Fact: the actor Daniel Radcliffe is currently starring in the Broadway show “The Lifespan of a Fact,” as a magazine fact checker with an aviation inspector’s zeal for accuracy. The play is drawn from a real-life skirmish: in 2005, Jim Fingal, an intern at The Believer, was tasked with fact-checking an essay by John D’Agata (played by Bobby Cannavale), about a teen suicide in Las Vegas. D’Agata had more of a watercolorist’s approach to the truth. When Fingal tried to correct his claim that Las Vegas had thirty-four licensed strip clubs—a source indicated that it was thirty-one—D’Agata said that he liked the “rhythm” of thirty-four. Their epistolary tussle was expanded into a book in 2012.
Not long ago, Radcliffe arrived at the offices of this magazine, wearing a maroon cap and a green jacket and clutching a latte. He had come to try his own hand at fact-checking, with the help of The New Yorker’s fact-checking department. Radcliffe had a few things to verify himself. Passing a wall displaying recent New Yorker covers, he said, “That makes me feel a lot better about our play. We’ve talked about whether an editor would have loads of covers in their office. I’m going to go back and say, ‘Yes.’ ”
He reported to the office of Peter Canby, the magazine’s head of fact-checking. “One of the flaws—maybe it isn’t a flaw—that my character has in the play is that he has no ability to differentiate between the things that matter and the things that don’t,” Radcliffe said. Canby, who had seen a preview, assured him that his character was spot-on, while allowing, “It’s not really a science. It’s more of an art.”
Then he put Radcliffe to work. They hunched over a soon-to-run review of Oxomoco, a Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The first step, Canby explained, was to underline all checkable facts. “Let’s crack on,” Radcliffe said, scanning the line “The dip itself was excellent, laced with chilies in adobo and cilantro and dressed up with cotija cheese and slightly smoky, lightly charred cherry tomatoes.” He underlined everything except “was excellent.”
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