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Chelsea Clinton is disputing the facts in Amy Chozick’s Chasing Hillary

It’s part of a bigger problem in the book industry.

WE Day UN- Chelsea Clinton Monica Schipper/Getty Images for We Day
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

New York Times reporter Amy Chozick has found herself embroiled in an extremely civil public debate with Chelsea Clinton over Chozick’s new book, Chasing Hillary.

Chasing Hillary covers the years Chozick spent covering the Clinton campaign trail, and while she’s not unsympathetic in her portrayal of Hillary, she is in places sharply critical of the Clinton camp. Chozick writes that Hillary had no vision for her presidency, that she refused to allow the press reasonable access to her campaign, and that the Clinton machine bullied and terrorized anyone who got in her way.

Now, on Twitter, Chelsea Clinton is taking issue with Chozick’s facts. Clinton tweeted that she was not pouring Champagne on election night, as Chozick wrote, and that despite Chozick’s claims, she has never had a keratin treatment. (Clinton’s explanation is that she lost her curls naturally.) What’s more, she writes, Chozick never wrote to her to confirm her facts.

Chozick, for her part, has maintained that she fact-checked the book thoroughly. She posted a photo of her author’s note on Twitter, in which she notes that she “hired a professional fact-checker to review — and scrutinize — my version of events.”

Chozick’s choice to hire a professional fact-checker actually puts her well ahead of many nonfiction book authors. As I wrote for Vox just last week, book publishing is structured to disincentivize fact-checking:

One of the standard parts of any book contract is the warranty and indemnity clause. By signing on to that clause, an author is guaranteeing that their book is their own, original project, not plagiarism, that it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights, and — if the book is nonfiction — that its facts are accurate. And if it turns out that any of these claims are untrue, the liability is all on the author. They’re the ones who pay up if someone decides to sue.

So the facts are all up to the author. And different authors handle that liability differently. Some might want to hire a freelance fact-checker, but that can get expensive: Vulture cites flat prices of between $5,000 and $25,000, and the Editorial Freelancers Association quotes a rate of about $30 to $40 per hour. The money for fact-checker fees would have to come from the author. And since most nonfiction book authors aren’t exactly rolling in spare cash, it’s a tempting corner to cut. Many authors decide to just fact-check themselves or to skip that step entirely.

Either way, we’re left with an industry in which a lot of nonfiction books don’t get looked over by a professional fact-checker.

“While I can’t speak for every publisher or author, my experience with book-length material is that fact-checking is the exception, not the rule,” says Rob Liguori, a New York-based freelance fact-checker with nearly a decade of experience.

As politics become increasingly polarized and “Fake news!” becomes an ever-more-popular battle cry, the lack of fact-checking in book publishing will most likely become a bigger and bigger problem. Fact-checking is not a magical solution that will make a book indisputable and beyond debate — Chozick, after all, hired a fact-checker and her facts are still being questioned. But making fact-checking a regular part of the publishing workflow, in the same way that copy editing is, would go a long way toward giving readers more reliable books to debate.