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Michelle Ye Hee Lee: The Worst of the Fact Checkers September 14, 2015

Posted by geoff in News.

Most “Fact-Checkers” at various publications are not very good – they stop checking facts as soon as they get an answer they like. But Michelle Ye Hee Lee of the Washington Post is consistently the worst of the lot. She’s blatantly biased and decidedly incurious about facts contrarian to her profoundly liberal position. I’ve been wanting to fisk her columns for some time now, but never had the time to spare. Finally I get my chance – it’s not her worst column, but it’ll do.

Today she gave Scott Walker 4 Pinocchios for claiming that the sit-in protests in Madison gave birth to the Occupy Wall Street protests. 4 Pinocchios is reserved for those who tell “whoppers,” so she feels pretty strongly that he completely made this up.

But, reading through her meandering column, one is struck by the number of times she undermines her own argument:

  • “Trying to pinpoint the exact origin of a grassroots movement may be an exercise in vain….The origin of a grass-roots movement is subject to interpretation to a certain extent.” …and from the only person she interviewed to arrive at her conclusion: “It is a difficult question that ultimately comes down to a matter of perspective on history. There are many different origin stories for Occupy.”
  • “According to one writer associated with the Occupy Movement, Act 10 protests “charged workers’ political consciousness in a way that prepared for the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as greater social movements on the horizon.””
  • Some Occupy Madison protesters drew parallels between the method and message of Act 10 and Occupy Wall Street protests. They said Act 10 protests showed “how a peaceful, political uprising can be done,” and that Occupy Wall Street’s demands of being heard by the “powerful in our economic and political system” evoked the message of Act 10 protests.

Let us recap. She admits that it’s difficult, and perhaps even pointless, to try to find the origin of the Occupy movement (end of story, n’est-ce pas?). She asked one fellow, the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, whether it was inspired by Occupy Madison, and he says it depends on how you look at it (so Walker’s right?). Other writers and protesters have said that it laid the groundwork, spiritually and by setting an example, for the Occupy protests (Walker’s right again?).

Given all these caveats, it’s hard to see how she can justify calling Walker a liar.

So why did she give Walker any Pinocchios at all? It’s because of this single statement:

“However, if you’re asking whether the idea for Occupy Wall Street emerged out of the Madison protests, the answer is no.”

But look at his statement – he says that the specific idea didn’t come from the Madison protests. There’s a lot more to any endeavor than the originating idea, which, Ms. Yee should admit, seems a lot like “let’s do Madison, but on Wall Street,” despite the co-creators claim.

But the most curious part of her column lies in her claim that Walker is “taking credit” for starting the Occupy movement. Ms. Lee, that’s not the sort of thing for which conservatives “take credit.” We despised the Occupy movement. Walker despised the Occupy movement.

I haven’t read Walker’s book, so I can’t comment on the context of book’s quote she used in her column. But the speech is on YouTube, so the context is easy to find.

Scott Walker’s underlying point (in a throwaway comment that she misquoted*) was that he had to cope with major sit-in protests (before they spread across the country) but that his devotion to the future of his (and everybody else’s) children made it all worth it. He mentions the Occupy movement as an aside, saying that it hit him first. I will submit that from his perspective, at the receiving end of the protests, he didn’t see much difference between the original protests and the Occupy Madison protests.

There you have it. He’s not “taking credit” – he’s pointing out that he had to deal with these sit-in protests at the outset, and despite the PiTA factor, it was worth it.

So Ms. Lee got herself all het up about a throwaway comment that had nothing to do with Walker’s underlying point. She herself pointed out that her exercise in trying to prove Walker wrong was a fool’s errand, yet off she went. Her source for saying Walker was wrong hedged his comments very carefully, but she was blind to his caveats and exaggerated the implications of his statement. And she simply steamrolled over the comments by people who contradicted her predetermined conclusion.

Much ado about nothing, and Ms. Lee got it all wrong anyway. I hope they have some extra Pinocchios lying around the office.

*The actual quote is: “…because when all those protesters came in – my apologies here, you know the Occupy movement didn’t start in Washington, didn’t start, didn’t start in Wall Street, it started on my street. It started in my capitol.” Ms. Yee could have at least done him the courtesy of using his real words.


1. lauraw - September 14, 2015

I’d say she needs to go back to J-school, but this is exactly what they intend to produce.

2. geoff - September 14, 2015

Yeah – what they taught her is “fair and balanced” is shifted so far leftward that she’s never had a chance to do any impartial fact checking.

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