Fact-Checking is Dead, Killed by Snopes over Biden’s Broken Promise of $2,000 Checks

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

I thought the $2,000 check controversy could be allowed to recede into the disconsolate mists of time, as just one more Democrat betrayal, until I heard on The West Wing Thing that Snopes, “the internet’s definitive fact-checking resource,” had rated this claim:

In late December 2020 and early January 2021, President-elect Joe Biden and Georgia U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock misled the public with claims that winning both Georgia races would allow the immediate passage of “$2,000 checks” for COVID-19 relief.

“Mostly false.” Since I remembered Warnock running on an actual image of a check with “$****2000.00” printed on it, in authentic-looking IBM printer-style type, I wondered what sort of gymnastics Snopes had gone through. Before getting to Snopes, however, let’s ask ourselves — as ordinary voters — what Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock actually said.[1]

What did we mean by “a check for $2000”?

I think all but a vanishingly small percentage of voters believes that this is what “a check for $2,000” means: A $2000 check is a check with $2000 written on the amount line (and signed, dated, not, at least in the United States, scrawled upon a napkin. Let’s put this and other proposals for amount line in the form of productions. The dull normal believes that the amount line reads like production (1):

$2,000(1)

While the amount line could theoretically be an arithmetical formula, I’ve never seen or heard of one:

$1,400 + $600(2)

Nor have I heard an amount line with a portion of the amount from one account, and another portion from a second account:

$1,400Account A + $600Account B(3)

Nor have I ever heard of an account line “with an asterisk” (or a bank paying attention to an asterisk if present).

$2,000*(4)

* Terms and conditions apply

And for the sake of completeness:

$1,400(5)

I am compelled to add Production (5) because of how matters turned out.

As we shall see, Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock all used Production (1) on the campaign trail. So did the press, So did voters. Subsequently, some Democrats proposed that Productions (2), (3), (4), and (5) were equivalent to Production (1), and that it is possible to mean Productions (2), (3), (4), and (5) while saying Production (1). So, absurdly, does Snopes. That’s not possible, because “checks” don’t work that way. But only Production (1) — “a check with $2,000 in the amount line” — is, in fact, “a check for $2,000.”

Did Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock promise a “a check for $2000”?

They did, using the terms of Production (1). We’ve quoted them before, but for the record, let’s quote them again. First, here is Warnock, from one of his campaign ads:

Simple, direct, and to the point. Notice the amount line. Warnock and Ossoff ran as a joint ticket, so Warnock’s image is on Ossoff too. Nevertheless, here’s Ossoff on the Twitter, the day before the election:

And in print, on election day:

[OSSOFF:] We will be able to pass $2,000 stimulus checks for the people next week.

And Biden on the campaign trail on election day:

[BIDEN:] By electing John and the Reverend, you can make an immediate difference in your own lives, the lives of people all across this country, because their election will put an end to the block in Washington of that $2,000 stimulus check, that money that will go out the door immediately to help people who are in real trouble. Think about [? what it ?] will mean, to your lives, putting food on the table, paying rent, paying your mortgage, paying down the credit card, paying the phone bill, the gas bill, the electric bill.

And that’s not an exaggeration. That is a literal– that’s literally true. If you send John and the Reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door, restoring hope and decency and honor for so many people who are struggling right now. And if you send senators Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It’s just that simple. The power is literally in your hands.

By “that $2,000 stimulus, Biden clearly means “a check with $2000 written on the amount line.” There is one check, going out the door, not a $1,400 check to top off the $600 check that went out the door before, or the money Trump already sent plus additional money from Biden. None of that. One check, in the amount of $2,000. The text could not be more clear.

Did people believe that Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock promised “a check for $2000”?

We know that the press did, both before and after election day. In all cases, the text self-evidently means what normal people think it means: “A check with $2000 written on the amount line” (Production 1).

(December 30, 2020) Distribution of $600 coronavirus stimulus check started Tuesday; senators to revisit $2,000 Wednesday New Orleans Advocate. (These are Trump’s checks, opposed by McConnell, supported by Schumer)

(January 1, 2021) Senate Democrats push for $2,000 stimulus checks as clock winds down on 116th Congress CNN. “Schumer took to the Senate floor, saying, ‘The Senate can start off this new year by adding to that sense of hope by sending $2,000 checks to struggling American families.’ He then pushed for a vote on $2,000 checks, but was blocked when a GOP senator objected.”

(January 2, 2021) Congress wound down without $2,000 stimulus checks. Here’s what could happen next. USA Today. “The House on Monday approved giving Americans weathering the coronavirus pandemic $2,000 stimulus checks, but the measure never came to a vote in the Senate.”

