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Commentators blast Washington Post fact check on Tim Scott

An extensive Washington Post fact check into the background of Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), the only Black Republican in the Senate, has drawn fire from critics on the right and the left, with some saying it deliberately downplays the hardship Scott’s family faced after the Civil War. 

The piece, written by Glenn Kessler, examined the family history of Scott by using census and property records and the help of historians.

“Who thought this was a good idea?” tweeted CNN commentator and former South Carolina state lawmaker Bakari Sellers (D).

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“What WaPo did to @SenatorTimScott is shameful,” posted Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee DNC gathers opposition research on over 20 potential GOP presidential candidates Will DeSantis, Rubio and Scott torch each other to vault from Florida to the White House? MORE, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “When minorities refuse to be victims, disagree with liberal talking points, and think for ourselves, the media shames us and questions our credibility.”

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Kessler declined to comment on the controversy or the piece and instead referred all questions to The Washington Post public relations department. That department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The office of Scott, who is scheduled to offer the Republican reply to President BidenJoe BidenKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' US officials testify on domestic terrorism in wake of Capitol attack MORE's address next week before a joint session of Congress, also declined to comment on the controversy.

Kessler’s piece focused on Scott’s account of his grandfather having to leave school to pick cotton, and was cast as looking into the senator’s political narrative of a rags-to-riches story.

The story’s headline stated “Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottRepublicans can win back control in 2022 — if they don't 'cancel' themselves first Cruz outspending other senators on Facebook ads: report Juan Williams: Tim Scott should become a Democrat MORE often talks about his grandfather and cotton. There’s more to that tale.”

After examining census and property records, Kessler found that Scott’s grandfather Artis did leave school in the fourth grade to work, at least for a while, on his father’s farm. However, in the piece, Kessler also pointed out that Scott’s family amassed relatively large areas of land “against heavy odds.”

Critics of the fact check say that by using census and property records to detail how much land Scott’s family owned, Kessler downplayed the difficulty the senator’s ancestors and other Black people faced at the time.

“This is actually what racism of white elite often looks like,” tweeted conservative commentator Erick Erickson. “They don’t look at the story as lived, but as told by banks and legal records written at a time white society behaved one way and recorded things a different way.”

However, Kessler also quoted historians to make the point that even Black people with farms of their own were often forced by economic conditions to work for white farmers. 

“Still, the records may not entirely show what life was like for Black farmers in South Carolina as cotton prices plunged,” Kessler acknowledged.

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The Washington Post fact-check column includes a “Pinocchio” rating system in examining the truthfulness of claims; a one Pinocchio rating means the claim includes “selective telling of the truth,” according to the Post, while someone who receives four Pinocchio has told “whoppers.”

In rating former President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger, Gaetz get in back-and-forth on Twitter over Cheney vote READ: Liz Cheney's speech on the House floor Cheney in defiant floor speech: Trump on 'crusade to undermine our democracy' MORE’s claims Kessler introduced “the Bottomless Pinocchio” rating for politicians “who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.”

However, after the nearly 1,800-word examination of Scott’s claims, Kessler did not provide a Pinocchio-based judgement of the senator’s oft-mentioned family history.

“Scott’s 'cotton to Congress' line is missing some nuance, but we are not going to rate his statements,” Kessler wrote. “To some extent, Scott may be relying on the memories of his grandfather, not a detailed examination of records."