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Will Fact-Checkers Foil Democrats' Attempts to Play the Race Card?

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Fact-checking journalists lean left, as Mark Hemingway documented in a canonical Washington Examiner analysis that is just as valid today as when it was published in 2011. But as John F. Kennedy once said, when asked why he wasn't supported by an odoriferous Massachusetts Democrat, "sometimes party loyalty asks too much."

Case in point: the two solemn statements by Democratic presidential candidates. Last Friday at 2:24 p.m., Kamala Harris tweeted, "Michael Brown's murder forever changed Ferguson and America." Half an hour later, Elizabeth Warren got more specific: "5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri." They weren't the only candidates noting this fifth anniversary, but others carefully avoided the M-word.

Correctly so, as the intensive investigation by Barack Obama's and Eric Holder's Justice Department concluded that the officer fired on Brown in justified self-defense. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler awarded Harris and Warren "four Pinocchios" and called their dismissal of the Justice Department report "even more galling."

Vox's German Lopez wrote, "Five years after the shooting, though, major presidential campaigns are still getting the details wrong."

"Harris, Warren wrong about Brown shooting," reads the headline on a FactCheck.org story by Lori Robertson.

Were these fact-checkers' responses an attempt to uphold the repute of the Obama administration, so many of whose policies have been attacked and scorned by many Democratic candidates? Unlikely. The candidates' errors were too blatant.

But they may have been surprised to be called on it. Their staffs did not respond to the fact-checkers' inquiries, and none retracted or explained their mistake. Perhaps they feared getting blowback on Twitter if they were to do so. Perhaps they genuinely (and unprofessionally) misremembered the incident.

And perhaps they expected that nobody, at least no one on their ideological side, would challenge an accusation of white racism. For that certainly has been the response of liberal media to Democrat Stacey Abrams' claims that she "won" the election for governor of Georgia last November.

Actually, she lost, 50 to 49 percent to Republican Brian Kemp. His popular vote margin was 54,723 out of 3,902,093 votes cast -- a close race but an unambiguous result. Abrams had plenty of reason to be proud of her run: She got 800,000 more votes than any previous Democrat and a higher percentage than any Democrat since 1998. But it's simply factually wrong to say she won.

Abrams argues that she only came up short because Kemp, as secretary of state, eliminated 1.4 million people from the Georgia voter rolls. But, as Mark Hemingway points out, that was in line with federal legislation that requires purging the names of those who haven't voted and haven't responded to attempted contacts.

Abrams wants you to think that this is voter suppression, in line with the barring of black people to vote in Georgia and other Southern states before passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In those days, black Americans risked their lives if they tried to register to vote. Saying that current requirements -- like showing photo ID -- are the same kind of suppression is a vicious lie.

Vicious because it distorts American history, because it understates the diminution of racism and racial discrimination over the past half-century, because it understates the bravery of the black and other Americans who risked everything to advance equality under the law.

Why do politicians like Harris, Warren and Abrams make such refutable (if not often-refuted) claims? The cynical explanation is that they're appealing to black voters and promising to redress their grievances. But how many black Americans really believe they're barred from voting or more vulnerable to police violence than half a century ago?

Maybe instead they're virtue signaling to the white college graduates who are the dominant segment of the Democratic electorate these days. What "sounds like an exclusive appeal to minority voters," writes the New York Post's Michael Goodwin, is "just as likely to be aimed at those whites embarrassed by their race."

"People of color are not the driving force behind most of today's forms of racial liberalism," wrote political scientist Eric Kaufmann in The New York Times in March. "The share of white liberals who say racial prejudice is the main reason blacks cannot get ahead has jumped substantially since 2014" -- the year Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.

But facts are stubborn things. The Mueller report has forced the Democrats to stop playing the Russia card. And now journalistic fact-checkers are disciplining their attempts to play the racism card. Whether either card trumps Trump for the middle of the electorate is unclear.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.


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