January 21, 2022

Captured Boston bomber received $1400 stimulus check – prompt correction from Washington Post Fact Checker

Last March, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton that rejecting a proposed change to the CARES Act would mean that prisoners “like the Boston Bomber” – Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – would receive stimulus checks.

“Every Democrat voted to send checks to inmates, and every Republican voted to stop inmates from getting checks,” Cotton snapped on Twitter, sharing a screenshot of the vote.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler disagreed with the claim.

In a damning article headlined “Murders, Undocumented Immigrants: Inflated Claims About Who Gets Stimulus Checks,” Kessler Cotton issued “two Pinocchios” for predicting that the convicted terrorist would receive a coronavirus stimulus check.

Unfortunately; Cotton, it turns out, was right in his prediction.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday The convicted terrorist received “a Covid-19 relief payment of $1,400” in June, a US district court said money could be deposited into his detainee account (to pay restitution to his victims). The report led to a mea culpa from Kessler.

“It turns out Tom Cotton predicted correctly — Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, did get a stimulus check,” Kessler tweeted. “So we have adjusted the Pinocchio rating on this fact check for 2021.”

Checking facts?

Kessler deserves some credit for tweaking his fact-checking, which – to be fair – tackled an issue that’s a bit more complicated than it first appears. The problem is that even the updated version of its fact check barely reads a fact check.

Kessler’s copy is full of politically charged rhetoric and personal opinion. He suggests that the GOP amendment seeking to prevent inmates from receiving checks was “red meat for voters,” accuses Cotton of “scare-mongering,” and concludes that Cotton’s talking points were “made primarily for future campaign ads, not serious legislation.”

It’s hard to imagine more biased language in a fact check. But it serves as an essential reminder: “fact-checks” often aren’t really about facts. In a recent lawsuit involving famed reporter John Stossel, who was accused of spreading “misinformation”, Facebook allowed that their “fact checks” are really just an opinion.

This wouldn’t be a big deal — everyone is entitled to an opinion, including fact-checkers — except that Big Tech has used these fact-checkers to scrap the internet content they deem “harmful” or “misinformation.” ”

Fact-checkers have tremendous power to silence voices and shape debate, but Kessler’s article shows that they often fail to use this power responsibly. Indeed, even after his mea culpa, Kessler’s assessment of Cotton’s statement is “one Pinocchio”, in that he says Cotton’s claim “lacked context” – a claim that can be opposed to almost any claim. (Do we ever have that? all of them context of a particular situation or event?)

Spending other people’s money

None of this is to say there wasn’t more in the story about the GOP amendment. Kessler, for example, is not wrong that some of the previous stimulus bills that Republicans like Cotton voted for sent stimulus checks to inmates, even though some attempts were made to stop them from doing so. (Government is government, nothing is easy, and in October 2020, a federal judge told the IRS did not have the authority to withhold aid checks from detainees.)

Kessler also cites Senator Dick Durbin, who pointed out that the CARES amendment could be complicated for tax applicants and problematic from an equity perspective.

“This amendment will harm the families of inmates, joint petitioners who would receive only half of the payment owed by the families while the spouse is in prison,” he said. “Given the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system, this would do the most harm to Black and Brown families and communities already harmed by mass incarceration.”

That’s certainly a debate worth having, but it’s irrelevant to the veracity of Cotton’s claim that prisoners like Tsarnaev would, in fact, receive tax checks if the amendment were not passed. Keeping certain inmates from receiving checks may have been difficult and messy; it may have required legislation explicitly stating that the IRS had the power to withhold checks from federal prisoners. But it could have been.

The reality is that it was just easier to pass the CARES law without worrying about it. After all, it wasn’t Dick Durbin’s money that was spent. Why should he care if some of it goes to a convicted terrorist?

This is the great danger of giving politicians a free hand over the treasury. The famous economist Milton Friedman once explained the problem:

“There are four ways you can spend money,” he said. “You can spend your own money on yourself. If you do, why do you really watch what you do and try to get the most out of your money.”

“Then you can spend your own money on someone else,” he continued. “For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the costs.”

“Then I can spend other people’s money on myself,” said the economist. “And if I spend someone else’s money on myself, I’m definitely going to have a nice lunch!” “Finally I can spend someone else’s money on someone else,” Friedman concluded.

“And when I spend someone else’s money on someone else, I don’t worry about how much it is, and I don’t worry about what I get. And that is the government.”

Here’s why stimulus spending is teeming with fraud and misallocation, as FEE’s Brad Polumbo has shown about and about and about. The government spends other people’s money on someone else. So there is little incentive for them to worry about spending it.

This is why Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got a $1400 stimulus check from you humble taxpayer. (Even if the national debt is ready to embezzle $30 trillion.)

That it happens is bad. That it happens with the help of aquifer “fact checkers” is worse.


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