WaPo’s Chief Fact-Checker Gets Fact-Checked After Sharing Wildly Misleading Coronavirus Info

Glenn Kessler is the chief fact-checker for The Washington Post. I say that not to inform you of the fact but out of a sense disbelief.

If I emphasize different parts of that sentence, I find myself feeling different sorts of disbelief.

Glenn Kessler is the chief fact-checker for The Washington Post. Glenn Kessler is the chief fact-checker for The Washington Post.

Glenn Kessler is the chief fact-checker for The Washington Post. I mean, there are really only a few combinations for what you can stress, but it feels like it’s endless.

A long, long time ago — or Wednesday morning — Kessler chided President Donald Trump for stressing that the United States has done more testing than South Korea when the United States is a much more populous country than South Korea is.

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“someone needs to learn what ‘per capita’ means,” Kessler wrote.

I know I’m being a bit condescending and pedantic here, but I want to make sure we’re all on the same page: “Per capita” means per person, as in how much of something is distributed among a certain population. Kessler was making fun of President Trump because there are fewer tests done per capita in the more populous United States than in South Korea. We’re all very clear what he meant, right?

Sick burn. So anyhow, much later — a whole 27 minutes — journalist Laurie Garrett, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for covering an Ebola outbreak in Zaire, tweeted this chart:

“The curve today is underscoring a trend I’ve noted for days — the epicenter of the #COVID19 #pandemic is shifting to the USA. And within the US, New York City is the epicenter. And w/in #NYC, Brooklyn/Queens is the epicenter,” she wrote. “Greetings, from the new Ground Zero.”

A look at the chart reveals this curve deals with the actual number of COVID-19 cases 20 days after the 100th case, not the number of cases per capita after 20 days. In the U.S., the 100th-case point came about March 3, according to an MSN report.

I know what you’re thinking now: “He didn’t do it. No. There’s no way. No one could lack self awareness like that. You can’t be serious, Mr. Golden.”

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I am serious. And don’t call me Mr. Golden. I prefer C. Douglas or Shirley, thank you:

It’s actually worse than you think: “US now has more cases 20 days after the 100th case than any other country — including China and Italy,” Kessler wrote.

Do you think that The Washington Post is biased?

First, the per capita thing: This tweet was less than 45 minutes after he mocked President Trump for not understanding the term “per capita.” Congratulations, you played yourself, Glenn Kessler.

Someone needs to learn what “self-immolation” means, particularly when you consider Kessler runs into a very serious per capita issue when comparing Italy (60 million people) vs. the United States (327 million).

There’s an added level of wretchedness to this, though. Note his tweet: specifically the words “… including China and Italy.” Note everything you know about him: specifically his job title, “fact-checker for The Washington Post.” China’s COVID-19 numbers. Washington Post fact-checker. China’s COVID-19 numbers. Washington Post fact-checker.

This man, in short, is paid to check facts and is taking at face value China’s coronavirus death numbers — which are widely believed by experts to be absolutely unreliable and jiggered by the central government in Beijing . Oh, those ol’ numbers from a country that’s lied about everything else regarding COVID-19? Yeah, those are absolutely legit.

So to recap, a “fact-checker” who just mocked Trump for allegedly not understanding what the words “per capita” mean soon retweeted a coronavirus chart and specifically cited numbers from China that are almost certainly grossly distorted a number from Italy that lacks the crucial context of the differences in population between the U.S. and Italy.

In short, it’s wildly misleading coronavirus information from one of the country’s best-known newspapers.

Reactions were what you would expect.

This is arrant hackery by the chief fact-checker for The Washington Post — a man whose Post biography notes was part of reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes at Newsday.

The irony here is that Trump’s numbers were simply something provided to show the United States is catching up on testing. Kessler’s tweets also meant to prove a point — a point which required that the “per capita” part of the equation was left out.

