Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler ruled that a true statement by President Obama on how guns are sold was inaccurate because it was "confusing," just weeks after writing that an unprovable claim about mass shootings made by GOP hopeful Marco Rubio was true.
Kessler's recent fact check of Obama is his latest botched article on the issue of gun violence.
On January 5, Obama announced during a speech from the White House that his administration is taking executive action to address gun violence in light of Congress' inaction following several high-profile mass shootings.
A large share of media coverage on Obama's move focused on the president's plan to expand background checks by clarifying what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms, although the plan also includes provisions addressing effective enforcement of existing gun laws, funding for mental health treatment, and developing gun safety technology.
During his remarks, Obama said, "The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules. A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked." Kessler purported to fact check this statement in a January 6 article.
What Obama said is factually accurate. There are two sets of rules for people who sell guns. People who are "engaged in the business" of selling firearms must obtain a license and perform background checks on customers, while people who claim that they are not "engaged in the business" do not need a license or to run checks. This discrepancy is what is known as the "private sale loophole" or "gun show loophole."
Obama's "engaged in the business" executive action clarifies the law on what it means to be a gun dealer and requires people who are engaged in high-volume sales or engaging in commercial enterprises to obtain a Federal Firearms License and run background checks on customers.
Obama's second statement is also true. Due to the existence of the "private sales loophole," a convicted felon could purchase a firearm without a background check through ArmsList.com or several other websites that allow private transactions.
Taken together, the statement is true as a whole. Gun sellers operate under two sets of rules, and as a consequence someone with a felony conviction can buy a firearm online without a background check from a so-called "private seller" who says he or she is not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms.
Kessler, however, awarded Obama "two Pinocchios" for his statement, claiming that Obama had used "slippery" or "confusing" language while purporting that "many readers" interpreted Obama's remark to mean that the president claimed that on the Internet "it legally permitted violent felons to obtain guns" -- a bizarre interpretation of the plain meaning of Obama's remark. (According to Kessler's rating scale, a "two Pinnochios" claim involves "Significant omissions and/or exaggerations.")
Kessler was only able to reach his conclusion by misrepresenting what Obama said, writing, "Obama erred in saying the rules are different for Internet sellers. They face the same rules as other sellers -- rules that the administration now says it will enforce better." Obama actually referred to "some gun sellers," not just "Internet sellers" in his statement, before using a felon buying a gun online without a background check as an example of how the two different sets of rules for "some gun sellers" work in the online context.
Kessler's purported fact check of Obama stands in stark contrast to a December 10 fact check of GOP presidential contender Rubio's claim that, "None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them."
In his article, Kessler wrote that he was initially skeptical of Rubio's claim but in the end awarded it "a rare Geppetto Checkmark," concluding that the claim "stands up to scrutiny."
But there is no way to actually verify whether or not stronger gun laws could have prevented recent public mass shootings unless one possessed the ability to accurately project an alternate history where the stronger gun law was in place at the time of the mass shooting plot. (And how do you count the mass shootings that did not occur because the gunman wasn't able to get a firearm?) Kessler -- along with Rubio and other GOP presidential candidates -- is certainly entitled to the opinion that stronger gun laws do not prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms, but there is no factual basis for this opinion. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite.
As a September 2015 article in online magazine The Trace explained while summarizing academic research on the topic: "criminals routinely respond to incentives, and policies such as background checks and permit-to-purchase requirements demonstrably save lives by reducing criminal access to firearms." While comprehensive gun laws would not stop every would-be mass shooter, the evidence suggests that strong gun laws meaningfully raise opportunity costs for dangerous people to obtain firearms.
In addition to his flawed premise, Kessler's accounts of mass shootings he used as examples to legitimize Rubio's claim do not stand up to scrutiny, most notably his treatment of the June 2015 mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In purporting to prove that no gun law could have prevented the shooting, Kessler wrote that "some analysts believe [Charleston gunman Dylann] Roof actually would have passed the background check if it had been done correctly." Kessler's sourcing for that claim was highly suspect. Any analyst making that claim would be in disagreement with the FBI, the agency responsible for administering the national background check system, which determines whether or not someone should have passed a check.
