reminder: If The Facts Don't Support Someone's Claim, Say That

Reminder: If The Facts Don't Support Someone's Claim, Say That

We wrote about this last month. The New York Times' public editor weighed in this week. It's worth repeating:

When politicians and public officials (or anyone, for that matter) say things that don't fit the facts, we should point it out – and we are, as the "Break It Down" fact-checks show.

Our earlier post suggested several ways to say and write that what Candidate A or City Official B just said doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The Times' Margaret Sullivan pointed to other approaches, such as noting that they spoke "without citing any evidence" or that the statement "has no basis in fact."

If the evidence shows that a claim clearly doesn't add up, we don't need to qualify with a "critics contend" or a "some say." State what is known and how we've reached that conclusion (for example, "an NPR search of news accounts and police records found no evidence to support the claim").

Sullivan also noted something we agree with: that as much as possible, the fact-checking should be done "in real time." That is, as soon as possible after a claim is made. We've been doing that very effectively after the presidential debates and notable claims by candidates.

Obviously, politicians and public officials aren't the only people who make claims that can't be substantiated. Keep in mind that, as the Ethics Handbook says, "our purpose is to pursue the truth. Diligent verification is critical. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context." Also, we shouldn't "just spread information. Be careful and skeptical."