Fact-Checking “A Life Sentence”

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Listen to “Fact-Checking ‘A Life Sentence’”

If Christopher Swetala is working with you on a story, you better get the weather right. Same with details relating to medical gauze.

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Christopher is a fact-checker for This American Life. He combs through stories before they air to assure accuracy. So, if a story includes a detail about the weather, he’ll look at historical data from NOAA. Numbers, too. Since numbers can be misleading, not only will Christopher double-check any number in a story but the context as well. On a crime story, he’ll look at court documents and chat with lawyers to be certain the reported charges and sentence are spot on. In short, he says it’s his job to be suspicious, very suspicious of the facts presented in a story.

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Listen to “Reporters make mistakes”

On this episode of HowSound, Christopher and producer Samantha Broun talk about fact-checking Sam’s award-winning documentary A Life Sentence, which was produced with Jay Allison, premiered here on Transom and later aired on This American Life (as a slightly altered version).

Christopher says he’s worked on stories where reporters don’t do a good job tracking source material; he has to hunt information down. He wishes reporters would pay closer attention to the details in several areas.

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Listen to “Get court documents and don’t just add numbers”

In Sam’s case, Christopher says she made his job easy. She had piles of source material.

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Listen to “All the information Sam provided”

As we discuss in the episode, Christopher uncovered a few places where Sam framed information in her narration in a way that was incongruent with the facts. But, she has plans to make sure that doesn’t happen for her next story — another criminal justice documentary due in November.

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Listen to “Next time I’ll pay closer attention to my writing”
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Listen to “Tips for managing lots of information”

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