Because we have a president who says anything that pops into his mind and expects it to be accepted as the absolute truth, fact-checking has become a popular news genre for certain journalists. Sometimes, those people could look within to focus more on fact-checking themselves before fact-checking others. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, for example, has made a career for himself rating politicians’ statements based on the unscientific and unquantifiable method of “Pinocchios.” Even the idea that falsehoods exist on a scale seems not particularly journalistic.

On Monday, Kessler gave 2020 presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) two Pinocchios for a statement that was correct, and that Sanders’ staffers then backed up with evidence.

Sanders said during a speech last week:

Not one major Wall Street executive went to jail for destroying our economy in 2008 as a result of their greed, recklessness and illegal behavior. No. They didn’t go to jail. They got a trillion-dollar bailout.

Kessler accuses Sanders of using “slippery and exaggerated” rhetoric, while somehow insisting that everyone benefited from handouts to Wall Street: “Not only was Wall Street bailed out, but also the whole U.S. economy — at a profit of more than $200 billion for U.S. taxpayers.”

“If anything, Sen. Sanders has underestimated the size of the post-crisis bailouts,” a spokesperson for Sanders’ campaign told Kessler.

In the article, though, Kessler cites a report from the Government Accountability Office that said post-financial crisis loans from the Fed “peaked at more than $1 trillion.”

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’ Senate staff director, explained that the number was referring to loans from Federal Reserve to banks after the financial crisis:

Kessler, for his part, writes: “We will note that although the Sanders campaign pointed to these reports of the Fed lending trillions of dollars during the crisis, he does not make such claims in his speech,” attempting to draw a definitional distinction between a “trillion dollar bailout” and a “trillion dollar bailout from the Federal Reserve,” as opposed to spending from, say, the Treasury Department. He cited a 2011 article about then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said that bailout reports were not accurate, but even there Bernanke said the Fed’s bailout was around $1.5 trillion.

Gunnels speaks with authority here, because he was on Sanders’ staff in 2011, when the Fed’s transactions became public. “Our jaws are literally dropping as we’re reading this,” he said at the time. “Every one of these transactions is outrageous.”

But Kessler can’t quite accept it, arguing that “Whether the Fed efforts should be added to these numbers is a matter of debate. We would not include them — and apparently neither would Sanders. Otherwise, he would be claiming a $30 trillion bailout, not a $1 trillion bailout.”


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