In July 2015, the FBI released a statement revealing that Roof was legally prohibited from purchasing a gun because of a pending drug charge. But due to a loophole in federal law, Roof's sale proceeded because an examiner at the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was unable to locate Roof's prohibiting record within three business days, allowing the gun dealer to go forward with the sale without a completed background check. Democrats in the House and Senate introduced legislation that proposes to give the FBI more time to process background checks to prevent this scenario from occurring in the future.
Apparently made aware of the FBI's actual view of the sale to Roof, Kessler added the following update to this post (while also failing to delete his baseless suggestion that Roof may have been a legal gun purchaser):
In a statement after this fact check was first published, the FBI said Roof would have been denied a gun based on an "inference of current use."
Kessler's suggestion that the FBI said Roof would have been prohibited only after his fact check was published is false; it occurred months earlier in July 2015. And the mere fact that Kessler had to make a significant revision to his analysis -- one that undermined a central piece of evidence cited to defend Rubio's claim -- arguably debunks the entire premise of giving Rubio a "Gepetto checkmark." (Kessler never mentioned the legislation introduced to prevent similar future occurrences.)
Kessler also failed to mention the 2014 mass shooting in Isla Vista, California, at all in his fact check. Following that tragedy, California signed into law legislation to specifically address the circumstances of the shooting. Before the shooting was carried out, the family of gunman Elliot Rodger expressed concern to law enforcement authorities that Rodger was experiencing a mental health crisis, but no legal mechanism existed to remove his firearms at the time. The responsive law, known as a "gun violence restraining order," allows family members or law enforcement personnel to petition a judge for the temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a danger to themselves or others. The "gun violence restraining order" law -- which has now been introduced on the federal level -- has applicability to a number of other recent mass shootings where family members or law enforcement knew that someone posed a danger, but lacked a mechanism to remove firearms from that person's possession.
Kessler's fact check of Obama's statement about online gun sales is his latest in a series of suspect articles on the issue of gun violence. In October, Kessler awarded Obama "two Pinnochios" because Obama included gun suicides within his use of the term "gun deaths" - echoing a common right-wing talking point that gun suicides should not be included in the "gun death" total.
A Washington Post fact check agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio's claim that reforms to gun laws would not have prevented any of the recent mass shootings in the U.S. But both Rubio and the Post are wrong: the assault weapons ban proposed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School would have limited the availability of the guns used in at least two recent high-profile mass shootings. And the Post downplayed or ignored other relevant gun violence prevention legislation that could have prevented -- or at least mitigated -- other recent tragedies.
During a December 4 interview on CBS, Rubio asserted that "None of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented them." Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler highlighted Rubio's claim in a December 10 piece, noting that a colleague had flagged the comment for a potential fact check under the assumption that "it was almost certainly incorrect." Kessler, however, awarded Rubio's claim "a rare Gepetto Checkmark," arguing that it "stands up to scrutiny."
In several instances of mass shootings cited as evidence for why gun laws wouldn't work, Kessler gave an incomplete account of the role gun laws could have played in preventing or reducing the amount of deaths.
For example, Kessler claimed that the sale of a handgun to Dylann Roof, who shot and killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, was an "example of an existing law that apparently failed." Roof was allowed to purchase a gun because a clerical error resulted in the examiner not seeing a charge resulting from Roof possessing the drug Suboxone without a prescription, even though the seller knew an arrest record existed.
But Roof was able to purchase the gun due to a loophole in the gun law. A "default proceed" sale allows the purchase of a firearm at the discretion of the merchant, thanks to an NRA-backed amendment added to the 1993 Brady bill that created the background check system. In October, two Democratic senators introduced a bill to close the default proceed loophole.
While Kessler originally asserted that "some analysts believe Roof actually would have passed the background check if it had been done correctly" and that the FBI had "incorrectly referred to a felony drug charge" in its statement, he updated to note that the FBI still says Roof "would have been denied a gun based on an 'inference of current use.'" (This update alone arguably debunks the entire premise of giving Rubio a "Gepetto checkmark.")
