Snopes revises misleading fact check on the standing ovation for Carryn Owens

Snopes is a well-known fact-checking site that looks at “rumors, urban legends, myths and misinformation.” That includes stories that involve politics. Yesterday the top story on the site was a fact check of claims that Democratic Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Keith Ellison refused to give a standing ovation to widow Carryn Owens during a joint session of Congress.


Initially, the site listed that claim as unproven but then changed it’s rating to false. There was a problem, though. The claim wasn’t false, at least not if you noted the caveats made by the people making the claim. It all really came down to these two tweets by IJR’s Benny Johnson:

And this one clarifying a bit later:

The fact check which Snopes published yesterday included both of these tweets and then proceeded to ignore them. It cited, as proof that the claim was false, a video screengrab that appeared to show Wasserman-Schulz and Ellison standing and clapping. But a review of the video shows that frame grab came from the introduction of Carryn Owens. In other words, the part when Benny Johnson had already conceded Dems stood and clapped. But what about the moment that followed, the one that became the moment of the night when the entire chamber gave an emotional standing ovation for Owens that lasted more than 90 seconds? That’s the part Johnson claimed the two Democrats remained seated for and Snopes didn’t offer any proof to the contrary.

Benny Johnson did look at the video on the White House website and found this (full clip below):


Here’s that 2nd photo which is visible in the video below about 35 seconds into the 90-second ovation. It shows Wasserman-Schulz and Ellison seated as many of the Democrats around them are still standing:

Today, Snopes has completely rewritten its fact-check. A new author is listed in addition to the first author, though there doesn’t seem to be any other note that the piece has been heavily revised. The tweets from Benny Johnson are gone. Now the site claims it is fact-checking something else: Stories written by the Blaze, Daily Wire and another site about the incident. Snopes writes:

For example, a Blaze article headlined “Meet the Democrats who refused to stand and applaud the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL” asserted that:

[C]ameras captured top Democrat Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) staying firmly seated, seemingly emotionless, and refusing to clap for Owens.

Snopes leaves out the very next paragraph from that Blaze story which says this:

Though it cannot be concluded from the short clip if they clapped at any point during the tribute, those who were in attendance, including Independent Journal Review’s Chief Content Officer Benny Johnson, alleged that the while the trio clapped during Owens’ intro, they did not clap at all during the 2 minute standing ovation.


Something similar is true for the Daily Wire story cited by Snopes. Here is what Ben Shapiro wrote, “Democrats initially stood for the widow. But then they sat.” [Full disclosure: Ben is a former co-worker.] So both sites noted that Dems stood initially but then appeared to have sat down. Now compare that to the penultimate paragraph of the revised Snopes story [emphasis added]:

…as Trump delivered an encomium to William Owens that ended with “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity,” attendees in the House chamber rose and applauded again as the camera view switched to cover Carryn Owens standing in the gallery. When the camera angle moved back to a wider view of the chamber, it showed that some Democrats began to sit down again while most Republicans remained standing and clapping. Wasserman Schultz, Ellison, and Sanders could be seen seated (while Pelosi was still standing) at that point, but because the camera had been focused on Mrs. Owens during the second round of applause, it’s difficult to tell from the visual evidence whether the three Democrats sat down earlier than others or did not rise a second time.

So Snopes concludes the Dems were seated and adds it’s not clear how long they remained seated or if they even stood the second time at all. So on what basis can they claim the Daily Wire got this wrong? In fact, Snopes conclusion doesn’t seem to contradict what Shapiro wrote at all, i.e. Democrats stood and then they sat. It’s also very close to what the Blaze said, i.e. they stood and then it’s hard to tell what they did but Benny Johnson says they weren’t clapping. Actually, Johnson alleged they weren’t standing but it’s close. Here’s the final paragraph from Snopes:


A more accurate description of events than the ones spread via outrage-provoking blog posts would state that some Democrats did not stand and applaud Mrs. Owens as long or as much as some Republicans did, a description contrary to what was implied by misleading headlines such as “Top Democrats Refuse to Stand, Clap for Navy SEAL Widow Honored by Trump.”

So this really comes down to Snopes not liking one headline, even though the story itself makes clear the Dems in question stood initially? That seems like a pretty thin basis to label the entire claim false.

I wasn’t there. Based on the video I’ve seen it seems most Dems, including Wasserman-Schultz and Ellison, stood the first ovation. Some Dems, including Sanders, were standing early in the 2nd ovation and then sat back down. I can also say Wasserman-Schultz and Ellison were clearly seated 35 seconds into the longer 90-second ovation that became the moment of the night. It looks to me as if Wasserman-Schultz scratches her arm at one point but might (maybe?) be clapping. Had she and Ellison just sat down when the camera panned the room? Did they stand back up after it went off them? Benny Johnson says they never stood and Snopes hasn’t offered any evidence that proves him wrong. Isn’t that what fact-checkers are supposed to do?

A fair rating of this might be some version of ‘partly true’ or maybe even ‘unverified.’ But saying it’s ‘false’ when a) there is video of the two sitting during the big ovation and b) you had to rewrite your entire fact-check and removed the tweets that are the basis for the claim and c) your new conclusion is pretty much what the sites in question wrote in the first place….well, Snopes seems to have gotten out over its skis on this one and still hasn’t quite recovered.


Here’s the full video of the speech. The first ovation begins around 49 minutes and the second big ovation begins at 49:50. The pan of the crowd which shows Ellison and Wasserman-Shultz seated begins at 50:25 and last until about 50:40.

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