As published in the American Bar Foundation Working Paper Series:
How does one regulate truth? This paper reports on one of the few roles in our complex labor force employed soley as gatekeepers of truth. It describes an ethnographic field trip into the back offices of fact checkers in three American newsmagazines. I document how checkers strive to discover truth and ferret out falsehood, construe fact and error, organize suspicion, gather corroborating or incriminating data, devise and interpret an idiosyncratic evidentiary law for news accounts, and negotiate with colleagues over facticity. The paper shows how stories change (or fail to do so) as checkers exercise their craft — often by ritualistic adherence to deadening methodological routines and always on deadline. The finding that fact checkers scrutinized text on average about three times per column inch and that half of the words ultimately printed in magazines had been investigated by these gatekeepers should give social scientists considerable pause about our own gatekeeping practices.