Analysis

‘Mostly False’ Free Crack Pipes: How ‘Fact-Checkers’ Debunked Reality … Again

   DailyWire.com
Oussman, a crack addict lights a pipe at Stalingrad Square, nicknamed Stalincrack, on December 2, 2020 in Paris. This "drug of the poor" has been wreaking havoc in the north-east of the capital for thirty years. Over the past 18 months, the authorities have been stepping up initiatives to try to curb the use of this smokable derivative of cocaine: reinforced police patrols, arrests of traffickers, accommodation for drug addicts but these efforts have so far been largely unsuccessful.
JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this week, it was reported that President Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services was planning to implement a $30 million grant program which would include handing out “safe smoking kits” to drug addicts. According to a report from The Washington Free Beacon, a spokesman for the agency confirmed that these kits would include pipes for the use of “crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and ‘any illicit substance.'”

“Applicants for the grants are prioritized if they treat a majority of ‘underserved communities,’ including African Americans and ‘LGBTQ+ persons,’ as established under President Joe Biden’s executive order on ‘advancing racial equity,’” The Washington Free Beacon reported.

Despite the breadth of the reporting, and the clarity of the language, fact-checking organization Snopes mobilized to argue that this was not the case … mostly.

Did Biden Admin ‘Fund Crack Pipes’ To ‘Advance Racial Equity’?Snopes’ Dan MacGuill asked, arguing that “[n]ews reports in February 2022 grossly misrepresented the facts about a federal harm reduction program.”

The claim “debunked” by Snopes was that, “In early 2022, the Biden administration endeavored to advance racial equity by distributing crack pipes to drug users.”

Snopes deemed this claim to be “Mostly False,” a rating which indicates “that the primary elements of a claim are demonstrably false, but some of the ancillary details surrounding the claim may be accurate.”

The “Mostly False” fact-check began by listing “What’s True”:

In 2022, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services substance abuse harm reduction grant did require recipients to provide safer smoking kits to existing drug users. In distributing grants, priority would be given to applicants serving historically underserved communities. 

Then, under “What’s False,” Snopes added:

This was just one of around 20 components of the grant program and far from its most prominent or important one, despite being the primary focus of outraged news reports. The purpose of the program was to reduce harm and the risk of infection among drug users, not to advance racial equity, although that was a secondary consideration.

As examples of “breathless” reporting on the subject from “right-leaning outlets,” Snopes listed headlines like “Biden administration funding crack pipe distribution, saying it’s needed for racial equity,” from JustTheNews.com, and “Biden Admin Spending $30M To Give Crack Pipes, Drug Kits To Addicts For ‘Advancing Racial Equity,’” from ChicksOnTheRight.com, adding that outlets like The Blaze wrote:

The Biden administration will soon fund the distribution of crack pipes to drug addicts in underserved communities for the purpose of “advancing racial equity,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.

By their own metrics, in order to reach a conclusion of “Mostly False,” Snopes had to prove that the “primary elements” of the claim “In early 2022, the Biden administration endeavored to advance racial equity by distributing crack pipes to drug users” are “demonstrably false.” However, every single element of this claim is true:

“In early 2022…”

The program, “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration FY 2022 Harm Reduction Program Grant” had an application deadline of February 7, 2022.

“…the Biden administration endeavored to advance racial equity…”

The program document states, “The priority populations for this program are underserved communities that are greatly impacted by SUD [substance use disorders].” The document then directly references the definition of “underserved communities” laid out in section 2 of Executive Order 13985, which reads:

It is … the policy of my Administration that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality. 

“…by distributing crack pipes to drug users.”

The Washington Free Beacon confirmed with a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services that “smoking kits/supplies” will include pipes for drug users to smoke crack cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and “any illicit substance.”

The entire basis for the “Mostly False” rating hinges on the notion that the “What’s False” category outweighs the “What’s True” category. However, what Snopes lists as “false” has nothing to do with fact or fiction. Instead, it has everything to do with a retroactive layer of “context.”

The fact that crack pipe distribution was “just one of around 20 components of the grant program” or that crack pipe distribution is “far from” the program’s “most prominent or important” feature is irrelevant when it comes to judging the original claim.

Moreover, the argument that “The purpose of the program was to reduce harm and the risk of infection among drug users, not to advance racial equity, although that was a secondary consideration” admits that advancing racial equity was — at least in part — a motivating factor.

To argue that the existence of other motivating factors (even more important ones) counteracts the existence of one motivating factor is to bend reality.

For example, let us say that Alice left her home to both visit her friend, Bob, and purchase an ice cream. It is therefore correct to say that Alice left her home to visit her friend, Bob, and that she left her home to purchase an ice cream. Based on Snopes’ logic, though, these statements in isolation are “Mostly False” unless we include the every element of her decision to leave.

Later on Wednesday, Snopes updated the rating of the post to “Outdated,” writing:

“After a wave of grossly misleading news coverage in February 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stipulated that federal funding would not be used to include pipes in safe smoking kits, as part of a substance abuse harm reduction grant program. This newly-stipulated detail was not originally available, meaning the assertions made in a first wave of coverage had become outdated.”

This appeared to refer to a February 9 press release from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and the Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Dr. Rahul Gupta, which stated:

“HHS and ONDCP are focused on using our resources smartly to reduce harm and save lives. Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits. The goal of harm reduction is to save lives. The Administration is focused on a comprehensive strategy to stop the spread of drugs and curb addiction, including prioritizing the use of proven harm reduction strategies like providing naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and clean syringes, as well as taking decisive actions to go after violent criminals who are trafficking illicit drugs like fentanyl across our borders and into our communities. We will continue working to address the addiction and overdose epidemic and ensure that our resources are used in the smartest and most efficient manner.”

Regardless of the updated rating, however, Snopes‘ “Mostly False” logic is part of a pattern. This is not the first time that a fact-checking organization has applied a healthy dose of subjectivity to achieve a desired result. Indeed, this isn’t even the first time that Snopes has applied this strategy.

For example, in February 2021, Snopes published a report titled “Did AOC Exaggerate the Danger She Was in During Capitol Riot?” The fact-check investigated the claim:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez exaggerated the danger she was in during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, in that she “wasn’t even in the Capitol building” when the rioting occurred.

This claim — Ocasio-Cortez’s alleged “exaggeration” of the danger based on her distance from the rioting — was also given the hallowed “Mostly False” rating, with the following “true” and “false” components:

What’s True: Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t in the main Capitol building where the House and Senate Chambers are located.

What’s False: When the attack on the Capitol began, Ocasio-Cortez was in her congressional office, which is located in a network of office buildings immediately surrounding the Capitol, and her office building was one of the two buildings that were evacuated.

And just like Snopes’ crack pipe fact-check, the accuracy of the central claim — in this case, that Ocasio-Cortez “wasn’t even in the Capitol building” — was irrelevant.

To turn up into down, day into night, and right into wrong, all it takes is a healthy dose of carefully selected “context.”

This article has been revised to clarify that the initiative lists “safe smoking kits” in its list of items rather than specifying “crack pipes,” and to include Snopes’ updated rating based on a statement from HHS.

Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.