Newsweek's embarrassing fact check

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 21, 2021

Newsweek magazine has received some criticism recently here at Hoystory for this dishonest piece on comments made by Justice Amy Coney Barrett when she was a Notre Dame law professor talking about the death and legacy of her mentor, Justice Antonin Scalia.

Well, here we go again, I'm not sure what's worse, the blatantly dishonest characterization of what Barrett said several years ago, or this piece fact-checking statements by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sean Parnell regarding Joe Biden's woke choice for assistant secretary of health, Pennsylvania health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.

The pick is being lauded because Dr. Levine thinks that he is a woman, though he is not. Newsweek fact-checker Julia Marnin, a 2020 graduate of the College of New Jersey, should file a complaint with HR against her editor for failing to do his or her job properly mentoring and editing Marnin's copy.

The late Los Angeles Times reporter David Shaw used to say of newspapers and other old established media entities (like, Newsweek) that rookie reporters were less likely to see an embarrassing error get into print than new media especially blogs.

When I or virtually any other mainstream journalist writes something, it goes through several filters before the reader sees it. At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things.

Newsweek failed Marnin. Below is the text of the email sent through Newsweek's contact form for submitting corrections and the contact form on Marnin's personal website.

Regarding this "fact check":

First, it would be a great benefit and a boon to transparency if your reporters would link to source documents so that readers don't have to hunt them down on their own. The document at issue in this “fact check” can be found here.

Details of request for correction:

The original statement(s) being fact-checked were from Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sean Parnell.

Greene’s statement:

President-elect @JoeBiden’s pick for assistant secretary of health “likely contributed to the thousands of elderly deaths in Pennsylvania” by placing COVID positive patients into nursing homes.

This person is unfit to be confirmed by the Senate.


Dr. Levine took her own mother out of a nursing home prior to ordering COVID infected patients into them. Thousands died.

This should go without saying, but she should not be getting a promotion.

Reporter Julia Marnin quotes the pertinent part of the March 2020 directive this way in the background portion of the “fact check.”

In an effort to alleviate the burden on primary care settings such as hospitals, the guidance states that nursing homes "must continue to accept new admissions and receive readmissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable," and that "This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus." [emphasis added]

Here is how she characterizes it after giving the statements a false ruling:

However, although Levine serves as the Pennsylvania secretary of health and was active in that position when the state's health department issued the guidance to nursing home facilities saying they can accept patients from hospitals and patients who formerly had COVID-19, that does not prove she placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing homes or contributed to thousands of elderly deaths in the state. [emphasis added]

There is a big difference between “can” and “must.” In fact, it’s really all the difference in the world.

This is the first correctible error.

There is nothing in that March 18 memo that gives nursing homes or care facilities the option of rejecting COVID-positive patients. They must accept them as long as they are “stable.”

Am I reading it wrong and your reporter reading it correctly? Not according to contemporaneous accounts in other newspapers.

The Bucks County Courier Times (States ordered nursing homes to take COVID-19 residents. Thousands died. How it happened - News - Bucks County Courier Times - Levittown, PA)

On March 18, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine directed licensed long-term care facilities to continue admitting new patients, including those discharged from hospitals but unable to go home, and to readmit current patients after hospital stays.

“This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus,” according to a copy of the guidelines.

Continued admissions was ordered “to alleviate the increasing burden in the acute care settings,” according to the directive. But hospitals in most counties were never overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

The Beaver County Times (Costly COVID-19 mistakes: Pennsylvania nursing homes in midst of second wave of COVID-19 (

But critics say they didn't do enough to protect nursing home residents, who make up 70 percent of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania. They say the two biggest failures were letting infected patients back into nursing homes and stopping state health inspections at those facilities during the pandemic.

To keep hospitals from reaching capacity, the state in March told nursing homes to keep accepting residents, even those who had the coronavirus.

No one can pinpoint how Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County ended up with the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in a Pennsylvania nursing home, but officials believe it was after sick patients were returned to the nursing home from the hospital.

It is clear from contemporaneous reporting that the March 18 order was understood to require nursing homes to take COVID-19 positive patients. The suggestion that these were only patients who had completely recovered from COVID-19 and were no longer contagious is false.

Finally, there’s the issue of reading the charges against Dr. Levine in a reasonable light. Not the most favorable, not the least, but how reasonable people would understand them. Reporter Marnin reads the charges against Levine in a dubious manner.

However, although Levine serves as the Pennsylvania secretary of health and was active in that position when the state's health department issued the guidance to nursing home facilities saying they can accept patients from hospitals and patients who formerly had COVID-19, that does not prove she placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing homes or contributed to thousands of elderly deaths in the state.

Marnin seems to suggest falsity on the part of Levine’s GOP critics because it was not proven that “she placed coronavirus-positive patients in nursing homes.” Of course she didn’t “place” anyone in a nursing home. She is not a hospital or nursing home administrator. She is a public official who set a state policy that required certain actions by those administrators. Did those administrators have the ability to say no? Not without the full force of the state coming down on them. The fact that she wasn’t personally looking at hospital records and seeing who could be discharged and where they could be discharged to does not absolve her from the fact that her order likely caused hundreds or potentially thousands of deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes.

Again, there is plenty of reporting from newspapers across the country that blame the decisions to force COVID patients into nursing homes in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania with contributing to the high death toll in those states and in those facilities.

With regard to Parnell’s claim on the timing of Levine pulling her mother out of an assisted living facility, the proximity of the two events is not completely accurate. The order in question was dated March 18, 2020. Levine acknowledged moving her mother in a press conference on May 13. The latter is not “prior” to the former as Parnell asserted. However, Marnin’s characterization of the time gap as “a few months” is also perhaps a little too loose for a time lag that was less than 60 days.

It isn’t debatable that she was moved as soon as it became apparent that COVID was raging through those facilities like wildfire.

It’s also unclear why Marnin used a letter sent by Republican leaders in June 2020 and Levine’s denial in a press conference shortly thereafter to measure the accuracy of statements made in January 2021. It might not have been crystal clear then, though The Wall Street Journal  made the case in May 2020 (New York Sent Recovering Coronavirus Patients to Nursing Homes: ‘It Was a Fatal Error’ - WSJ) and many other newspapers have since then, but it is pretty clear now that forcing nursing homes to take COVID-19 positive patients was a colossal error in New York. No one has made the case that Pennsylvania any different.

The errors in this “fact check” are sufficient that it should be retracted. The only inaccuracy in the original quotes from Parnell and Greene is Parnell’s on the timing of the two events.

I look forward to your response. This critique will be posted at tomorrow, Jan.21, 2021. Your response, or any lack thereof, will be posted as well.


Matthew Hoy

As of the publication of this post, I have received no communication from Newsweek or the reporter, Julia Marnin.


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January 2021



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