WaPo fact-checker reassesses after Cotton correctly predicted jailed murderers would get COVID check

Fact checker Glenn Kessler initially awarded the GOP Senator 'Two Pinocchios' for claiming the Boston Bomber would receive a stimulus check

Updated: January 7, 2022 - 9:57am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler has revised his assessment, or fact-check, that GOP Sen. Tom Cotton incorrectly predicting convicted murderers like Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would receive COVID-19 stimulus checks. 

Kessler last year wrote a story titled, "Murderers, undocumented immigrants: Hyped-up claims about who's getting stimulus checks," in which he awarded Republican Sens. Cotton, of Arkansas, and John Barrasso, of Wyoming, "Two Pinocchios" for claiming that individuals not qualified or worthy to receive stimulus checks would indeed get one as a result of lax government oversight.

He wrote in March 2021 that Cotton had tweeted that Tsarnaev would get benefits and warned, "Get ready for campaign ads."

"But for all the hype, there's less to these claims than one might imagine – particularly because the previous stimulus bills passed last year under GOP control also did not bar payments to prisoners and the small subset of undocumented immigrants referenced by Barrasso," he continued.

"Cotton and Barrasso claim Democrats are actively trying to give stimulus checks to murderers and undocumented immigrants. Not only is that wrong, but both voted for previous stimulus bills that did not have narrowed criteria. ... Barrasso did not resort to Cotton's scaremongering, more carefully saying that prisoners might receive a stimulus check. But his immigration phrasing was misleading, as viewers might have thought, Barrasso was talking about all undocumented immigrants."

Kessler concluded: "Both of these talking points mainly are crafted for future campaign ads, not serious legislation. Cotton and Barrasso earn Two Pinocchio."

However, recent news reports show Tsarnaev, in fact, receive a stimulus check while in prison serving the life sentence for killing three people and injuring hundreds of others at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Records indicate the domestic terrorist received a $1,400 stimulus in June 2021, money that a judge recently approved to be put toward the more than $101 million he owes victims of the bombing.

In light of the news, which Cotton correctly predicted, Kessler re-evaluate his initial assessment and on Thursday updated his story.

"Cotton primarily received the Two-Pinocchio rating because his comments lacked context ... .Still, Cotton's predictive powers should be acknowledged. He said the Boston bomber would get a stimulus check – and Tsarnaev did."

He continued, "In retrospect, the use of the phrase of 'scaremongering' was inappropriate. Cotton had raised a legitimate issue of concern, even if he framed it in a political way. The term 'hyped up' in the headline went too far as well."

Kessler then reduced Cotton's fact-check grade to One Pinocchio, which he called "our version of 'mostly true.' "