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The New Yorker What a Load of Balderdash
A Freedom Special Report

Fact Checks or Checkered Facts?

In August 2010, Lawrence Wright put the finishing touches on a purported “profile” of filmmaker Paul Haggis. All that remained was The New Yorker’s fact-checking process. Customarily, fact checking is a formality meant to insure accuracy and correct any misstatements.

The 48 binders presented by the Church of Scientology in response to fact-checking questions sent by The New Yorker.
But Wright’s article wasn’t even close. Of the 971 statements, assertions and questions submitted to the Church to “fact check,” more than half were completely and utterly wrong. To put it politely, that’s not a fact check, that’s “throwing something at the wall to see what sticks.”

The fact that their “writer” got so much wrong appeared to have set off alarms with The New Yorker’s editorial staff. Indeed, Wright’s article was so flawed his draft was taken off the print schedule and it would be four long months before it went to press. But, given there were so many inaccuracies, it never should have gone to print at all. That’s what a respectable publication would have done if it had found its article filled with errors, misrepresentations, transparent agendas and lies. And to add insult to injury, the final article was riddled with errors, much like the draft that was rejected.

In the final analysis, the outcome of the fact checking tells a different story—a story of Lawrence Wright’s negligence and tabloid approach to his New Yorker story on the Church and The New Yorker’s complacency and complicity in same.

Here are some remarkable “facts,” courtesy of The New Yorker.

One article, purportedly a “profile” but actually on the Church of Scientology, that was: 

  • 10 months in the making
  • 26 pages and 24,605 words long 
  • About a subject willing to address 1,150 “facts” in an effort to make sure the article is right…

In the end, the numbers tell the tale of how The Wright Stuff became The Wrong Stuff:

In the final analysis, of the 971 “fact-check” questions, 569 are utterly false.

  • The initial batch of statements, assertions and questions submitted to the Church to fact check totaled 971; of these, 569 were entirely false.
  • Lest anyone think eviscerating more than half the supposed facts means the other half was true—those that remained (36%) included such banal facts as the correct and full title of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, if it was authored by L. Ron Hubbard and when the Church of Scientology was founded.
  • Only seven fact-checking “questions” focused on Church expansion (0.7%) and just one question focused on Church social betterment programs (0.1%).
  • The first item “fact checked” about Haggis, the “subject” of The New Yorker “profile,” didn’t appear until question No. 412. In director-speak, the guy they claim is the star of the picture turned out to have a minor supporting role, if not merely a walk-on.
  • Even after an apparent four-month rewrite period, Wright still got it wrong because of the 1,150 “fact-check” inquiries the Church addressed, 542 were so inaccurate they were nowhere to be found in the final article.

The point?

No number of rewrites, “Oops, my bad” or any literary device or dissembling can excuse a writer for turning in a “finished” article that upon fact checking has a full 59 percent of its “facts”—not opinions from “opinion checking”—dead wrong.

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