Greg Beato on Jonah Lehrer, Plagiarism, and Why We're Now Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking


For the last several years, the universe has been kicking journalists. In 2012, they started kicking themselves. There was Jonah Lehrer and his fake Bob Dylan quotes. There was Fareed Zakaria and his purloined paragraph. There was a series of other offenses, so many that the Poynter Institute's Craig Silverman ultimately dubbed these last few months journalism's "summer of sin." It was happening, many suggested, at least in part because journalism's traditional quality control mechanisms were in deep institutional decline; the fact-checkers had left the building.

But as Greg Beato points out, the "summer of sin" didn't happen because fact-checking doesn't take place as much as it once did. It happened because fact-checking got democratized. True, it now largely occurs at a different and potentially problematic point in the process—after an article has been published. But fact-checking also happens far more transparently than it once did, and overall, it occurs more frequently too. Now, a single reader in his home office can do in 15 minutes what it might have taken the New Yorker's entire squadron of legendary fact-checkers days to accomplish in, say, 1992.