Just the Facts December 2007

The Bald Truth

How to diplomatically pry into people's lives

Unfortunately, sources can often tell by the tenor of our checking questions what the tone of a forthcoming article may be. So while they may have been open to the journalist who originally approached them, once we get them on the line, they can become irate at what they imagine the author has and hasn’t chosen to cover. (I once had Michael Jackson’s former plastic surgeon scream at me for half an hour, threatening to sue us if we published a piece about his estranged business partner.)

So we try to err on the side of the diplomatic in our questioning. But regardless of how you couch it, there is no easy way to ask people if they are bald (or impotent, for that matter). The last time I had to ask whether someone was follicularly challenged, I went for the understated route. “Is it true that you are slightly balding?” I asked with trepidation. To which the source boomed, “Honey, I’m as bald as a cue ball!” with a laugh.

More surprising, perhaps, is how seemingly innocuous inquiries can provoke the most unexpected responses. After 20 minutes navigating through painfully private questions such as whether one particular source cheated on his wife and embezzled money from the company he established, I breathed a sign of relief that he had patiently responded to all of these trying subjects. Yet on my final question, one I considered a throwaway, about the color of his eyes, he exploded. He roared at me for five minutes, questioning the reliability of the author and the article because his eyes are not blue, but clearly hazel.

Who’s to say which facts people hold most dear?

— Yvonne Rolzhausen supervises the fact-checking department at The Atlantic.

Presented by

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Playing An Actual Keyboard Cat

A music video transforms food, pets, and objects into extraordinary instruments.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

Video

The Man Who Built a Forest Larger Than Central Park

Since 1979, he has planted more than 1,300 acres of trees.

More in National

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In