The Washington Post recently issued a correction a month and a half after publishing a demonstrably false story by reporter María Luisa Paúl about the school board in Waukesha, Wis. that led to a swarm of death threats against board members. The Post’s original report falsely accused the board of cruelly pulling the Waukesha School District out of the federal government’s Seamless Summer Option school lunch program because, the Post said, quoting board member Karin Rajnicek, “students could ‘become spoiled’” by the free meals the program provides.
Rajnicek never said that. During a school board meeting in May, she raised the possibility that she and other parents like her who could easily afford to pay for lunches for their children would become spoiled by taking advantage of a program that was never intended for upper-income families.
“Can we just get back to: If I have children, I should be able to provide for them and if can’t, there is help for them? Stop feeding people that can provide for them,” she actually said. “It’s really easy to get sucked into and to become spoiled and then to just think it’s not my problem anymore, it’s everyone else’s problem to feed my children.”
In a meeting the following month, the board became the first in Wisconsin to exit the Seamless Summer Option, which provides free meals to students each summer regardless of family income and was extended to the school year during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Instead, the Waukesha School District would return to the National School Lunch Program, which provides free lunches only to low-income families.
In other words, the school board was simply returning to its pre-pandemic lunch program. In late August, though, the Post tweeted, “A school district opted out of free and reduced-price meals, saying students could ‘become spoiled,’” along with a link to the story. “Karin Rajnicek, a school board member, said the free program made it easy for families to ‘become spoiled,’” Paul wrote.
“Yes, children will become ‘spoiled’ by this basic human need,” comedian Chelsea Handler wrote in a quote-tweet of the Post’s story. “Welcome to America.”
Handler’s was one of thousands of retweets of the Post’s story that gave a false impression by leaving out the crucial context of her actual statements, with hundreds of prominent leftists chastising the Waukesha School Board and Rajnicek in particular for their supposed heartlessness. As a result, death threats started pouring in.
“I hope you and your children choke and die,” one man emailed.
“All of you are going to be spoiled in severe ways. get ready. All of you. targeted,” wrote another emailer, who included each board member’s address.
The salon Rajnicek owns in Waukesha was targeted with several one-star reviews, nearly all of which referenced her quote in the Washington Post. “The woman who owns this place voted against free lunches for schoolchildren because she said it would make them ‘spoiled,’” wrote one Google reviewer. “That’s right, this woman thinks feeding a child will make the kid feel ‘spoiled.’ She’d rather CHILDREN go hungry at a place they’re forced to be at (school). A horrible woman.”
After days of harassment following the publication of the Post’s story, the Waukesha School Board convened an emergency meeting and reversed its earlier decision, returning to the Seamless Summer Option. Long after that decision and the vile threats that prompted it, the Post last week quietly deleted its original tweet, saying, “We’ve deleted a previous tweet to this story that carried a headline that incorrectly attributed a quote to the Waukesha, Wis., School Board.”
The story’s headline was changed to “A school district briefly opted out of a free-meals program, citing a desire to return to a pre-pandemic ‘normal,’” and a lengthy correction was added:
An earlier version of the article had a headline that incorrectly attributed the statement that students could ‘become spoiled’ by a free-lunch program to the Waukesha, Wis., school board. The article also misrepresented the remarks of Karin Rajnicek, who made the statement. The article has been corrected, and a quote contextualizing Rajnicek’s comment has been added. The article was originally published Aug. 27. On Aug. 30, the school board rescinded its decision and voted to use the federal Seamless Summer Option program through the 2021-2022 school year.
The updated story makes no mention of the threats board members faced as a direct result of the earlier, blatantly dishonest quote. Paul has yet to delete misleading tweets about the story that remain on her profile.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would be cracking down on “harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school board members, teachers and workers in our nation’s public schools.”
“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” he said. So far, the Justice Department has no known plans to investigate the threats made against the Waukesha School Board based on false pretenses.