At least two employees of Billy Penn, the official Pennsylvania partner of PolitiFact, attended a Philadelphia birthday party in which guests "beat the shit out of" a piñata effigy of sitting Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.).
A Billy Penn reporter and cameraman were present at the party, which doubled as a fundraiser for a local group that gives financial assistance to women seeking abortions.
The birthday girl, an abortion worker named Samantha Pinto, got the piñata of Toomey made by the Philly Socialists—she thought that destroying it "would be a fun thing for the party since Pat Toomey opposes abortion," according to the Billy Penn report.
A video of the piñata’s destruction, which was captured and edited by Billy Penn, shows that Toomey's face was destroyed to cheers and remarks such as "fuck you, you homophobic piece of shit."
Reporter Cassie Owens set the stage for the Saturday destruction of the piñata.
"On a chilly but still temperate Holy Saturday night, Piñata Pat Toomey was smiling, hung up in her backyard patio," Owens wrote. "Pinto, as she would do throughout the night, welcomed a friend to the patio, then motioned to the special guest and explained that later in the night they’d be beating that."
Guests were eager to destroy Toomey's face, which had been filled by Pinto with condoms, lube packets, and sexual items such as dildo ring pops.
"OK, so when do we get to beat the shit out of him?" said one guest, according to the report. "Oh my God, I hate this motherfucker," said another.
Numerous pictures chronicling the gleeful destruction of Toomey's face can be viewed on Billy Penn's website.
Reached for comment, a spokesman for Toomey said that he was aware of the article. Toomey's office says it reached out to Billy Penn "to discuss the newsworthiness" of the article, but had not heard back.
"Our office repeatedly reached out yesterday and today to both the executive editor and the founder of Billy Penn to discuss the newsworthiness of this piece," said Toomey's press secretary Steve Kelly. "Unfortunately, these messages were not returned."
Kelly sent numerous emails, all which were shared with the Washington Free Beacon, to Billy Penn founder Jim Brady and managing editor Shannon Wink shortly after publication of the article on Monday. The emails were not returned.
Billy Penn editor Chris Krewson, who said he had not heard from Toomey's office and was not emailed by Kelly, defended the decision to cover the birthday party in an email to the Washington Free Beacon.
"We thought it was news because it was interesting, and because of the intense protests that Sen. Toomey has drawn in the city and across the state since his reelection," Krewson said.
Asked whether he though the light-hearted coverage of the brutal beating of the Toomey effigy impacted Billy Penn's ability to be seen as a reliable partner for PolitiFact, Krewson said that the site doesn't "see a conflict in reporting the news and checking facts."
Both Krewson and Owens insisted that a similar event featuring the destruction of a Democrat piñata would have been covered in an identical fashion.
"We absolutely would have covered a Democrat if they'd been turned into a piñata, had we found out about it in advance," Krewson said.
"I would certainly maintain a similar tone if a group busted a piñata of a Democrat," Owens said in an email.
Owens defended the news value of her piece.
"I believe that we would be remiss as reporters if we did not follow these shifts and responses, if we did not stay watchful of how young voters are engaging with electeds and our democracy," Owens said. "Obviously, the piñata was more than a regular party game—that you even wrote us kinda gives credence to that."
"I also think the piñata speaks to what's happening culturally among progressives in Philadelphia, the largest city in a state that's long been purple, but hadn't gone to a Republican in a presidential election since 1988," she explained. "That, to me, is significant."
Update 10:20 a.m.: Following publication of this article, Billy Penn editor Krewson told the Free Beacon the paper had not heard from Toomey's office.
Update, Tuesday, April 25, 4:40 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that emails sent by Sen. Toomey's press secretary to both the founder and managing editor of Billy Penn were shared with the Free Beacon.