Kessler acknowledged that the proposed assault weapons ban of 2013 would have stamped out the availability of the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle that was used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown massacre, but wrote that "gun-control proposals would not have prevented Lanza's theft of his mother's legally obtained firearms."
While the ban would not have affected the Savage Mark II rifle that Lanza used to kill his mother and the handguns and shotguns that were found in his car, the main weapon he used to kill 26 people would not have been available. The high capacity magazines that Lanza used - capable of holding 30 rounds - would also not have been available thanks to a law passed by Connecticut after the tragedy.
Kessler also wrote that California's gun laws "did not thwart" Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik when they shot and killed 14 in San Bernardino, California.
But again, a federal assault weapons ban would have cut off -- or at the very least, limited -- the availability of the AR-15 rifles and high capacity magazines used in the crime.
While he claimed "the Fact Checker obviously takes no position on proposed gun-control laws," Kessler nonetheless cited discredited gun advocate John Lott Jr. to bolster his conclusion that an assault weapons ban would not have had an impact the gun crimes in question. Lott, author of the book More Guns Less Crime, has often been the go-to source for downplaying the problems caused by gun violence. He has repeatedly produced unscientific research and made factual distortions in order to make his case, and has even been accused of completely fabricating evidence.
Kessler also cited Gary Kleck, who has repeatedly been cited in the right-wing media based on his research that increased availability of firearms makes people safer. But Kleck's most-cited study -- which asserts that guns are used defensively roughly 2.5 million times per year -- has been criticized for having "serious methodological difficulties." In a 1997 paper, Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway explained how Kleck's data is implausible:
[I]n 34% of the times a gun was used for self-defense, the offender was allegedly committing a burglary. In other words, guns were reportedly used by defenders for self-defense in approximately 845,000 burglaries. From sophisticated victimization surveys, however, we know that there were fewer than 6 million burglaries in the year of the survey and in only 22% of those cases was someone certainly at home (1.3 million burglaries). Since only 42% of U.S. households own firearms, and since victims in two thirds of the occupied dwellings were asleep, the 2.5 million figure requires us to believe that burglary victims use their guns in self-defense more than 100% of the time. [emphasis added]
In several of the other mass shootings cited by Kessler, he acknowledged the use of assault weapons in the commission of the crime but dismissed the idea that a proposed federal ban would have prevented the mass killings, or at least reduced the amount of deaths.
Kessler also claimed that the evidence that a ban on high capacity magazines would reduce the amount of dead in shootings is "heavily disputed," but studies have shown that weapons utilizing high capacity magazines are involved in a disproportionate amount of mass shooting incidents. In the Sandy Hook shooting, for example, several children were reportedly able to escape while Lanza paused to reload. Nicole Hockley, whose son was killed at the school, has argued, "We ask ourselves every day -- every minute -- if those magazines had held 10 rounds, forcing the shooter to reload at least six more times, would our children be alive today?" (The 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, which falls outside the time period assessed by Kessler, was stopped when shooter Jared Loughner paused to reload his gun.)
Kessler nods to, but dismisses, the idea that banning high-capacity magazines might reduce gun deaths in mass shootings, claiming, "It is possible that some gun-control proposals, such as a ban on large-capacity magazines, would reduce the number of dead in a future shooting, though the evidence for that is heavily disputed."
In his fact check, Kessler fails to mention the Isla Vista attack, where Elliot Rodger killed six people before killing himself. Following Rodger's rampage, California passed legislation "allowing the temporary seizure of guns from people determined by the courts to be a threat to themselves or others." The legislation could have stopped Rodger from carrying out his plan - as the LA Times notes, the massacre took place "even though the family of Elliot Rodger had sought help because of concerns about his strange behavior before the shootings."
Similar legislation has been introduced in Congress. Laws like this could feasibly help prevent shootings where the gunman's family or associates knew they were disturbed but were powerless to prevent them from accessing guns.
Again and again throughout his piece, Kessler chose to play up the gun advocate position in each case without acknowledging the practical effect of gun laws and remedies that have been opposed by groups like the NRA and elected officials like Senator Rubio.
