PolitiFact Refuses to Fact-Check Warren, Harris About Michael Brown

It won't rate their claim because it's 'open to some dispute'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren / Getty Images
August 14, 2019

The fact-checking website PolitiFact refused to use its signature Truth-O-Meter to rate the false claim by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) that the death of Michael Brown was a "murder."

PolitiFact bucked other prominent fact-checkers in the mainstream media, such as the Washington Post, by refusing to declare the presidential candidates' words untruthful. Both politicians published tweets describing police officer Darren Wilson's killing of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., as a "murder."

"There is no question that Wilson killed Brown, and there’s strong evidence that it was not accidental," PolitiFact wrote. "In discussing the case with legal experts, however, we found broad consensus that 'murder' was the wrong word to use—a legal point likely familiar to Harris, a longtime prosecutor, and Warren, a law professor."

The site added, however, that while both presidential candidates were contradicting the consensus among "legal experts," it would not be fair to subject them to the Truth-O-Meter because of the complicated questions surrounding police shootings.

"Because the significance of Harris’ and Warrens’ [sic] use of the word is open to some dispute, we won’t be rating their tweets on the Truth-O-Meter," PolitiFact said.

The Post, on the other hand, used its own fact-checking system to say that Harris and Warren were wrong in their assessment of the Michael Brown incident. The newspaper gave Warren and Harris Four Pinocchios, its harshest rating for a single untrue claim.

"Harris and Warren have ignored the findings of the Justice Department to accuse Wilson of murder, even though the Justice Department found no credible evidence to support that claim," reporter Glenn Kessler wrote. "Instead, the Justice Department found that the popular narrative was wrong, according to witnesses deemed to be credible, some of whom testified reluctantly because of fear of reprisal. The department produced a comprehensive report to determine what happened, making the senators' dismissal of it even more galling."

In the past, PolitiFact has tweeted that it has never rated Warren below a "half-true" rating on its Truth-O-Meter.

"Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been on the PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter 17 times, with no rating below Half True," the website's account tweeted during the first Democratic debate in June.