Have you noticed that Americans are always declaring something in their back yard the biggest, longest, cleanest, dirtiest and my personal favorite, most pristine?
One community in rural Northern California decided a while back to erect the nation's "tallest" flagpole as an economic development project. Grants were obtained and the pole went up. For a while it WAS apparently the tallest flagpole in the US. But the distinction lasted less than a year. At least this community was willing to acknowledge that it had indeed lost the short-lived distinction.
From whence does this tendency come? Is it just Americans who do this sort of thing or is locally biased exaggeration a tendency in all human societies?
We should be able to rely on journalists to fact check claims of this type when they encounter them in the course of researching stories. And we should be able to rely on editors to require fact checking and to catch most misstatements of fact.
Unfortunately, fact checking seems to be out of favor these days necessitating the sort of correction in the comment above. This is curious in light of the web which makes fact checking so much easier than in the old days.
But even the web can be confusing. I just did a web search - US longest free flowing river - and was not quickly able to get the answer. I had similar problems on Answers.com. I did however learn the name of Missouri's longest "free-flowing" river - the Meramec - as well as Alabama's longest - the Cahaba.
I suspect that the proliferation of factual errors in modern journalism is the result of changing values. Most journalists and their editors appear to be more concerned about whether the article reads well than about whether it is factually accurate. In this they may simply be reflecting the values of readers.
I invite readers of this Blog to comment: Are factual errors proliferating or is it just that there is more "journalism" being done? Are major publications more or less likely to contain factual errors? What, if anything, should be done about the situation?
And what about my pet gripe? Is this a uniquely American tendency or is it universal? Is it more prevalent in the American West than in other parts of the US?
While you are at it, please share your favorite example too.