(January 4, 2021) Georgia runoff could hold key to Biden stimulus checks Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(January 5, 2021) $600 stimulus payments on the way; Where we stand on $2,000 check AL.com. “The $600 stimulus may be arriving but many people were hoping the second round would bring more – a lot more. Congress has been considering a $2,000-per-person stimulus payment backed by the odd combination of both President Trump and Democrats.”

(January 5, 2021) In Georgia, Democrats close with populist pitch vowing $2,000 stimulus checks NBC. “Their calibrated closing arguments centered on a pocketbook pitch to approve $2,000 stimulus payments to Americans, a popular issue backed by Democrats and President Donald Trump but opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, McConnell torpedoed the checks in the Senate, though they had been approved with a bipartisan vote in the House.”

(January 5, 2021) Biden says electing Georgia’s Ossoff and Warnock would lead to $2,000 stimulus checks CNN. No qualifications in the text.

(January 5, 2021) Biden says if Warnock and Ossoff are elected, “those $2,000 checks will go out the door” Yahoo News. Ditto

* * * January 5, 2021: Election Day * * *

(January 6, 2021) Democrats retake the Senate with Georgia sweep Politico

Ossoff and Warnock campaigned vigorously on additional Covid-19 relief measures.

And at a news conference on Capitol Hill, Schumer acknowledged that “we sure did not take the most direct path to be here” — a nod to the party’s failures in a few Senate races from November. He added that once Warnock and Ossoff are sworn in, his first priority will be to move a bill that would provide $2,000 stimulus checks to Americans.

(January 6, 2021) Biden gets to dream bigger with likely Democratic victories in Georgia Politico

Party members were jubilant about Warnock’s and Ossoff’s presumed victories, and they were already mapping out the legislative opportunities that control of both chambers of Congress allows. Biden’s Cabinet nominees are likely to get swift confirmation, and $2,000 stimulus checks and expanded funding for states to distribute coronavirus vaccines are far more probable.

(January 7, 2021) With control of Senate, Democrats to act fast on $2,000 checks Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “With Democrats on the cusp of controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will prioritize additional coronavirus relief for working Americans, including $2,000 checks that were left out of the most recent stimulus.”

(January 8, 2021) $2,000 stimulus checks on the table after Dems win control of Senate FOX. “‘One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to the American families,’ Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will become majority leader, told reporters on Wednesday.”

(January 11, 2021) Joe Biden’s $2,000 Stimulus Check Push Might Not Satisfy Calls for Relief Newsweek

(December 29, 2020) “$2,000 Stimulus Checks Are Poorly Targeted and That’s Fine” Eric Levitz, New York Magazine. “Liberal critics of $2,000 stimulus checks need to get realistic and stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

(January 12, 2021) $2,000 Stimulus Check Calculator: How Much You Could Receive? Forbes. “Millions of Americans have received their $600 stimulus checks—but hopes remain high for a $2,000 stimulus check being sent out next.”

(January 13, 2021) $2,000 stimulus checks: Here’s who might qualify WREG (Memphis, TN). “President-elect Joe Biden is expected to unveil a coronavirus relief plan Thursday that includes the largest direct payment yet: $2,000 for most Americans…. While a $2,000 check might sound nice, many people are left wondering whether they’d qualify.”

We also know that Democrat activists on the campaign trail believed that Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock said, and mean, Production (1). From the Daily Mail, reactions after $2.000 in the amount line morphed into $1,400 (Production 5):

Some Georgia voters have been left unimpressed by what they see as semantic trickery, with one person who canvassed for Democrats saying he felt he had “lied to people” when he promised them $2,000 payments. I’m a man of principle and morals and I feel like s**t. I lied to them,” Rogelio Linares told Mediaite. Accusing the Democratic leadership of a “betrayal of the working class”, Linares said that “people are very mad about it” after the $1,400 plan was unveiled. “At the doors, I was literally telling people, $2,000 checks, you can rely on this’ he said. Another voter who supported Ossoff and Warnock, Rachel Kahn, said she felt the $2,000 promise had been misleading. “In my opinion as a person who does marketing, advertising, and public communications as my job, I would confidently say their messaging implied an additional $2,000, not $2,000 minus $600,’ she said. Oscar Zaro, another Democratic voter, said many people in his district had turned out for Ossoff and Warnock because of the promised $2,000. “They really underestimate just how much people are hurting economically,” Zaro said of congressional Democrats.

Kahn’s “implied” is far too weak. Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock did not “imply” that checks with $2,000 in the amount line would go out; that’s what they said, because what they promised couldn’t have possibly meant anything else to any normal person. Having laid the groundwork, let’s turn to Snopes.

How does Snopes perform its gyrations?

Nobody was confused but everybody was wrong, until Snopes after the fact straightened them out. Apparently. The Snopes post is lengthy, but to its credit, clearly laid out. First, their gyrations conclude:

What’s False

However, these promises [from Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock] were always made in the context of legislation blocked by the Senate in late December that attempted to raise the per person payment from $600 to $2,000. Because $600 checks were already being distributed by the time Biden and the others entered office, the addition of $1,400 would fulfill the campaign promise of $2,000 per person COVID-19 stimulus payments.

