WaPo fact-checker backtracks after Cotton correctly predicted Boston Bomber would receive COVID stimulus check

Media top headlines January 6

In media news today, an MSNBC reporter warns that Republicans in state legislature are passing voting laws that make ‘January 6 every day,’ a CNN medical guest says that companies should not treat the unvaccinated and vaccinated as equal, and a White House reporter asks Jen Psaki why Biden hasn’t ‘focused more on scolding the unvaccinated.’

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler offered a mea culpa of sorts after having rewarded two Pinocchios to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for predicting that murderers like convicted terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would receive a COVID stimulus check. 

In March 2021, Kessler ran the headline “Murderers, undocumented immigrants: Hyped-up claims about who’s getting stimulus checks” with an image of Cotton plastered on the page, challenging claims that he and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wy., made that the $1,400 checks Americans were set to receive would be going to those not qualified or worthy for them. 

“On March 8, [Cotton] tweeted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, would also get benefits and declared, ‘Get ready for campaign ads,’” Kessler wrote at the time, quoting Cotton. “But for all the hype, there’s less to these claims than one might imagine — particularly because the previous stimulus bills passed last year under GOP control also did not bar payments to prisoners and the small subset of undocumented immigrants referenced by Barrasso.”

ILE – This file photo released April 19, 2013, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted and sentenced to death for carrying out the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombing attack that killed three people and injured more than 260. (FBI via AP, File)
(FBI via AP, File)

Kessler noted the stimulus bills “have excluded some people” but the law “did not exclude payments to incarcerated individuals” and that a judge ruled the IRS “could not rewrite the law on its own after it had already issued payments to people in prison.”

“But prisoner advocates say this is just theater,” Kessler wrote before quoting activists who pushed back at Cotton’s claims. 

Regarding the “Pinocchio Test,” Kessler previously concluded that both Cotton and Barrasso’s remarks “lack significant context.”

“Cotton and Barrasso claim Democrats are actively trying to give stimulus checks to murderers and undocumented immigrants. Not only is that wrong, but both voted for previous stimulus bills that did not have narrowed criteria,” Kessler wrote. “Barrasso did not resort to Cotton’s scaremongering, more carefully saying that prisoners might receive a stimulus check. But his immigration phrasing was misleading, as viewers might have thought Barrasso was talking about all undocumented immigrants.”

“Both of these talking points mainly are crafted for future campaign ads, not serious legislation. Cotton and Barrasso earn Two Pinocchio,” the fact-checker added. 

(Washington Post/FOX)

Well, it turns out that the Boston Bomber did, in fact, receive a $1,400 stimulus check. 

Records show Tsarnaev, who is currently serving a life sentence after murdering three people and injuring hundreds of others at the 2013 Boston Marathon, has received over $21,000 since his time as an inmate and among the deposits was COVID relief he received in June 2021. There is now an effort by federal officials in Massachusetts to retrieve that $1,400 check among other funds the terrorist has collected while in prison to be put toward the more than $101 million he owes his victims.

That forced Kessler to revisit his poorly-aged fact-check after receiving an email from Cotton’s press secretary, requesting an update to the 2021 article. 

“We take such requests seriously and are always willing to review a fact check in light of new information,” Kessler wrote in the “update” published on Thursday. “Cotton primarily received the Two-Pinocchio rating because his comments lacked context… Still, Cotton’s predictive powers should be acknowledged. He said the Boston bomber would get a stimulus check — and Tsarnaev did.”

“But in retrospect, the use of the phrase of ‘scaremongering’ was inappropriate. Cotton had raised a legitimate issue of concern, even if he framed it in a political way. The term ‘hyped up’ in the headline went too far as well,” Kessler admitted. “Thus, we will reduce the rating on this claim to One Pinocchio — our version of ‘mostly true.’ His statement still lacks some context but he was certainly correct that Tsarnaev would receive a stimulus check.”

Kessler pushed back at a critic who claimed the fact-checker issued a “correction,” stressing “this is an update in light of new information.”

“It’s important to let readers know if there is something new,” Kessler tweeted. “I would argue that a willingness to update and, if necessary, admit mistakes enhances your credibility. In fact acknowledging errors is a core [International Fact-Checking Network] principle.”

Fox News reached out to Kessler for comment.

Earlier, Cotton took a victory lap on Twitter, writing, “Now that the Boston Bomber received his stimulus check from Biden’s slush fund, I’m looking forward to the @washingtonpost updating this fact check,” adding “Remember—every Democratic Senator voted against my amendment that would have stopped prisoners from getting checks.”

CNN welcomed Washington post fact-checker Glenn Kessler on Thursday to boast about his most popular fact checks of 2021 despite the No. 1 article being widely mocked.  (ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)
(Getty images / Singerhmk – wiki commons)

In June, the Washington Post issued a glaring correction on a 2020 report that accused Cotton of peddling a “debunked” “conspiracy theory” when he claimed that the coronavirus leaked out of a Wuhan lab in China.

“Earlier versions of this story and its headline inaccurately characterized comments by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) regarding the origins of the coronavirus,” the correction read at the top of the report. “The term ‘debunked’ and The Post’s use of ‘conspiracy theory’ have been removed because, then as now, there was no determination about the origins of the virus.”

The headline was changed to “Tom Cotton keeps repeating a coronavirus fringe theory that scientists have disputed.”

The media is finally taking the lab-leak theory seriously after the Wall Street Journal reported last year that U.S. intelligence believes that at least three Wuhan scientists were hospitalized with COVID-like symptoms back in November 2019. 

Fox News’ Stephanie Pagones and Brie Stimson contributed to this report. 

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