With enemies like this, who needs friends? With enemies like this…

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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FFADS.spot_im_displayed && checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( 'respond' ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { var ffrespond = document.getElementById( 'respond' ); var simscript1 = document.createElement( 'script' ); var simscript2 = document.createElement( 'script' ); simscript1.async = simscript2.async = 'async'; simscript1.type = simscript2.type = 'text/javascript'; simscript1.src = 'https://recirculation.spot.im/spot/' + ffsid; simscript2.src = 'https://launcher.spot.im/spot/' + ffsid; simscript2.dataset.spotimModule = 'spotim-launcher'; simscript2.dataset.postUrl = simscript2.dataset.facebookUrl = ffsurl; simscript2.dataset.postId = ffspid; ffrespond.appendChild( simscript1 ); ffrespond.appendChild( simscript2 ); FFADS.spot_im_displayed = true; } if( window.innerWidth > 943 ) for( let i = 0; i < FFADS.sidebar_order.length; i++ ) { let ad_unit_code = FFADS.sidebar_order[i]; if( checkAlmostVisible( document.getElementById( ad_unit_code ), FFADS.lazy_load_threshold ) ) { FFADS.debug( ad_unit_code + ' is almost visible' ); FFADS.sidebar_order.splice( i, 1 ); FFADS.render_ad( ad_unit_code ); } else break; } } var pbjs = pbjs || {}; pbjs.que = pbjs.que || [ function() { FFADS.debug( 'pbjs.que starting' ); } ]; pbjs.bidderSettings = { standard: { bidCpmAdjustment: function( bidCpm, bid ) { let screen_size = window.innerWidth < 944 ? 'SMSX' : 'LGSX'; let factor = 1.0; if( typeof FFADS.units[bid.adUnitCode].scales[screen_size][bid.bidderCode] != 'undefined' ){ factor -= FFADS.units[bid.adUnitCode].scales[screen_size][bid.bidderCode]; FFADS.debug( 'factor for ' + bid.bidderCode + ' in ' + bid.adUnitCode + ' set to ' + factor + '; bid changed from ' + bidCpm + ' to ' + ( bidCpm *= factor ) ); } return bidCpm; } } }; pbjs.que.push(function() { pbjs.enableAnalytics( { provider: 'roxot', options: { publisherIds: ["556182c7-ac68-4d56-8c66-4b4336e28e5e"] } } ); pbjs.setConfig( { priceGranularity: "high", userSync: { iframeEnabled: true, filterSettings: { iframe: { bidders: ['pubmatic'], filter: 'include' } } } } ); FFADS.debug( 'adding units to PB' ); FFADS.debug( FFADS.pb_units ); pbjs.addAdUnits( FFADS.pb_units ); let adUnitCodes = []; for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) adUnitCodes.push( ad_unit ); FFADS.debug( 'requesting PB bids for initial units' ); pbjs.requestBids({ bidsBackHandler: FFADS.pbjs_bids_back, adUnitCodes: adUnitCodes }); }); function sendInitialAdserverRequest() { if( FFADS.initialAdserverRequestSent ) return; FFADS.initialAdserverRequestSent = true; FFADS.debug( 'queuing DFP request for initial units' ); googletag.cmd.push(function() { pbjs.que.push(function() { FFADS.debug( 'sending DFP request for initial units' ); let adUnitCodes = []; let dfpAdUnits = []; for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) { if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) { let pb_bid = pbjs.getHighestCpmBids( ad_unit ); pb_bid = pb_bid.length ? pb_bid[0].cpm : 0; FFADS.debug( 'Prebid bid ' + pb_bid + ' for ' + ad_unit ); if( pb_bid < FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].cpm ) { FFADS.debug( 'Custom code won for ' + ad_unit ); let el = false; if( el = document.getElementById( ad_unit ) ) { el.innerHTML = FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].code; eval( FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].rendering_script ); } else FFADS.debug( 'failed to render custom code in ' + ad_unit + ' since the unit is not on this page' ); continue; } } adUnitCodes.push( ad_unit ); dfpAdUnits.push( FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[ad_unit].gt_slot ); } pbjs.setTargetingForGPTAsync( adUnitCodes ); apstag.setDisplayBids(); googletag.pubads().refresh( dfpAdUnits ); }); }); } FFADS.debug( 'scheduling DFP request for initial units' ); setTimeout( function() { sendInitialAdserverRequest(); }, FFADS.prebid_timeout ); (function () { var gads = document.createElement('script'); gads.async = true; gads.type = 'text/javascript'; var useSSL = 'https:' == document.location.protocol; gads.src = (useSSL ? 