Back in July 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry announced that his department “got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria.
Following Tuesday's horrific chemical attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun — which reportedly left over 80 people, including scores of children, dead — those claims have come under close national scrutiny.
Perhaps one of the most telling reactions comes from fact-checking website PolitiFact, which — back in 2014 — rated Kerry's claim “mostly true” shortly after he made it:
Specifically, Kerry told NBC's “Meet the Press” that — through a deal with Russia — the U.S. had secured the removal of “100 percent of the chemical weapons” from the Middle Eastern country.
PolitiFact's subsequent “mostly true” rating came despite noting “some discrepancies in the details of the weapons the Syrians had acknowledged possessing” — including the account of an independent chemical weapons inspector, who said that “there are still 12 former chemical weapon production facilities which need to be destroyed.”
In light of Tuesday's civilian massacre, PolitiFact has walked back that assessment, pulling the fact check from its site the following day:
In announcing its retraction, PolitiFact wrote:
We don’t know key details about the reported chemical attack in Syria on April 4, 2017, but it raises two clear possibilities: Either Syria never fully complied with its 2013 promise to reveal all of its chemical weapons; or it did, but then converted otherwise non-lethal chemicals to military uses.
One way or another, subsequent events have proved Kerry wrong.
The retraction comes at a time when the Pultizer Prize-winning PolitiFact is, even more so than normal, in the media spotlight.
In an effort to fight “fake news,” search engine giant Google announced this week that it is partnering with PolitiFact, among other organizations, to help combat the spread of misinformation.
In late 2016, Facebook also announced a partnership with the website for the same reason:
Regardless of the veracity of Kerry's 2014 claims, President Donald Trump's administration has left no question about its stance on the recent chemical attack, by launching a precision airstrike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime late Thursday night.
Trump's new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, echoed that resolve in her own arena, saying: “It was time to say enough. It was time to act.”