From the December 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Right-wing media are attempting to bolster Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's widely debunked claim that Muslims in New Jersey cheered as the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler debunked Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio's false claim during the CNBC presidential debate that Hillary Clinton "got exposed as a liar" during her testimony before the House Select Committee On Benghazi for supposedly misleading the public about the cause of the Benghazi attacks. Kessler asserted that Rubio "does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar," explaining that changing "reports from the intelligence community 'caused confusion and influenced the public statements' of policymakers" in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
During the October 28 CNBC Republican presidential debate, candidate Rubio claimed that Hillary Clinton "got exposed as a liar" about the cause of the Benghazi attacks by admitting "she had sent emails to her family" attributing the attack to "Al Qaeda-like elements" while "telling the families of those victims and the American people that it was because of a video." Rubio's allegation originated with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in Clinton's October 22 appearance in front of the House Special Committee on Benghazi, and has been repeatedly hailed by Fox News as a "smoking gun" despite having been debunked by numerous media outlets for disregarding how intelligence evolved in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
Kessler wrote October 30 that "one find[s] little support for Rubio's claim," asserting that Rubio "does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar." Kessler explained that contrary to Rubio's suggestion that Clinton made "a deliberate effort to deceive...evidence suggests there were few hard answers available then to policymakers" which "'caused confusion and influenced the public statements.'" Kessler also noted "that a Senate report [Rubio] signed documented that the CIA assessment changed several times and was not set in stone until more than ten days after the attacks":
These were pretty strong words uttered by Rubio at the third GOP debate, and they give us an opportunity to explore what was said by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in the week after the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador.
The House Intelligence Committee, in its 2014 report on the incident, said "there was a stream of contradictory and conflicting intelligence that came in after the attacks."
The CIA's deputy director, Michael Morell, testified that the first time he learned there had not been a protest at the diplomatic facility was after receiving an e-mail from the Libya station chief on Sept. 15, three days after the attack.
(Morell's testimony contradicts Rubio's claim on CNN on Oct. 29, the morning after the debate, that "there was never a shred of evidence presented to anyone that this was spontaneous. And the CIA understood that." On CBS, Rubio also claimed that it was "not accurate" that the CIA changed its assessment, which is also wrong.)
A similar conclusion was reached by the Senate Intelligence Committee (of which Rubio is a member) in its report on Benghazi: "Intelligence analysts inaccurately referred to the presence of a protest at the Mission facility before the attack based on open source information and limited intelligence, without sufficient intelligence or eyewitness statements to corroborate that assertion. The IC took too long to correct these erroneous reports, which caused confusion and influenced the public statements."
Looking at Clinton's public statements, it is clear she was very careful to keep the attacks separate from the video; the two incidents do not appear in the same sentence (unlike the controversial televised remarks by then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice).
Focusing just on the public statements made by Clinton -- as opposed to the rest of the administration --one find little support for Rubio's claim that Clinton told the American people that the attacks were because of a video. She certainly spoke about the video, but always in the context of the protests that were occurring across the Middle East.
Rubio is wrong when he says the CIA assessment did not change, given that a Senate report he signed documented that the CIA assessment changed several times and was not set in stone until more than ten days after the attacks.
Can Rubio really attribute this to a "lie" rather than the fog of war? A "lie" suggests a deliberate effort to deceive, while the documentary evidence suggests there were few hard answers available then to policymakers. Even the Senate report signed by Rubio says the reports from the intelligence community "caused confusion and influenced the public statements" of policymakers.
Rubio is certainly within his rights to point out Clinton's contradictory statements -- and the remarks of the family members give us pause -- but he does not have enough evidence to label Clinton a liar.
Media outlets called out Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina's "utterly wrong," "wildly misleading," and long discredited claim at the October 28 CNBC presidential debate that women held 92 percent of the jobs lost during President Obama's first term, pointing out that that statistic is recycled from Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and newer data completely contradicts Fiorina's claim: women actually gained jobs by the end of Obama's first term.
Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler relied on a strained justification to award President Obama "two Pinocchios" for stating the truth: "We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths."
