WashPost’s Kessler Gives Just 2 ‘Pinocchios’ To Democrats' 'Food Stamp Challenge'

Updated below: Kessler responds to post.

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker Glen Kessler likes to portray himself as fair and unbiased but has a tendency to scrutinize Republicans a lot harder than their Democratic counterparts. Take for example a June 20  fact-check item when Kessler labeled a misleading challenge by Democratic members of Congress to live on $4.50 a day for food as only partially false, receiving two out of the maximum four “Pinocchios.”

At issue is 30 Democratic congressman who voluntarily chose to live on $4.50 a day for food, the amount the average family receives in supplemental assistance from the federal SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program. Despite admitting that the Democrats’ “challenge” is false on its face, he deemed their act worthy of only 2 “Pinocchios.”

Kesslerr correctly pointed out that the $4.50 per day in assistance is “not intended to be the only source of income for food” for a family, and according to USDA data, only 20 percent of SNAP participants have no income. In addition, Kessler noted that “the maximum monthly benefits can quickly climb as the size of the household grows. A family of four, for instance, could receive as much as $668 a month for food.”

The vast majority of Americans who receive SNAP benefits use that money in addition to other sources of income or financial aid, making the $4.50 challenge by Democrats patently absurd.

Under Kessler’s own definition, a politician's statement should receive two “Pinocchios” if there are:

Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.

However, Kessler’s justification for only assigning it two is odd as he states that:

We can understand the desire to translate obscure budget debates involving billions of dollars into a ground-level reality. But buying food based only on the average SNAP benefit for a single person gives a misleading impression of the program and its intended impact.

In the past, Kessler has been less generous towards Republicans who have made true statements, such as when he assigned three “Pinocchios” to the true claim that President Obama had missed nearly half of his intelligence briefings. Kessler essentially split hairs, complaining that Obama could not "miss" a daily intelligence briefing he never scheduled in the first place. From now on we hope that Kessler would be fair in his ratings system, rather than letting Democrats slide with outright falsities. 


UPDATED: Kessler Responds via email:

The line between two and three Pinocchios is fuzzy and the most difficult for me. I often struggle with that and frequently wish I simply say 2 ½. But in general, I will lean toward Two if there is some sort of logical numerical basis for the claim.

I nearly made the SNAP Challenge a Three. But what tipped it toward Two was the fact that the $4.50 was at least based on actual numbers (the benefit to a single person divided by number of days in the month.)  It was misleading in how that figure was used, such as failing to note this was supposed to be a supplement, not a replacement. But it was based on numbers that I could find on the USDA web site.

The presidential briefing ad was a different matter. The ad said that Obama’s use of the daily briefing was “not showing up for work,” but there is no numerical standard for how often president should receive a personal daily briefing. As the column noted, Ronald Reagan missed his intel briefing 99 percent of the time using the standard in the ad. So the ad was taking a question of process and applying it selectively. It might have been different if the ad had compared Obama to other presidents, since that would have been a consistent application of a numerical method. (Obama would have ended up in the middle, between the two Bushes on one extreme and Reagan, Carter and Clinton on the other extreme.) So that’s what tipped that claim to Three.

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