PolitiFact doubles down on widely mocked 'fact-check' claiming Rittenhouse's possession of weapon wasn't legal

Media top headlines November 16

In media news today, PolitiFact gets roasted for previous ‘fact-check’ claiming Kyle Rittenhouse’s possession of a weapon wasn’t legal, CNN commentators fume after CNN report on Kamala Harris office dysfunction, and The Washington Post’s now-corrected Steele dossier reporting remains on Twitter

PolitiFact doubled down on Tuesday after being roasted for a poorly aged “fact-check” claiming Kyle Rittenhouse’s firearm possession was illegal by adding a long-winded explanation declaring the much-criticized piece remains unchanged. 

Judge Bruce Schroeder, who is overseeing the Rittenhouse murder trial, made headlines on Monday over his decision to throw out the sixth charge against the 18-year-old for having a dangerous weapon as a minor. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the deadly shootings. 

PolitiFact doubled down on Tuesday after being roasted for a poorly aged "fact-check" claiming Kyle Rittenhouse’s firearm possession was illegal. (Fox News)
(Fox News)

Schroeder tossed the charge after prosecutors conceded Rittenhouse’s rifle was not short-barreled as the law has a carveout for such weapons. 

However, just days after the events in Kenosha, PolitiFact asserted otherwise in a “fact-check” that came under fire when it was unearthed on Monday following Schroeder’s announcement. 

The outlet challenged a claim made by a random Facebook user on Aug. 27, 2020, who wrote, “Carrying a rifle across state lines is perfectly legal,” adding, “Based on the laws I can find of this area at 17 years old Kyle was perfectly legal to be able to possess that rifle without parental supervision.”

“Is that true? State laws suggest not,” PolitiFact’s Daniel Funke wrote at the time.

“The Wisconsin Department of Justice honors concealed carry permits issued in Illinois. But Rittenhouse did not have a permit to begin with, and he was not legally old enough to carry a firearm in Wisconsin,” Funke wrote, before going into concealed and open carry laws in Wisconsin and Rittenhouse’s home state of Illinois.

Funke did cite a Wisconsin gun rights attorney who noted an exception to shotguns and rifles, which allows “children ages 16 and 17” to hunt, but it doesn’t apply to Rittenhouse because he “wasn’t in Kenosha to hunt.” There was no mention of any legal exception for short-barreled guns. 

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger holds Kyle Rittenhouse’s gun as he gives the state’s closing argument in Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.
((Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool))

The widely mocked, recirculated “fact-check” was update on Tuesday with a lengthy editor’s note.

“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,” PolitiFact wrote before a lengthy explanation. 

“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,” the editor’s note said. 

“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 editor’s note continued. “The issue came up again on Nov. 15 as lawyers were debating instructions to the jury.”

The editor’s note indicated, “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.”

PolitiFact added a lengthy editor’s note to defend a widely mocked "fact-check."
(iStock/Logo)

PolitiFact cited the Associated Press quoting a Kenosha defense attorney, who isn’t involved in the case, who said when statutes aren’t clear, they must be read in favor of the defense.

“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,” PolitiFact continued. 

The editor’s note concluded: “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, who has since joined USA Today as a journalist “checking facts + covering misinfo,” is the same “fact-checker” behind the newspaper’s infamous assertion in September that President Biden did not check his watch during the dignified transfer ceremony honoring the 13 U.S. servicemen who were killed in Afghanistan during the chaotic military withdrawal. 

Funke examined whether or not Biden actually kept checking the time on his wrist as the caskets of the fallen were rolled onto the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base, sparking outrage among the families who witnessed the distracted president. 

The fact check ruled the claim “partly false,” writing that the image of Biden that circulated on social media was real but that it does not “accurately summarize” what occurred. USA Today ultimately issued a correction to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself.

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