Fact-checking site Snopes published a supposed report on Feb. 3 titled “Did AOC Exaggerate the Danger She Was in During Capitol Riot?” This title was immediately followed by the heading “AOC was targeted with another round of bad-faith smears after giving an emotional, firsthand account of her experiences during the Capitol riot,” clearly indicating the tone and premise of the “fact check,” which quickly demonstrates its overt left-wing bias.
Bethania Palma of Snopes begins by presenting the claim to be investigated:
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 — Palma concluded, deserves a “Mostly False” rating. Palma sums up her conclusions about “what’s true” and “what’s false” (formatting adjusted):
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.
The most glaring problem with Palma’s conclusion that this is a “Mostly False” claim is that the central claim — that Ocasio-Cortez “wasn’t even in the Capitol building” — is true, as Palma admits herself in her “What’s True” section. Ocasio-Cortez was not in fact in the Capitol building. Instead, she was in her congressional office in the Cannon House Office Building, a separate building about a quarter of a mile away and connected to the Capitol only by an underground tunnel.
The Cannon House Office Building was evacuated by police but it was not breached by rioters, as detailed by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), whose office is close to Ocasio-Cortez’s. “My office is 2 doors down,” said Mace in response to a since-corrected Newsweek report that initially falsely reported that “Ocasio-Cortez said that rioters actually entered her office” (a claim she did not make). “Insurrectionists never stormed our hallway,” Mace underscored.
As its rationale for calling the claim “Mostly False,” Snopes points to the irrelevant fact that her nearby building was evacuated by police. In other words, the “exaggeration” element of the claim was left unanswered, and the location element of the claim was manipulated in order to achieve the “Mostly False” rating.
Throughout the piece, Palma repeatedly exposes her own bias in favor of Ocasio-Cortez and against her critics on the right. After presenting a straightforward account of the events — Ocasio-Cortez using Instagram Live to “relay her personal account of how the events of that day had traumatized her,” and the various themes of assault, survival and trauma raised by the Congresswoman — Palma suddenly invokes “the right-wing disinformation machine”:
It took less than 48 hours for the right-wing disinformation machine to contrive a way to minimize what Ocasio-Cortez said she had experienced.
Palma then manipulates the claim in question to slander those who pointed out counter-evidence that she was not actually in the Capitol building, as the “fact-checker” has already admitted was true.
“In a circus of cyberbullying that began on Feb. 3, 2021, conservative news outlets and social media conspiracy trolls latched on to the misleading claim that Ocasio-Cortez ‘wasn’t in the Capitol building’ and therefore was not in harm’s way, as she had described in the Instagram video,” Palma continued.
“Right-wing disinformation machine.” “Contrive a way to minimize.” “Circus of cyberbullying.” “Latched on to the misleading claim.” Each of these twists the supposedly objective investigation in the favor of Ocastio-Cortez, while failing to provide any evidence to support such strong accusations or to remain focused on proving or disproving the supposed central claim of the article.
Palma also made the unsubstantiated and false assumption that pushing back on Ocasio-Cortez’s account — specifically regarding the danger she was in — was unquestionably invalid by nature of the fact that Ocasio-Cortez was not in the building under direct attack. This disregards the obvious point that proximity to danger is an appropriate metric to consider when measuring imminent threats.
Along with RedState, Snopes chose to take aim at The Daily Wire, which chronicled the controversy in a Feb. 3 report originally titled “Report: AOC Was Not Inside Capitol Building During Breach On Jan. 6” (later updated to include Ocasio-Cortez’s response to RedState: “Report: AOC Was Not Inside Capitol Building During Breach; AOC Responds: Report ‘Manipulative.’”)
The first part of Daily Wire’s supposedly problematic title is almost word-for-word Snopes’ own conclusion that “Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t in the main Capitol building.”