'https:' : 'http:') + '//www.googletagservices.com/tag/js/gpt.js'; var node = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; node.parentNode.insertBefore(gads, node); })(); var googletag = googletag || {}; googletag.cmd = googletag.cmd || [ function() { FFADS.debug( 'googletag.cmd starting' ); } ]; googletag.cmd.push( function() { googletag.pubads().disableInitialLoad(); for( let ad_unit in FFADS.units ) if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load && ( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'dfp_prebid' || FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) ) { FFADS.debug( 'defining slot for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + ad_unit ); FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[ad_unit].gt_slot = googletag.defineSlot( FFADS.get_unit_path( ad_unit ), FFADS.units[ad_unit].sizes, ad_unit ).addService( googletag.pubads() ); } googletag.pubads().enableSingleRequest(); firefly_setTargeting(); googletag.pubads().setCentering(true); googletag.enableServices(); } ); function sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].adserverRequestSent ) return; FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].adserverRequestSent = true; if( FFADS.units[ad_unit].ad_type == 'hybrid' ) { let pb_bid = pbjs.getHighestCpmBids( div_id ); pb_bid = pb_bid.length ? pb_bid[0].cpm : 0; FFADS.debug( 'Prebid bid ' + pb_bid + ' for #' + div_id ); if( pb_bid < FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].cpm ) { FFADS.debug( 'Custom code won for #' + div_id ); document.getElementById( div_id ).innerHTML = FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].code; eval( FFADS.units[ad_unit].custom_ads[0].rendering_script ); return; } } apstag.setDisplayBids(); pbjs.setTargetingForGPTAsync( [div_id] ); FFADS.debug( 'sending DFP request for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); googletag.pubads().refresh( [FFADS.units[ad_unit].instances[div_id].gt_slot] ); } function firefly_pbjs_bids_back_single( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; FFADS.debug( 'PB bids back for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); window['firefly_pbjs_ready' + ad_unit] = true; if( window['firefly_a9_ready' + ad_unit] ) return sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id ); } function firefly_a9_bids_back_single( ad_unit, div_id = false ) { div_id = div_id || ad_unit; FFADS.debug( 'A9 bids back for ' + ad_unit + ' #' + div_id ); window['firefly_a9_ready' + ad_unit] = true; if( window['firefly_pbjs_ready' + ad_unit] ) return sendSingleAdserverRequest( ad_unit, div_id ); } !function(a9,a,p,s,t,A,g){if(a[a9])return;function q(c,r){a[a9]._Q.push([c,r])}a[a9]={init:function(){q("i",arguments)},fetchBids:function(){q("f",arguments)},setDisplayBids:function(){},targetingKeys:function(){return[]},_Q:[]};A=p.createElement(s);A.async=!0;A.src=t;g=p.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];g.parentNode.insertBefore(A,g)}("apstag",window,document,"script","//c.amazon-adsystem.com/aax2/apstag.js"); apstag.init({ pubID: 'da224ee9-07c8-4a80-87e4-528df4ac939e', adServer: 'googletag', bidTimeout: FFADS.prebid_timeout }); var a9_slot_arr = []; for( var ad_unit in FFADS.units ) { if( ! FFADS.units[ad_unit].lazy_load ) var a9_slot_arr = a9_slot_arr.concat( [ { slotID: ad_unit, slotName: FFADS.get_unit_path( ad_unit ), sizes: FFADS.units[ad_unit].sizes } ] ); }; FFADS.debug( 'requesting A9 bids for initial units' ); apstag.fetchBids( { slots: a9_slot_arr }, function( bids ) { FFADS.debug( 'A9 bids back for initial units' ); FFADS.a9_ready = true; if( FFADS.pbjs_ready ) return sendInitialAdserverRequest(); } );

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