Washington Post fact-check of Black Senator excites anger

April 26, 2021

By John Ransom

Washington Post award-winning journalist and fact-check king Glenn Kessler is once again taking criticism. 

This time it’s for a wholly gratuitous “fact-check” of Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) claim that the senator’s grandfather dropped out of school and picked cotton, while never learning to read and write. 

Kessler is a little miffed, perhaps, by the Horatio Alger-type claim that Scott makes that the family went from “cotton to Congress” in one generation, seemingly the American success story, so often denied Black Americans.  

Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate. He has made the claim about his grandfather in books and in speeches. 

Kessler, in “Tim Scott often talks about his grandfather and cotton. There’s more to that tale,” wrote last week to let readers know it’s not quite that simple. 

The implication from Kessler here is that, to some extent, Scott is being deceptive. 

“Our research reveals a more complex story than what Scott tells audiences,” Kessler writes.  

In fact, Scott’s great-grandfather owned the land on which his grandfather picked cotton, reveals Kessler, implying that that makes the story less significant or more deceptive. 

There are several problems with this line of “fact-checking”. 

The first is that it tries to diminish the value of Scott’s rise simply because he’s Black and his grandfather was a significant landowner. 

It would be impossible, for example, to imagine Kessler writing in a similar way about Harry Truman or Abraham Lincoln — whose grandfathers were also wealthy farmers — but nonetheless are cited as American try-and-succeed stories.  

The second is that it ignores the fact that indeed Scott’s grandfather did drop out of school to pick cotton on the family farm, a not uncommon experience for Americans into the 20th century regardless of skin color.  

It also ignores Kessler’s previous “fact-checking” on political origin stories, most notably, the fact-checking done on Senator Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage.

In 2018, Kessler hit back at jokes that Warren was 1/1024 Native American, giving the claim Three Pinocchio’s. 

In “Everything you’ve read on the Warren DNA test is wrong” Kessler said that the results from a DNA test that Warren took that showed she might have had a Native American ancestor 6-10 generations ago, were “misinterpreted” because the fractional 1/1024 Native American heritage, as widely joked about, was not technically correct.     

For context, a generation typically is between 25-30 years. Therefore 6-10 generations are between 150 and 300 years ago. 

On Scott, Kessler justifies his foray into political biography, where no real facts are in dispute, saying, “As regular readers know, we’re often interested in the ‘origin stories’ of politicians.”

And then simply hints that Scott isn’t telling the whole truth. 

On Warren, Kessler justified protecting someone who lied about her origin story; someone who claimed that she may have had a great-great-great-great-great (x2?) grandparent 150-300 years ago who was Native American and therefore she was disadvantaged her whole life by the fact.


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