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When Fact-checking Goes Wrong: An Intern’s Tale

Seems pretty racy for 1966. Image: Nesster, via Flickr

One of the necessary evils of journalism is fact-checking. It’s dry, tedious, and, thus, inescapable for those of us lowest on the editorial totem pole (i.e., interns). I was never warned, though, that fact-checking could be fraught with peril.

I arrived at the office today, café mocha in hand, resigned to the task of verifying the minutia of our next issue’s event listings. Dull, indeed, but — as a consolation — ostensibly riskless. I tore through Sedaris at Winspear and Bernini at the Kimbell when I arrived at the listing for a Bunny Yeager exhibition at Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery. Bunny Yeager was a ’50s pin-up model and pin-up photographer. This fact was of little import to me, though: her listing was merely another hurdle to clear before I could get back to doing anything but fact-checking.

In responsible intern form, I dutifully opened several links in my browser, each discussing the exhibition and featuring a sampling of Yeager’s works—namely, black-and-white photographs of busty women (e.g., Bettie Page) seductively sprawled/spread-eagled/bent in all (or, at least, most of) their glory.

A note on D office geography: most interns sit on intern row, which is a long desk more or less ringed by windows and is just around the corner from Wick’s lounge — ahem, office. Interns sit next to each other, no more than a foot-and-a-half apart. A note on D human resources: all intern row interns, besides me, are females.

So I continued apace on my fact-checking, toggling ferociously between Bunny Yeager browser-tabs, breasts-thighs-butts flashing in phantasmagoric rapidity. The truth: I was so enthralled with my fact-checking project that I failed to acknowledge the breasts-thighs-butts for what they were. When, all of a sudden, I noticed neighbor-on-the-right Jacie (fellow editorial intern; a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader; and current co-occupant of the earth’s selfsame four square feet) studying my computer screen with a sidelong take. Looking at my screen anew, I saw what she saw: a Google search screen with thumbnails of black-and-white, buck-naked women and a side panel advertising Bunny Yeager’s Beautiful Backsides ($16.20 on barnesandnoble.com), complete with a bum-thrusting bombshell.

I panicked.

What should I do? Instinct screamed to X-out the window, thereby erasing the evidence of my supposed depravity. But, reason responded, impulsively X-ing out would only serve to communicate my incontrovertible guilt. Stay the course, it advised. So I left the “Beautiful Backsides” undisturbed.

Alas, this was not a long-term solution, because the corner of my eye now caught neighbor-on-the-left Jessica (shopping intern; current co-occupant of another four square feet) peering at my screen’s obscenity. Now what? Acutely self-conscious, I scraped for an idea. Then, a safety line: the marked-up sheet of event listings before me. As nonchalantly as I could, I grabbed ahold of my pen and performed an exaggerated, back-and-forth head-swivel from screen to paper to screen to paper to screen to paper, to indicate that these breasts-thighs-butts were all part of the job. But Jacie and Jessica weren’t buying it. I could sense their derision, their utter disgust.

Inspirationless, I pathetically clicked between the collection of Yeager tabs in my browser, as if a lack of variety in my pornographic imagery were the problem. When, at last, one of the tabs offered a way out. In it was Yeager’s photograph of loincloth-donning tigress Bettie Page lunging on a beach; the headline above it: “Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery presents Bunny Yeager opening reception.” At last! A tableau that could exonerate me! Jacie and Jessica would see it and realize that their fellow intern was no run-of-the-mill workplace pervert, but, instead, a stand-up guy willing to brave the ickiness of granny-era porn for his job!

They didn’t bite. I offered subtle, but clearly inviting glances, so that Jacie and Jessica would look at my computer screen, register my communication, and submit a knowing smile or a more generous “Ohhh! So it’s for work!” But: nothing. My neighbors refused to lend their virgin eyes to another bit of misogynic trash. But it isn’t misogynistic trash, my throat-clearings and seat-shiftings implored. Still: nothing. So I had no choice. To prove my innocence, to preserve my dignity, I courageously stood up and departed for an aimless tour around the office. Surely, reason argued, my unguarded computer would attract Jacie and Jessica’s inquisitive looks, and they would finally understand.

But, despite the foolproof plan, my crisis would not subside. What if Wick, or Tim, or Krista, or somebody else walked by? There would be no denying that my computer screen proudly displayed a lusty brunette showcasing her wares. Unnerved, I rushed back to my seat. Bettie Page, mid-lunge, stared back. And there was no sign from Jacie or Jessica that they got my message.

Thus, this post. It is, of course, a cautionary tale to naïve editorial interns: beware the fact-checking. But, mostly, it’s my attempt at exculpation. Jacie and Jessica: Krista made me do it.

Farraz Khan is a D Magazine intern.