The Daily Wire’s report, mischaracterized by Snopes as “right-wing disinformation” and part of a “circus of cyberbullying,” was devoid of any accusation or subjective assertion. Instead, the piece simply reported that Republican Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) had criticized the media for fanning “fictitious news flames,” referenced a RedState report which accurately — by Snopes’ own admission — described the location of Ocasio-Cortez, and that Rep. Mace had claimed that there were never any rioters in their immediate proximity.
The Daily Wire report also discussed Newsweek’s coverage of Ocasio-Cortez’s recollection of events, with Rep. Mace criticizing Newsweek — not Ocasio-Cortez — for misleading language. Finally, the updated report concluded by directly quoting Ocasio-Cortez’s response to such accusations, which the Congresswoman described as “the latest manipulative take on the right” and part of a “discrediting campaign.”
The majority of the remainder of Palma’s article is dedicated to mimicking — without question or journalistic interest — Ocasio-Cortez’s subjective interpretation of every negative reaction to both her account and the media’s portrayal of her account and the related events.
“Ocasio-Cortez was attacked on social media with bad-faith attempts to discredit her story by people who falsely claimed she exaggerated the danger she was in because she wasn’t actually inside the main Capitol building where the House and Senate chambers are located,” writes Palma.
Palma fails to justify why such attempts were “bad-faith,” uses the word “discredit” — mirroring Ocasio-Cortez’s own language — and then states that it was false to argue that she “exaggerated the danger she was in,” again without any evidence.
“The online attacks on Ocasio-Cortez downplayed, from a safe distance, not only the sense of fear she felt in the moment during the attack on the Capitol, but also the imminent physical danger that she and others in and around the Capitol really were in during the attack,” Palma continued.
“Attacks.” “Downplayed.” “From a safe distance.” Palma — a supposedly objective fact-checker — presumes that any criticism is simply an “online attack.” In addition, Palma disregards the personal account of another Congresswoman at the scene in her bid to play a subtle logical trick.
The original claim focused on whether Ocasio-Cortez “exaggerated the danger she was in.” The feeling of danger is subjective and abstract, while the reality of danger is objective and concrete. Palma, however, intentionally blurred feeling and reality to reach the desired conclusion, referencing the irrelevant “sense of fear” felt in the moment with the unsubstantiated “imminent physical danger” Ocasio-Cortez and others were in, having previously referenced that “the office buildings and the main Capitol building are interconnected by a series of tunnels known as the Capitol Subway System,” and that Ocasio-Cortez’s building — Cannon House — was one of the buildings evacuated.
Snopes attempts to debunk the “exaggeration of danger” claim by referencing Ocasio-Cortez’s “sense of fear” and that her building was connected to the Capitol building, which was under attack. While this makes it possible that insurrectionists could have accessed her building, it makes the false implication that they did access her building. Whether or not rioters had accessed her building is the sole factor which matters when measuring the physical danger Ocasio-Cortez was in. Since rioters had not accessed her building, she was under no imminent physical threat.
Revisiting the original 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,” there are only two appropriate ratings which any honest journalist could reach. First, that this claim is true. Second, that this claim is mostly true, with the “exaggeration” element impossible to judge given its emotional and subjective definition. To conclude this claim is “Mostly False” is an act of intellectual dishonesty.
Unfortunately, such a demonstration of disreputable subjectivity with a shameless level of bias is not new in the world of fact-checking. Snopes, like many of their competitors, are routinely referenced by mainstream media outlets as objective sources of truth. “Fact-checks” like this debunk the obviously incorrect notion that organizations like Snopes are in any way objective. Palma wrote this article to manipulate the evidence available to her to achieve a politically-advantageous conclusion, all while slandering “right-wing” voices and outlets as guilty of spreading disinformation, even when merely reporting on the same evidence to which she had access.
What Snopes has just demonstrated once again is that the self-styled “fact-checkers” are in desperate need of some heavy fact-checking. Given that a search for “left-wing disinformation” on their website returns no results, but “right-wing disinformation” has been used twice this year alone, it seems that fact-checking Snopes for objectivity might not be necessary.
Ian Haworth is an Editor and Writer for The Daily Wire. Follow him on Twitter at @ighaworth.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.