Kessler criticized Obama for including gun suicides in the number of "gun deaths" in America during recent public comments about the easy availability of guns. He justified his criticism of the president by underplaying studies that have found a link between gun availability and suicide.
On October 1, Obama delivered a statement from the White House after a gunman killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. In his remarks, Obama said:
There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.
In an October 5 Washington Post article, Kessler wrote that many readers asked him to fact check Obama's statement that "states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths." Kessler awarded Obama "two Pinocchios," which according to his rating scale means he believes Obama created "a false, misleading impression."
Obama administration officials told Kessler that the president's statement was in reference to research findings that were reported in an August 28 National Journal article, which concluded, "The states that impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with fewer regulations typically have a much higher death rate from guns." Gun homicides, suicides, accidents, and legal interventions were all included in National Journal's dataset.
Kessler wrote that Obama's mention of that fact was "a classic situation in which a politician bases a statement on a study, but then exaggerated the conclusions to justify a policy. It also lacks context because the results change, sometimes dramatically, when suicides are removed from the gun deaths."
But Kessler's criticism of Obama for including suicides by gun as among U.S. "gun deaths" is very questionable, because it ignores the vast body of research done by experts who count such suicides as gun deaths. Instead of debunking Obama's actual statement -- which Kessler cannot do because the statement is true -- he instead has to move the goalposts in order to criticize Obama.
In fact, a statement similar to Obama's has previously appeared in The Washington Post. In a December 2012 entry in the Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein wrote, "States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths."
Kessler cited two academic articles to support giving Obama two Pinocchios:
Some might argue that it is wrong to exclude suicides from the data, as less access to guns might result in fewer suicides. The data on that is mixed. Gun-related suicides might decline, but studies have shown little connection between suicides and access to guns. A 2004 report published by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "some gun control policies may reduce the number of gun suicides, but they have not yet been shown to reduce the overall risk of suicide in any population."
Kessler misleads his readers by making the sweeping claim that evidence is "mixed" on whether there is a connection between gun access and suicide, when the majority view among academics is that there is indeed a relationship.
According to Means Matter, a project of the Harvard School of Public Health, "Twelve or more U.S. case control studies have compared individuals who died by suicide with those who did not and found those dying by suicide were more likely to live in homes with guns."
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center similarly concluded, "The preponderance of current evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for youth suicide in the United States. The evidence that gun availability increases the suicide rates of adults is credible, but is currently less compelling." The Harvard researchers also concluded, "people in states with many guns have elevated rates of suicide, particularly firearm suicide."
According to a survey of the authors, out of "1,200 articles on firearms published since 2011 in peer-reviewed journals focused on public health, public policy, sociology, and criminology," 84 percent of respondents agreed that access to guns increases the risk of suicide:
From the September 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler claimed that President Obama "appears to be purposely ignoring" the U.S. State Department's conclusions on whether most of the refined oil products from the Keystone XL pipeline would be exported. However, the State Department did not find that the majority of the refined oil products from Keystone XL would be consumed in the U.S., as Kessler suggested, and groups opposing Keystone XL note that the coastal refineries Keystone XL would service currently ship more than half of their refined oil products overseas.
The Washington Post is helping a former official from President George H.W. Bush's administration walk back his 1990 congressional testimony that Bush's executive action on immigration could have helped up to 1.5 million people and using that to decry the Obama administration's use of the figure to justify its upcoming immigration action. But the official, then-Federal Immigration Commissioner Gene McNary, was the person who introduced the 1.5 million figure, and an immigration expert's analysis of immigration numbers at the time shows that the figure is plausible.
The Washington Post editorial board is contesting the Obama administration's claim that his recent executive action on immigration is similar in scope to former President George H.W. Bush's temporary administrative relief for undocumented immigrants in 1990, which reportedly affected 1.5 million family members of legalization applicants. Calling the White House's 1.5 million figure "indefensible," the editorial also repeated the accusations of its fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who previously insisted that the figure is inflated despite contemporaneous congressional testimony to the contrary.
But now a leading immigration expert says the Post is "doubling down on a grievous error."
