Since unseating leading House Democrat Joe Crowley in a primary last summer, freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in the media spotlight. News outlets have kept an unusually close eye on the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, covering her platform, social media activity, lipstick, jewelry, dance moves and, of course, her mistakes. As a political newbie — Ocasio-Cortez had never ran for office before her historic congressional win — errors are expected, but it’s how she rectifies those gaffes that matter this early in her career.
This week, the New York Democrat, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, appeared on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper, who addressed the Puerto Rican politico’s factual slip-ups, particularly her statistical blunders. For instance, last month, Ocasio-Cortez misinterpreted a study and inaccurately tweeted that $21 trillion in the Pentagon’s financial transactions “could not be traced, documented, or explained” and noted that such an amount of money could cover two-thirds of the total cost of Medicare for All. Washington Post’s Fact Checker corrected Ocasio-Cortez and awarded her with four Pinocchios. PolitiFact has also noted several of her mistakes, including the claim that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a legal requirement to fill 34,000 beds every night, when previous laws has actually required the agency to have that many beds available, but not necessarily filled.
When asked about these mistakes, Ocasio-Cortez offered what many believe to be an unconvincing response.
“If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees,” she told Cooper. “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.”
While later adding that being factually correct is “absolutely important,” Ocasio-Cortez, who in her defense is still new to the mainstream interviews and media attention she is receiving, still trivialized the significance of facts, a dangerous move at a time when the president is calling objective facts “fake news.”
Ocasio-Cortez addressed the issue once more on Twitter, acknowledging the need for accuracy but also calling out the passes other politicians, particularly President Trump and his White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have received for speaking untruths.
“Facts are facts, America. We should care about getting things right. Yet standards of who gets fact-checked, how often + why are unclear,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “This is where false equivalency+bias creeps in, allowing climate deniers to be put on par w/scientists, for example.”
Being morally right, sadly, is debatable. While being factual correct isn’t. Ocasio-Cortez is morally right for calling out double standards she’ll face from the media and her colleagues just for being a young woman of color with power and a voice, but she must be factually right if she’s going to obtain the credibility she needs, and deserves, to be the change-making leader many young progressives believe she can be.