Conservatives have long accused fact-check site Snopes of being politically biased, but is that a fair accusation? A new “fact check” by the outlet on an obviously satirical post by The Babylon Bee about the accusations of a Georgia Democrat provides a convenient opportunity to look into the claim.
The “fact check” focuses on a satirical spinoff of the allegations leveled by Georgia Democratic Rep. Erica Thomas. “Did a Georgia Lawmaker Claim a Chick-fil-A Employee Told Her to Go Back to Her Country?” Snopes asks, adding chidingly: “We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire.'”
After dropping the chiding, not-very-fact-focused subheader jab, Snopes gets down to business: Babylon Bee’s glaringly satirical post (which delivers the punchline that the Chick-fil-A employee actually just said “My pleasure”) is “FALSE.” Here’s the strangely vague report from the “fact-checker”:
On July 20, 2019, Democratic Georgia state Rep. Erica Thomas posted a message on Twitter claiming that she had been verbally assaulted by a fellow customer at a Publix grocery store, who allegedly told her to “go back to where I came from.” The tweet stirred up considerable outrage, especially since U.S. President Donald Trump had posted a similar message to Twitter targeting four Democratic congresswomen a few days prior.
The following day, the man involved in the altercation admitted that he had cursed at Thomas while waiting in line at a Publix store, but denied that he ever told Thomas to “go back” to where she came from.
While this real-world incident stirred up a good amount of online anger, it wasn’t quite outrageous enough for the entertainment website Babylon Bee. In an apparent attempt to maximize the online indignation, this website published a fictionalized version of the story, changing the location to Chick-fil-A, a fast-food restaurant known for its CEO’s opposition to same-sex marriage[.]
After noting that the Babylon Bee is a satirical site that clearly describes itself as such, Snopes provides a summary of what’s “true” and “false”:
What’s true: Georgia state Rep. Erica Thomas claimed that she was verbally assaulted by a man at a Publix store who told her to “go back” where she came from. The man admitted that he cursed at Thomas, but he denied making the “go back” remark.
What’s false: In the fictional Babylon story, the event took place at a Chick-fil-A and involved an employee, not a fellow customer.
Those who have been tracking the story closely will be struck by how many facts are left out of the fact-checker’s “fact check.” Curiously, most of these omitted facts are ones that undercut Thomas’s racially and politically charged story — including eye-witness accounts, a police report, surveillance footage, and the race and political affiliation of the man Thomas claims told her to “go back” to where she “came from.” Below is a more full account based on publicly available facts that Snopes for some reason chose to leave out of its “fact check.”
Thomas claimed in videos and interviews that a “white man” approached her while in the express lane of a Publix grocery store and told her to “go back” to where she “came from.” The “violent action,” she said, made her fear for her life, Thomas telling police that he had his fist clenched. His comments, she suggested, were likely fueled by “white privilege.”
“People are getting really out of control with this — with this white privilege stuff,” she said in a tearful video she uploaded to social media. “I’m at the grocery store … and this white man comes up to me and says, ‘You lazy son of a b****, you need to go back where you came from.[‘]” All she could say in response, she claimed, was to tell him “please leave me alone.” Her child, she said, was shocked, asking, “Mama, why would he call you that, why would he do that?” Thomas, meanwhile, is nine months pregnant.
But when Thomas went back to Publix to make her allegations in front of cameras, the “white man” she accused of making the racially charged “go back” comment came too — and he was likewise more than willing to go on the record to say what happened. The man, Eric Sparkes, who is a Democrat of Cuban descent (both details Snopes doesn’t mention), admitted that he did call her a “lazy b****.” However, Sparkes stressed that he never said “go back.”
Sparkes’ account appears to be largely backed up by witnesses. As reported by the AJC, a police report that has since been released on the incident reveals that a witness to the verbal confrontation said that Thomas, not Sparkes, was the one who said “go back to where you came from.” The witness has also stated that to the press:
Thomas has since said she said that in response to Sparkes, but no witnesses heard him say that. A manager said he heard Sparkes call her “ignorant” and say “I know you people.” Sparkes denies using the phrase “you people” at any point.
Neither the police report nor the eye-witness accounts undermining Thomas’ claim made their way into Snopes’ “fact check.” Snopes also leaves out the fact that police announced Tuesday that after investigating the matter, they will not be pressing charges.
Also left out of the report is the newly released surveillance footage, which pokes holes in the claim that Sparkes was acting in a threatening manner. The video shows Sparkes initially approach Thomas, then quickly back up as she begins to move toward him, pointing her finger and appearing to yell at him. Thomas even follows Sparkes part of the way out as he leaves the store. So far, Snopes hasn’t bothered to update its “fact check” with the surveillance footage. Here are two versions, the first including Sparkes’ account of what happened: