Did You Really Have to Fact Check That?

27 08 2008

While most of us were reveling in Senator Hillary Clinton’s thundering and memorable speech at the Democratic Convention last night, the good folks at the New York Times thought it was a good idea to fact check her paraphrase of the great abolitionist Harriet Tubman. In a post provocatively titled “Did Harriet Tubman Really Say That?,” Sewell Chan contacted a few Tubman scholars about whether or not that famed New Yorker actually said as Clinton noted in her great speech:

If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

In short, the scholars said no, but its an understandable and very forgivable mistake, considering how so many people have attributed that same paraphrase so often to Tubman for so many years.

In fact, one scholar said in an email message to Chan that “I researched this years ago and determined it came from a juvenile account of Tubman’s life sometime in the 1950s.” But that “in all fairness to Senator Clinton and others who use that quote, few outside of the small circle of Tubman scholars know that the quote is not actually attributable to Tubman.”

Now, as much as I love a good diligent fact check, I do have to admit this Chan’s post is going to be forever associated with an otherwise marvelous and gracious speech by Senator Clinton.

Call me a sucker for poetic specifying, but I think politicians, especially when they invoke the celebrated efforts of truly heroic figures should be provided a little latitude. This is particularly true of Senator Clinton who did a great job of trying to persuade her supporters to get behind the party’s nominee.

At any rate, I have to ask did that really needed to be fact checked?




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