Why are fact-checkers giving Stacey Abrams a pass?

Stacey Abrams lost the 2018 election for Governor in Georgia but you wouldn’t know it by listening to her. She has been claiming she won the election ever since and plenty of other Democrats joined her in claiming the election was stolen last November. Abrams did admit she wasn’t going to be the actual governor but also said the election was “rotten and rigged.” I noted at the time that those comments didn’t seem to get much traction in the media, which seemed odd.

Just last month Abrams said, “despite the final tally and the inauguration and the situation we find ourselves in, I do have very affirmative statement to make. We won.” Mark Hemingway has a piece up today asking why fact-checkers have given Abrams a pass for continually making this claim.

With all the attention Abrams is getting as a rising Democratic Party star and a rumored contender for the party’s 2020 vice presidential slot, one would think that her eyebrow-raising claims about the Georgia election would be getting more scrutiny. Specifically, there is a special kind of journalist that exists solely to verify the factual statements made by politicians.

Incredibly, however, not a single major media fact checker has taken Abrams to task for asserting that she “won” the election, a claim that rests on various empirical assumptions. PolitiFact hasn’t done it. FactCheck.org hasn’t done it. Snopes? Nope. The paper of record hasn’t gone on record here. Somewhat to its credit, the Washington Post did fact-check some tangentially related falsehoods about voter suppression in Georgia when Hillary Clinton tried to claim she lost 2016 for unfair reasons. But Abrams herself has never been questioned…

When pressed by the New York Times Magazine, Abrams makes some concessions. “I have no empirical evidence that I would have achieved a higher number of votes. However, I have sufficient, and I think legally sufficient, doubt about the process to say that it was not a fair election,” she said. She also tries to move “I won” in this context to the realm of the entirely metaphorical. “My larger point is, look, I won because we transformed the electorate, we turned out people who had never voted, we outmatched every Democrat in Georgia history,” she adds.

Can you really fact-check someone making a claim to some kind of nebulous moral victory? Well, yes. In fact, I clearly remember the Washington Post giving Carly Fiorina Three Pinocchios for her claim that she had gone from “secretary to CEO.” It turned out that Fiorina had worked as a secretary for a few months for a real estate broker. It really happened and no one doubts that it did. But the Post decided that the claim, while true, “conjures a Horatio Alger-like narrative where a character starts at the lowest ranks of an industry, pulls themselves up by their bootstraps and, against all odds, reaches the top position in the industry.” The fact-checker decided it was somehow a lie because she had gone to Stanford and always planned to go to business school. I guess business school can’t be part of your career ladder or you cheated…or something.

The point is that fact-checkers do fact-check statements that are biographical in nature. In Abrams case, she has made the claim that she somehow won the key piece of her bio. Last month she called it a “stolen” election. There’s plenty here to fact-check if the fact-checkers felt so inclined. But for some reason, Abrams claims that she won, or sort of won, or should have won if not for some nefarious actions by Brian Kemp, don’t seem to interest the fact-checkers.

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