PolitiFact and Facebook have been slammed for an August 2020 ‘fact check’ that claimed it was false to say it was ‘perfectly legal’ for Kyle Rittenhouse to carry his AR-15 rifle at the Kenosha riot, after a judge tossed out his firearms possession charge on Monday.
The judge in the Rittenhouse case yesterday threw out the gun possession charge, ruling that the law is written in such a confusing way that it allows for the interpretation that 17-year-olds can carry guns if those gun barrels are shorter than 16 inches.
‘I‘m still trying to figure out what it says, what is prohibited,’ Judge Bruce Schroeder said. ‘Now, I have the good fortune of having some experience and a legal education. How is your ordinary citizen supposed to acquaint herself with what this law says?’
However, in August 2020, PolitiFact ruled that it was ‘false’ to say it was ‘perfectly legal’ for the teen to carry his gun, as a Facebook user had claimed.
PolitiFact and Facebook seized on a post by Maine resident Trish Beck, who wrote that it was ‘perfectly legal’ to carry a rifle across state lines, and that it was ‘perfectly legal’ for Rittenhouse to ‘be able to possess that rifle without parental supervision’.
She said she had researched local laws to back up her point.
Facebook flagged the post to PolitiFact, which it has a ‘fact checking partnership with,’ as spreading misinformation, and PolitiFact then published a story that definitively labeled the woman’s post as false. Beck deleted her post afterwards.
On August 28, 2020, PolitiFact Wisconsin published this article labeling it ‘false’ to say Kyle Rittenhouse legally carried his AR-15 gun. A judge yesterday ruled that it was legal
This is the August 2020 story by PolitiFact that shamed the woman’s Facebook post. She deleted it, but it’s still available through PolitiFact’s archive
Facebook flagged this post to PolitiFact as part of its ‘fact checking partnership’ and PolitiFact decided it was ‘false’
In the PolitiFact story, writer Daniel Funke wrote: ‘We’re going to focus on the second half of the claim — that it was “perfectly legal” for the teenager to carry a firearm in Kenosha. Is that true? State laws suggest not.’
The writer acknowledged that there was an exception for under 18-year-olds for the purposes of hunting, but decided ‘Rittenhouse wasn’t in Kenosha to hunt’ so ruled it out.
He then went on: ‘Whether Rittenhouse violated Wisconsin law by possessing a firearm underage is the subject of ongoing litigation. But the Facebook post claimed that it was “perfectly legal” for the teenager to carry an assault-style rifle in Kenosha.
‘At best, that’s unproven. At worst, it’s inaccurate. Either way, we rate the post False.
The piece was slammed on Monday by critics who said the site rushed to judgement and pushed liberal bias when it should have waited for a judge’s ruling.
Mark Hemingway, a writer at RealClearInvestigations, was among those who panned the outlet for hastily labeling the post as ‘false’ more than a year before Rittenhouse went before a judge.
‘This fact check was always wrong, but now that the weapons charge has been dropped it’s officially PANTS ON FIRE,’ he said, referring to PolitiFact’s own scale for labeling information as true or false.
‘Too much Politi, not enough Fact,’ tweeted criminal defense lawyer Scott Greenfield.
Judge Bruce Schroeder yesterday ruled that it was legal for Rittenhouse to carry the weapon. He threw out the charge, saying the wording of the law is ambiguous and confusing for even the most seasoned professionals like him, let alone for ordinary citizens
‘Hey, Politi”fact” Wisconsin, you might want to memory-hole this wholly non-factual tweet,’ another commenter said.
PolitiFact has pushed back – upholding its assessment that it was a ‘false’ post and claiming it’s a ‘grey area’ of the law.
‘In August 2020, we fact-checked a claim that it was “perfectly legal” for Rittenhouse to possess an AR-15 without parental supervision. Our reporting found that it was far from perfectly legal, and that it was, in fact, legally murky. That’s why we rated the claim False.
Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, weighed in on the case on Monday despite vowing to stay impartial. The judge has instructed the jury not to listen to anyone’s opinion, including that of the president or his office
‘Schroeder dismissed the charge, saying he had a “big problem” with the state statute.
‘These subsequent events show the grey areas of local gun laws — hardly a case of something being “perfectly legal.” Our fact-check remains unchanged.’
Funke no longer works at PolitiFact and he did not immediately respond to requests on Tuesday morning.
The firearm charge was the only charge Rittenhouse did not contest and was thought to be the prosecution’s only slam-dunk.
Now, their only hopes of convicting the teen are on charges of murder, attempted murder and recklessly endangering safety.
His team insist he acted in self-defense. The case is now with the jury.
The highly-charged trial has split opinion across the country.
Before sending the jury out, Judge Schroeder ordered them not to take into account anyone’s opinion – even that of President Joe Biden – who had labeled Rittenhouse ‘a white supremacist’.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, after vowing not to comment on the trial, told a press briefing: ‘What I can reiterate for you is the president’s view that we shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons.
‘We shouldn’t have opportunists corrupting peaceful protests by rioting and burning down the communities they claim to represent – anywhere in the country.’
POLITIFACT DOUBLES DOWN AND SAYS LAW IS A ‘GREY AREA’
PolitiFact issued this update on Tuesday morning.
EDITOR’S NOTE, Nov. 16, 2021: Judge Bruce Schroeder recently dismissed a misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 against Kyle Rittenhouse.
Readers asked us if this made the fact-check below invalid. We don’t think so. Here’s why.
In August 2020, we fact-checked a claim that it was “perfectly legal” for Rittenhouse to possess an AR-15 without parental supervision. Our reporting found that it was far from perfectly legal, and that it was, in fact, legally murky. That’s why we rated the claim False.
Wisconsin law says that “any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.”
In our fact-check, we cite the possibility of an exception for rifles and shotguns. The exception is aimed at letting children ages 16 and 17 hunt. But, as it is also clear, Rittenhouse wasn’t in Kenosha to hunt.
This same legal debate played out a couple of times during the Rittenhouse trial, according to the Associated Press.
Rittenhouse’s defense asked Schroeder to dismiss the firearm possession charge during a pretrial hearing in October. Schroeder, according to the Associated Press, acknowledged the intent of the statute was murky but decided not to dismiss the charge.
The issue came up again on Nov. 15 as lawyers were debating instructions to the jury.
Prosecutors argued that allowing an exception for hunting-style weapons would effectively eliminate the prohibition on minors carrying weapons.
But in this instance, Schroeder dismissed the charge, saying he had a “big problem” with the state statute.
In its reporting, the Associated Press quoted Kenosha defense attorney Michael Cicchini, who is not involved in the case. Cicchini said when statutes aren’t clear, they must be read in favor of the defense. “This is the price the government must pay when it is incapable of drafting clear laws,” Cicchini wrote in an article.
The ruling does appear at odds with the intent of legislators. In 2018, the Wisconsin Legislative Council Staff, a nonpartisan legislative service agency akin to the Congressional Research Service, wrote that, “Under Wisconsin law, with certain exceptions for hunting, military service, and target practice, a person under age 18 is generally prohibited from possessing or going armed with a firearm.”
These subsequent events show the grey areas of local gun laws — hardly a case of something being “perfectly legal.” Our fact-check remains unchanged.