FAKE NEWS: How One Reporter's Blatant Lie About Glenn Youngkin Became a Democratic Talking Point

Washington Post eagerly promotes misinformation about GOP governor

March 15, 2022

Journalists and other Democratic activists love to complain about "fake news" and "propaganda." Nevertheless, they are among the most enthusiastic disseminators of egregious falsehoods about their political enemies. One particularly shameless example involves a story published last week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

On March 10, the Times-Dispatch promoted a blatant lie about Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R., Va.), one of the most reviled politicians among left-wing activists. Reporter (and "lifestyle photographer") Mel Leonor wrote that Virginia school superintendents had criticized Youngkin's education policies in "a blunt letter representing the views of all 133 state superintendents." Leonor repeated the claim on Twitter, asserting that "133 Virginia school superintendents chided Youngkin's education department" in the letter.

That sounds really bad for Youngkin: School leaders are unanimously opposed to his controversial agenda! As noted above, this is a blatant lie.

On March 14, local ABC affiliate 7News became one of the only media outlets to report the truth—that the letter was written and approved by the 12-person board of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, and no one else. The rest of the state's 133 school superintendents "were not advised of the letter before it was sent to the Governor’s administration."

The group's executive director, Ben Kiser, was perhaps more than happy to imply otherwise, given that he opened the letter by claiming to speak "on behalf of 133 public school division superintendents." It would be easy enough to blame Kiser for the confusion if journalists and their Democratic allies weren't constantly lecturing the rest of us about the importance of rigorous reporting methods and the need to fact-check authority figures.

In this case, no one bothered to do any fact-checking. The false claim about the letter was repeated by numerous local outlets and national publications. The Washington Post, whose motto is "democracy dies in darkness," published two articles promoting the lie that every Virginia school superintendent had endorsed the contents of the letter. On Tuesday afternoon, a "clarification" was posted at the top of one of the articles noting the letter was "not signed by every member of the group." The opening paragraph still states, however, that "All 133 Virginia public school division superintendents" have urged Youngkin to abandon his education reforms.

Axios, a website that describes its mission as making its readers "smarter," reported that Youngkin's education reforms "are facing a revolt," and even suggested (without evidence, obviously) that the letter from the "group representing all of Virginia's 133 school district superintendents" represented a "rare show of unity" in opposition to the governor's agenda. As of Tuesday, the story had not been corrected.

The Times-Dispatch story was finally corrected on Tuesday afternoon, five days after the publication date. It now includes a "clarification" that the letter "does not necessarily reflect a consensus of the 133 superintendents." The text of the article has been slightly altered to describe the letter as "representing the views of state superintendents."

One might argue that some journalists actually don't care about the truth, especially when promoting the false version of a story is beneficial to the (Democratic) politicians they support. And it was! Examples of Democratic politicians and activists amplifying the lie on Twitter can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

"EVERY SINGLE ONE of Virginia’s 133 superintendents has come together to urge @GovernorVA to end his backward policies," Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D., Va.) wrote, falsely. "Every. Single. Superintendent. In. Virginia," huffed L. Louise Lucas, a Democratic state senator.

The Democratic Party of Virginia gloated that Youngkin was "slammed by all 133 school superintendents for overreach and discriminatory practices." Democrats in Arlington, Va., concurred. "It's unprecedented that all 133 Virginia School Superintendents have said Governor Youngkin could 'set public education in Virginia back many years,'" they wrote.

Kevin Rogers, a spokesman for the state's teachers' union, the Virginia Education Association, promoted the lie as well. "133 superintendents signed this letter, and there are *checks notes* a total of 133 sitting superintendents in VA. Oh," he wrote, sanctimoniously.

You get the idea. Probably just a random series of events, rather than a coordinated effort to spread misinformation. That would be wrong. The sort of thing only Republicans would do.