Glenn Kessler is the Washington Post’s “fact checker.” He writes a column reporting on his fact checks.
In my opinion, Kessler usually does a good job of analyzing claims by partisans, both Democrat and Republican. He identifies what’s correct and/or plausible about a given claim and what’s incorrect and/or implausible about it. He provides useful background information and often offers nuance.
Kessler concludes his columns by awarding “Pinocchios” — one to four of them. It is this gimmick that, in my view, reveals his anti-Republican, anti-conservative, anti-Trump biases.
Republicans, conservatives, and Trump often seem to get an extra Pinocchio or two compared to what Democrats, liberals, and anti-Trumpers receive, given Kessler’s own analysis of the facts. It’s my impression that Kessler is grading on the curve.
Thus, I was surprised to see Kessler award four Pinocchios to Amy Klobuchar for her boast about reducing black incarceration while she was the top prosecutor for Hennepin County, Minnesota. As I discussed in this post, Klobuchar is under fire from the left for her reasonably pro-law and order, pro-police practices as a prosecutor. In particular, critics complain that blacks were incarcerated at much higher rates than whites.
Klobuchar has responded by claiming that black incarceration plummeted during her stint as top prosecutor, even though it remained significantly disproportionate to white incarceration. Specifically, she says that the incarceration rate for blacks fell 65 percent “from the beginning of my term to the end.”
It is this claim that Kessler fact checked. He did so by looking at the data Klobuchar relied on. It does, indeed, seem to show a 65 percent decline. However, it also shows that nearly all of the decline occurred in the first year of Klobuchar’s tenure.
For Kessler, this was a clear sign that something is wrong with the data. The number of prisoners just doesn’t change that dramatically in one year.
On further analysis, Kessler found, sure enough, that the data doesn’t really show a decline in number of blacks incarcerated during that year. Yes, the data at first glance shows a big decline. But this is because, in the year at issue, Hennepin County changed its method of reporting. It identified about half of the people in its jails as being of unknown race. Previously, it had not done so.
Naturally, then, the number of prisoners identified as black plummeted, as did the number of white prisoner. This despite the fact that the total number of prisoners hardly changed at all.
In short, Klobuchar is relying on numbers that, upon her analysis, don’t support her claim.
Did she intend to mislead? Kessler thinks so. He argues that Klobuchar not only should have realized that there was something wrong with the data she was relying on, but actually did. He explains:
She claimed that the drop took place “from the beginning of my term to the end.” In reality, much of the drop took place in just one year — a year that should have been memorable to a prosecutor if such a change in the incarceration rate of African Americans had taken place.
In other words, Klobuchar distributed the entire phony drop in black incarceration over a seven year period because she knew that attributing it to just one year — as was the case — would be too implausible to be believed and likely would result in an adverse fact check like Kessler’s.
Klobuchar probably deserves four Pinocchios for this deception, but I don’t think Kessler normally would have given them to a Democrat under these circumstances. But right now, Klobuchar is competing with Democrats, not Republicans. So there is no reason for Kessler to cut her slack.