My day with Snopes

Over the weekend I came across the Snopes fact check: “Did U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar Marry Her Brother?” It rates the allegation, originally raised by me on Power Line, “Unproven.” Published on February 15, it stated in its conclusion that neither Omar nor Power Line had responded to a list of questions. Before writing Snopes I searched the Power Line gmail account for any email from Snopes. It turned up nothing. I emailed Snopes stating that we had never received a list of questions and asking for a correction.

Around noon yesterday we received a “forwarded” email with a list of questions from Snopes reporter Bethania Parma dated February 15, the same date as Snopes’s Omar post. It read:

Hello,

I’m a reporter for the fact checking organization Snopes.com. I am looking into rumors about Ilhan Omar’s marriage and the claim she married her brother. A post written by Scott Johnson on Powerline appears to be most-cited as the original source for this claim. Johnson cited a message board called SomaliSpot.

My questions are:
– Does Mr. Johnson have any evidence to back the claim that Rep. Omar married her brother, other than a post on the SomaliSpot message board?
– Is Mr. Johnson aware of any evidence that has surfaced since his blog post was published?
– Was Mr. Johnson and Powerline the first to report this claim?

Thank you in advance for your help, I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Bethania Palma
Reporter, Snopes.com

I immediately asked Palma where the forwarded email had allegedly been sent. I wrote:

Bethania: I am not sure how you responded to the question I asked regarding where you sent your February 15 email. Let me state unequivocally that it was not received at our Power Line gmail account (this one). I have searched under your name and under Snopes. A search returns the Snopes automated response to my March 23 email and our exchange today but nothing else. I want you immediately to correct the comment that we have not responded to [you]. I will have a substantive response to you later today.

I want to add this. I also ask that you share it with your editors at Snopes. I have promptly responded to every reporter who has asked me about my work on Ilhan Omar. That includes Patrick Coolican of the Star Tribune, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times, Brent Scher of the Washington Free Beacon, John Gage of the Washington Examiner, Preya Samsundar of Alpha News in Minneapolis, and David Steinberg of PJ Media. None of them had any problem contacting me. Indeed, my phone number is listed on our site. Several of them called me. How is [it] that only Snopes was unable to contact me prior to publication of your fact check? That is one fact I would like to check.

I emailed Snopes on Saturday from my personal gmail account. I would appreciate your acknowledgement that you have shared this message with your editors and copying your response to me at my personal gmail address [omitted].

Thanks.

Scott Johnson

I received no response. Our Power Line publisher is searching our spam folders for the February 15 message [see update below], but does any legitimate news organization consider a single unsolicited message from a previously unknown email account to be a legitimate attempt to contact a named subject? When the subject has a publicly displayed cell phone number on the site that gives rise to the issue under review? Give me a break.

When I returned home yesterday afternoon I quickly responded to the substance of Palma’s questions. I’m not proud of it, but it is submitted for your consideration as part of the story:

Bethania: This message responds to your inquiry received at our Power Line email account on this date. I am responding at my earliest opportunity. Please forgive possible typos.
You asked:

– Does Mr. Johnson have any evidence to back the claim that Rep. Omar married her brother, other than a post on the SomaliSpot message board?
– Is Mr. Johnson aware of any evidence that has surfaced since his blog post was published?
– Was Mr. Johnson and Powerline the first to report this claim?

This is my response to your first question:

When I originally reported that we had been tipped to Omar’s peculiar marital situation on Power Line, I had been tipped by a reader to a post with photographic evidence (as I recall) on SomaliSpot message board. I first checked out the dates of Omar’s marriages on the Minnesota online marriage database. The dates and names checked out. Checking Omar’s online site, I found that she advertised husband number 1 as her husband and the father of her children. I followed up with an inquiry to Omar through her campaign spokesman. The spokesman told me they would respond to me later that day. Late that day I heard from a criminal defense attorney whom I knew from covering the Somali terrorism case here. She represented one of the defendants in the case. The attorney’s response provided a nondenial denial attacking me in personal terms. I drew adverse inferences from Omar’s response. That is what I originally reported.

The attorney’s message instructed me to communicate with Omar through her (the attorney). When I submitted follow-up questions, I received no response.

I laid all this and more out in the City Journal column “The curious case of Ilhan Omar.” I laid all this out at that time so I could respond to reporters with inquiries like yours.

This is my response to your second question:

Yes, I am. I cite some of it in the City Journal column. See Preya Samsundar’s several articles at Alpha News and David Steinberg’s four 2018 columns for PJ Media. Steinberg’s for 2018 columns are full of additional evidence supporting the proposition that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi (husband number 2) is her brother.

In addition, I continue to draw adverse inferences from what I interpret to be Omar’s guilty behavior. She behaves as if she has something to hide. See my March 21 post “The curious case of Ilhan Omar revisited” [URL omitted].

To all this I would add (1) Omar’s refusal to respond to AP reporter Amy Forliti last year when she revisited the controversy in the article cited at the end of your item; and (2) Omar’s queer behavior with Star Tribune reporter Steve Montemayor during the campaign (in connection with the article cited at the end of your item). She showed Montemayor a copy of her immigration documents on her cell phone but would not let him make copies or jot down the names. I emailed Montemayor to confirm her refusal to let him take down names. She is hiding something.

I have also met with a confidential Somali source who confirms my reporting based on his acquaintance with the family members. He gave me copies of Facebook photos now removed of her brothers in London. I believe that one of Preya’s Alpha News 2016 articles has the photos and a lot of other related social media information.

This is my response to your third question:

Yes.

These questions are very basic and it is not apparent to me that you have done more than a minimal level of research. I am available to elaborate if you have follow-up questions. I would like to emphasize this: possible immigration fraud was the only reason I could think of for Omar marrying her brother, if that is what she did. when I first raised these issues in 2016. Subsequent reporting suggests other reasons. I do not assert that she married her brother to commit immigration fraud, which you focus your fact check on. although I think she may have committed immigration fraud…She has not responded to a serious interview on these issues with anyone. Snopes is only the latest in a long line of organizations with whom she has declined to engage.
I freely acknowledge, and have expressly done so on Power Line, that my inability to state definitively why she might have married her brother is a weakness in the theory that she did so. I may be wrong. However, Omar’s refusal to answer questions about her marriage to husband number 2 is the underlying reason for any possible error.

I would appreciate your confirmation of receipt of this message and your prompt correction of the Snopes fact check stating we failed to respond to you.

Thanks.

Scott W. Johnson
Power Line

Snopes has now updated the conclusion of its post to read:

We sent a list of questions to Omar’s spokesman but did not receive responses prior to publication. We also sent a list of questions to Powerline blogger Scott Johnson, who responded on 25 March 2019 but offered nothing more substantive in support of the claim than inference and supposition.

I wrote the Snopes reporter again:

Bethania: I see you have updated your post to state that I provided you nothing but inference and supposition. I rate that false, if not a lie, and request that you post my email to you in full so readers can see for themselves. If nothing else, I cited the work of Preya Samsundar and David Steinberg, which is full of facts supporting my work. Your post simply omits it all, which makes it easy for you to misrepresent me as you do.

Scott Johnson

In Faulknerian terms, I rate the Snopes post four Flems.

UPDATE: Our publisher reports: “Can’t find any evidence that she sent this email to Power Line Feedback on the date claimed. If it was tagged as spam, it was automatically deleted 30 days later, on March 15. If it was deleted, the trash would have been emptied automatically 30 days later as well. One thing she can easily do to help prove that she asked PL for comment on February 15 would be to go into her email, find the message that was sent on February 15, and send us the full headers of the email.”

Responses

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