Even though a grand jury, multiple (predominantly black) eyewitnesses, and a federal investigation determined that police officer Darren Wilson acted lawfully when using lethal force against teenager Michael Brown during a physical altercation, the allegedly unbiased PolitiFact refused to give a Truth-o-Meter rating of “Mostly False” or “Pants on Fire” to Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) for claiming the teen was “murdered.”
Last week, on the fifth anniversary of Brown’s death, both Harris and Warren commemorated the day by pushing the dangerous lie that officer Wilson murdered the black teen, whom witnesses testified to seeing assault the police officer just prior to being shot.
“Michael Brown’s murder forever changed Ferguson and America,” Harris tweeted. “His tragic death sparked a desperately needed conversation and a nationwide movement. We must fight for stronger accountability and racial equity in our justice system.”
“5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri,” tweeted Warren. “Michael was unarmed yet he was shot 6 times. I stand with activists and organizers who continue the fight for justice for Michael. We must confront systemic racism and police violence head on.”
What is most bizarre about Politifact’s refusal to rate the erroneous claims from either senator is the fact that the article itself highlights the overwhelming amount of evidence debunking them, from the grand jury verdict to the eyewitness testimony to the federal investigation. According to PolitiFact, though, neither Warren nor Harris could be rated because their use of the word “murder” may be a linguistics issue subject to debate.
“Experts who have studied police-related deaths and race relations said that focusing too much on the linguistics in controversial cases comes with its own set of problems,” determined Politifact. “Because the significance of Harris’ and Warrens’ use of the word is open to some dispute, we won’t be rating their tweets on the Truth-O-Meter.”
PolitiFact later shows its biased hand by citing media communications professor Joy Leopold of Webster University, who said that getting too focused on the word “murder” would obscure the conversation on police brutality.
“Focusing on the language opens up the opportunity for some to discredit the conversation about police brutality and the criminal justice system in general,” Leopold said.
Translation: facts should never get in the way of feelings.
PolitiFact’s abdication of the truth in this instance stands in stark contrast to the Washington Post, which gave both Harris and Warren a four Pinocchios rating for their claim.
“Harris and Warren have ignored the findings of the Justice Department to accuse Wilson of murder, even though the Justice Department found no credible evidence to support that claim,” Glenn Kessler wrote. “Instead, the Justice Department found that the popular narrative was wrong, according to witnesses deemed to be credible, some of whom testified reluctantly because of fear of reprisal. The department produced a comprehensive report to determine what happened, making the senators’ dismissal of it even more galling. Harris and Warren both earn Four Pinocchios.”