According to Charles Kamasaki, Executive Vice President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), author of a forthcoming book on the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and its subsequent effects, and one of the leading experts on immigration law and policy in the country, the White House's citation of the 1.5 million estimate of those who stood to benefit from Bush's 1990 action is "completely defensible."
In a December 4 letter published on the NCLR website, Kamasaki pointed out numerous mistakes in both the substance and reasoning in both the Post's editorial and fact check, and pointed out that a "'quick and dirty' analysis" that encompasses "Kessler's own reporting" demonstrates that the White House's "1.5 million estimate of ineligible family members of IRCA's legalization applicants is valid on its face":
There's a second way of looking at this issue, which is to take the available data and see whether, independent of take-up rates, the 1.5 million estimate of ineligible family members of IRCA's legalization applicants is valid on its face. A quick analysis suggests it is eminently plausible. First, consider the number of applicants: 3.3 million people applied for IRCA's two main legalization programs, another 40,000 or so for a special Cuban-Haitian program, and perhaps 75,000 for a registry program for those who had entered prior to 1972. So we start with a base of more than 3.4 million applicants.
But these were not the only applicants potentially covered by "family fairness" in 1990. Under two major national class action lawsuits, hundreds of thousands of people claimed they had been unfairly denied the opportunity to apply for legalization because of improper eligibility rules, inaccurate information, or other reasons. The plaintiffs largely won on the merits in the lower courts, although appeals courts later denied all but a few thousand the opportunity to apply. The key point, however, is that as of 1990, when the Bush policy was announced, this litigation was still pending, and thus several hundred thousand of these class members technically were still potential applicants. Adding these potential applicants to those who had applied brings the universe of total actual and potential IRCA applicants whose ineligible family members might've been covered by family fairness into the four million range.
- Kessler's own reporting shows that 42% of IRCA applicants were married. Multiplying four million by 42% produces a total of 1.7 million spouses. But many, arguably half, likely qualified for legalization themselves, bringing the number of spouses ineligible for legalization to perhaps 840,000.
- How many kids might've been covered? Here we have very good data on the contemporary undocumented population, which we might apply to 1986-1990 in a backward fashion. The Migration Policy Institute estimated last year that of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, there were more than 1.9 million unauthorized youth who were brought to the country by their parents. In other words, about 17% of the current undocumented population is made up of children analogous to those who would have been covered by the Bush policy. Applying this 17% figure to the estimated 5 million undocumented population as of 1986 produces a total of about 850,000 unauthorized children.
- Some number of those were likely older than 21 as of 1990; adjusting for this produces an estimated population of ineligible children of legalization applicants as of 1990 to perhaps 640,000. Still, 840,000 spouses added to 640,000 children equals 1.48 million, very close to the cited 1.5 million estimate.
Based on this "quick and dirty" analysis, there really were close to 1.5 million people eligible for relief in 1990, and it is a completely defensible number.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler is standing by his blog claiming that the White House had erred in citing President George H.W. Bush's immigration data -- despite evidence discrediting his conclusions.
In his November 24 piece for The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog, Glenn Kessler examined claims that President George H.W. Bush used an executive action to protect 1.5 million undocumented immigrants. Kessler described the figure as a "round-ed up estimate" that the media adopted because many of the applicants included people who were not eligible to be legalized at the time due to pending applications or appeals. Kessler concluded that the White House had "seized on a single news report" to take the opportunity to highlight higher numbers and that even the Federal Immigration Commissioner, Gene McNary, claimed not to be factual.
Huffington Post politics and immigration reporter Elise Foley responded to Kessler's blog by pointing to congressional testimony from McNary from 1989 in which McNary affirmed that 1.5 million undocumented immigrants were covered by the policy.
Kessler updated his blog to note the discovery of McNary's testimony but failed to offer an apology or retraction for his oversights, instead doubling-down on his conclusions:
Update: in light of the discovery of McNary's testimony, we will assess whether this should be reduced to Three Pinocchios. In any case, the actual impact was far less than suggested in administration statements
Media outlets have since latched onto Kessler's piece as evidence that the Obama administration's citation of the number was inaccurate. The Washington Post's Charles Lane described the post's conclusions as "devastating," and Fox News' Chris Stirewalt used it to claim that President Obama was wrong in using the numbers as "a centerpiece" of his argument for an executive action on immigration.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler misquoted Hillary Clinton while criticizing her recent and accurate comments about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
Kessler specifically took Clinton to task over a comment she made during the Aspen Ideas Festival:
CLINTON: It's very troubling that a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer's health-care plan because her employer doesn't think she should be using contraception.
