Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s repeated false statements about the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the state came to a head Tuesday as The Washington Post awarded him its worst possible falsehood rating of four Pinocchios.
“The pandemic will continue to be a serious policy challenge for the next Virginia governor but there’s no reason for McAuliffe to hype the numbers. He earns Four Pinocchios,” wrote The Post’s resident fact-checker, Glenn Kessler after outlining each instance McAuliffe repeated the false figures. “He offers wildly inflated figures for child hospitalizations, suggesting again that these were daily figures and claiming twice that these many children were in ICUs. Instead, he appears to be citing a figure for all of the children hospitalized with covid-19 in Virginia over the past 19 months — which is still inflated.”
“In speaking about the threat of the coronavirus to the state, McAuliffe frequently touts numbers — often wrong numbers about the impact on children,” Kessler wrote. “When we first queried the McAuliffe campaign about his figures, we were told it was a slip of the tongue. Okay, we understand that, and so we passed on a fact check. But then his tongue kept slipping.”
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Kessler wrote that The Post first became interested in McAuliffe’s numbers on Sep. 28 when he claimed, during the gubernatorial debate against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, that there were 8,000 new coronavirus cases in Virginia the previous day. He then repeated the claim the following day, and again on Oct. 7. during a radio interview.
“When we checked the records, you had to go back to January to find a single day when a combination of confirmed and probable cases in Virginia got close to 8,000. On Sept. 27, there were fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases,” he wrote, before adding that the McAuliffe campaign claimed he was speaking about combined weekend numbers between Friday morning and Monday morning and that he misspoke when he also said there were more than 1,100 children in intensive care unit beds at the time.
McAuliffe wasn’t even close, as the Post noted that for the week ending on Oct. 2, the “number of children in hospitals, not necessarily in intensive care, was just 35.”
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“One could argue that citing a weekend number in this fashion … certainly would leave the misleading impression he was talking about a one-day number,” Kessler wrote, admitting that they then declined to do a fact-check.
Kessler wrote McAuliffe continued to make the false claim about the number of children in ICU beds, as well as the number of new coronavirus cases in the state outside of weekend numbers, on multiple occasions over the following the weeks.
He added that a McAuliffe campaign spokesman didn’t respond to emails or text messages about McAuliffe’s continued false claims over a period of four days.
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“We can understand the occasional misspeak, especially in the heat of a campaign. Moreover, as readers know, we generally do not award Pinocchios when a politician admits error,” Kessler wrote. “But this has happened too many times for McAuliffe’s language to be an accident.”