In other words, Snopes urges that Production (1), a check with “$2,000” in the amount line, and Production (2), a check with “$1,400 + $600” in the amount line, are equivalent. Try that the next time you make a deposit at your bank, and let me know how using a formula instead of a number works out for you. Further, if you will look at the examples I gave, you will see the Ossoff and Biden both promised $2,000, with no qualifications, the day before the election, and on Election Day itself. The promises were in no sense made “always made in the context of legislation blocked by the Senate in late December,” unless you believe that a context where Congress is in session is the same as the context where Congress is in recess, a proposition as absurd as the proposition that $2,000 = $1,400.

It takes a lot of labor to go so wrong, so here are some of the ways that Snopes contorted itself to each this conclusion.

First, Snopes sets up a straw man:

Those arguing that Biden et al. broke a political promise by proposing $1,400 checks on top of the already approved $600 ones misrepresent the political debate surrounding COVID-19 relief efforts. Until the “broken promise” talking point emerged, the two political “camps” were the $600 advocates (most congressional Republicans) and the $2,000 advocates (Trump and most congressional Democrats). At no point was there ever a “$2,600 camp.”

Whoever made the claim that there was a “$2,600 camp”? And since when did a promise depend on the existence of “a camp”? Beyond the debaters’ points, what matters when a promise is made is understanding of the parties that make it. The “political debate” in Washington is completely irrelevant to the promise that Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock made (“$2,000 check”) and the promise that voters, and the press, understood (“a check with $2,000 in the amount line”). Here, Snopes proposes that Production (1) and Production (4) — “$2,000*,” where the asterisk is not “Terms and conditions apply” but “subject to the political debate in Washington.” Come on, man.

Snopes goes on to handwave:

Looking back at the statements made by Biden and others, references to “$2,000 checks” must be to these legislative efforts — including those advocated for and voted on by Ocasio-Cortez. Because the Senate cannot “block” legislation that has not yet been proposed, Biden’s reference to “the block in Washington of that $2,000 stimulus check” clearly refers to the Senate’s unwillingness to take up the House amendment upping the $600 checks to $2,000.

No, “the block in Washington” does not “clearly refer” to “the Senate’s unwillingness to take up the House amendment upping the $600 checks to $2,000.” First, no voter on earth would believe that. Snopes assumes that Georgia voters and canvassers are following a complex legislative process in detail, as if they were Beltway wonks. Second, the “and others” besides Biden, novice Senators Ossoff and Warnoff, are as likely to have followed the debate in detail while consumed by campaigning as voters were. Third, Biden must have known that there is no reason a new bill could not be introduced, given Democrat control over both the House and the Senate; past legislative history is irrelevant. Fourth, Snopes proposes that Production (1) and Production (4) — $1,400Biden + $600Trump — are the same. Come on, man. How does a $1,400 check topping off a $600 check translate to a check going “out the door”? All of the messaging was for a singular, $2000 check under a Biden presidency, not $1400 from Biden and $600 from Trump.

And finally Snopes obfuscates completely:

Because Biden and Ossoff’s statements are consistent with the package Democrats ultimately proposed, but because their timeline for getting those payments out the door was too optimistic, we rank the claim that Biden’s proposed $1,400 checks are a broken promise as “Mostly False.”

(“Biden and Ossoff’s statements.” What’s Warnock? Chopped liver?) First, “their timeline for getting those payments out the door was too optimistic” translates to “I couldn’t deliver what I promised,” at least for the “out the door” part. Glad we’ve got that clear. Second, voters didn’t vote for an ultimate proposal; they vote for what candidates put before them; what Biden, Ossoff, and Warnock actually promised, in their own words. Third, once again Snopes is claiming that Production (1), “$2,000,” and Production (4), “$2,000*” are the same; in this case, the asterisk is “consistent with the package Democrats ultimately proposed, which turns out to — surprise! — Production (5), “$1,400,” in the amount line. It’s not complicated[2]:

Conclusion

Back in the day, before The Platforms and private equity combined to destroy the news business, we didn’t need standalone “fact checkers” like Snopes; each institution was strong enough to check facts all on its own, without outsourcing anything to a tiny outfit like Snopes. I can’t imagine why Snopes went to all this trouble to obfuscate promises that were perfectly clear when they were made. Except, possibly, for threats of censorship or deplatforming by liberal Democrats newly enamored of such things.

NOTES

[1] To be fair, Snopes doesn’t omit any of the evidence I’m about the present; it’s their interpretation I take issue with.

https://kieranhealy.org/files/papers/fuck-nuance.pdf

[2] See, e.g., Kieran Healy, “F*ck Nuance.”

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