Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler appeared to offer plenty of leniency for Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe over a false coronavirus claim he repeatedly made, which apparently reached a boiling point.
Kessler repeatedly noted his newspaper had passed on fact-checking McAuliffe’s false numbers on coronavirus, but he finally gave McAuliffe “four Pinocchios” on Tuesday for inflating the number of COVID cases in Virginia while attacking GOP rival Glenn Youngkin.
“In speaking about the threat of the coronavirus to the state, McAuliffe frequently touts numbers — often wrong numbers about the impact on children. When we first queried the McAuliffe campaign about his figures, we were told it was a slip of the tongue. Okay, we understand that, and so we passed on a fact check. But then his tongue kept slipping,” Kessler wrote.
McAuliffe first claimed in the Sept. 28 gubernatorial debate there were “8,000” cases of COVID in Virginia that Monday, which he repeated on Sept. 29 and during an interview on Oct. 7. But as Kessler pointed out, “there were fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases” on Sept. 27.
“Nevertheless, the McAuliffe campaign came back with what appeared to be a plausible explanation. During the debate, he was speaking on a Tuesday and a spokesman said he was referring to the weekend numbers released the day before. The new caseload between Friday morning and Monday morning was 7,987 on Sept. 27 and 7,762 on Oct. 4,” Kessler wrote. “One could argue that citing a weekend number in this fashion — ‘We had 8,000 cases yesterday in Virginia” and “Just this week, 8,000 cases on Monday in Virginia’ — certainly would leave the misleading impression he was talking about a one-day number. But we got busy with other stuff and chose not to do a fact check.”
McAuliffe also claimed during the Oct. 7 interview that “1,142 children are in ICU beds,” which turned out to be just “35,” according to the fact-checker.
“The McAuliffe campaign said that he simply misspoke. Okay, we moved on,” Kessler wrote.
But then on Oct. 21, McAuliffe claimed, “We’ve [got] 1,142 children in serious, in hospitals, in ICU beds,” something he similarly asserted Oct. 15, when in reality there were “only 334 people (of all ages) in ICU beds in Virginia,” per the commonwealth’s health department data, and that there were “4,000 cases yesterday.” Kessler surmised that was the sum total of the prior weekend even though McAuliffe made the claim on a Thursday, noting Virginia had not had 4,000 coronavirus cases in a single day since September.
McAuliffe used the same figure at a rally on Oct. 23, saying “1,142 of our children have been in hospitals because they got covid.” Kessler acknowledged that was a slight shift in his phrasing, as he appeared to be referring to the entire pandemic, whch would be “closer to reality” since Virginia had in total “952 hospitalizations and 10 deaths of children 0 to 17 years of age.”
“Why has McAuliffe repeatedly used a higher number than that? Good question. A spokesman for his campaign did not respond to emails and text messages over a period of four days,” Kessler wrote.
Regarding the famed “Pinocchio Test,” the fact-checker summarized, “We can understand the occasional misspeak, especially in the heat of a campaign. Moreover, as readers know, we generally do not award Pinocchios when a politician admits error. But this has happened too many times for McAuliffe’s language to be an accident.”
“He repeatedly mentions a weekend number for cases, but suggests it’s a one-day figure. He offers wildly inflated figures for child hospitalizations, suggesting again that these were daily figures and claiming twice that these many children were in ICUs. Instead, he appears to be citing a figure for all of the children hospitalized with covid-19 in Virginia over the past 19 months — which is still inflated,” Kessler told readers. “The pandemic will continue to be a serious policy challenge for the next Virginia governor but there’s no reason for McAuliffe to hype the numbers.”
It was enough for the Post to, at last, take McAuliffe to task on the issue.
Kessler told Fox News, “I always try to be completely transparent in my reporting. And I would have taken the same approach with any politician.”