We Fact-Checked the Play About Fact-Checking

Does art imitate life? In the case of Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of The Lifespan of a Fact, it does. Sort of.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s latest direct-from-Broadway production focuses on one central idea: truth. The Lifespan of a Fact follows Jim Fingal, an overzealous magazine intern fact-checking author John D’Agata’s article on a teen’s suicide in Las Vegas. It’s based on real events, which Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison says makes the show more potent. “As Americans, we’re all in the conversation about the nature of news, what’s real, what’s fake, and what liberties the writer has taken.” As Fingal goes to extraordinary lengths to corral D’Agata’s exaggerations, audiences get a look at how fact-checking (mostly) works. We had Patrick Murphy, our fact-checker, compare his experiences to the show’s.

Jim Fingal photograph by Tony Arrasmith/Arrasmith & Associates / Patrick Murphy photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Jim Fingal
An intern has five days to fact-check a 15-page article, and assembles 130 pages of fact-checking changes.

Uses C++, Python, and Lisp computer coding languages to create custom searches and automated batch applications.

Flies to Las Vegas to check the color of a brick building.

To check “The wind was blowing hard but did not come into my house,” goes to author’s house and huffs and puffs like the big bad wolf.

Believes his near-obsessive attention to details helps resist a growing skepticism in journalism.

Patrick Murphy
Interns generally don’t check feature articles; I do. And three pages of changes would be a stretch.

Uses quotation marks around names and dates in Google searches. Calls the source.

Have you heard of Google Maps?

Asks local blues guitarist Dudley Taft Jr. to measure his beard length. (It was 9-and-a-half inches instead of 8, by the way.)




The Lifespan of a Fact, Playhouse in the Park, Mt. Adams, Oct. 19–Nov. 16.

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