But in taking issue with the portion of Clinton's remarks about the affordability of contraception, Kessler actually misquoted what she said:
As for "very expensive," this is in the eye of the beholder. Studies have indicated that when times are tough, women have tried to save money by skimping on birth control, such as skipping pills and delaying prescription refills.
Clinton never said that contraception is "very expensive." She said it was "pretty expensive." The distinction is meaningful in light of the fact that Kessler specifically went on to criticize Clinton for not being careful while making extemporaneous remarks.
Kessler also criticized Clinton for observing that a Hobby Lobby sales clerk would not be able to access contraception because her employer doesn't think she should be using it. Here's Kessler's rationale:
In the specific case, the company on religious grounds objected to four of 20 possible options, leaving other possible types of contraceptives available to female employees -- though not necessarily the most effective or necessary at the moment.
Contrary to Kessler's reasoning, it's entirely accurate to say that a sales clerk could decide in consultation with her doctor that a valid form of contraception is the best option for her health needs and yet be denied access because her boss doesn't think she should be using it.
Kessler addressed similar criticism from readers in an update, calling it an "interesting parsing" but standing by his original analysis.
A growing number of mainstream media outlets are holding Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accountable for flip-flopping on his support of a deal to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban capitivity.
McCain joined in the right-wing outcry that followed the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member remaining in enemy hands from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling Politico that he "would not have made this deal" if he was the president and denying that he was ever told of the potential prisoner exchange in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.
McCain's rejection of the deal stood in stark contrast to his position on the issue just months ago, when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he "would be inclined to support" "an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," depending on the details -- an inconsistency the media initially missed.
He went on to day the exchange was "something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain's February position was already a change from the position he held in January 2012, when Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings reported that McCain "reluctantly came around" on the idea of exchanging the five Guantanamo detainees in question for Bergdahl.
After Media Matters raised the issue of McCain's inconsistency on Bergdahl's release, CNN's Jake Tapper noted McCain's conflicting stances on the prisoner exchange on the June 5 edition of The Lead. The New York Times wrote that McCain "switched positions for maximum political advantage." And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow criticized McCain for standing "against his own idea."
Days later, Tapper went on to press McCain on the inconsistency. McCain disputed the "flip-flop charge" by noting that he'd made his support contingent on "the details." McCain said the details of the deal that secured Bergdahl's release "are outrageous" and "unacceptable."
This attempt to rewrite history was short-lived. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in the following morning, pointing out that "the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners -- was known at the time he indicated his support" and stamping McCain's statements with the upside-down Pinnochio that denotes "flip flop":
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can't object to the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners-that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.
The New York Times called McCain on "switch[ing] positions for maximum political advantage" and Politico included the flip-flop in a list of times McCain has complained of misrepresentation this week.
Back in August, Mitt Romney's campaign set a controversial benchmark for accuracy, announcing that "we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," and you could make the argument that since then they've hewed closely to that standard. The October 16 presidential debate presented a challenge not just to that fact-checkers-be-damned mentality, but to one of the Romney's campaign's central claims: that as president he would create 12 million new jobs.
This morning Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote that the math underlying Romney's claim "doesn't add up," calling it a "bait-and-switch" that fudges with timelines, and quoted Glenn Hubbard, one of Romney's chief economic advisers, acknowledging as much. Again, this is one of Romney's key campaign arguments. He repeated it early on in tonight's debate.
There's been a great deal written lately about post-truth politics and journalism, in which corrections of blatant falsehoods have no discernible effect on the repetition of said falsehoods. This issue -- central as it is to the political campaign but also the economic recovery -- represents an opportunity to alter that dynamic.
But such change can happen only if the media step up and actually press the Romney campaign on this point. It's too important to let slide.