What's wrong with letting Trump be Trump

"Tsunami of falsehood" : Trump now has 10,000 false claims

Getting to the bottom of things is how Angie Drobnic Holan describes her job. From her editorial office high up in an office building in the center of Washington, she climbs down every day into the lowlands of American politics.

Holan is editor-in-chief of the Internet platform Politi-Fact. Together with her team, she takes statements from politicians and checks them for their truthfulness. In 2007 Politi-Fact started as a project for the newspaper "Tampa Bay Times" from Florida. The occasion was the presidential election campaign, from which Barack Obama emerged victorious in 2008.

The founders were looking for an innovative way to enrich policy reporting. Since then, the central element of her work has been the so-called truth meter, which shows the credibility of statements with the help of a needle. In 2009, Politi-Fact even received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for its work.

Holan's everyday life, fact checking, is first and foremost a classic journalistic craft: checking statements and facts. Politi-Fact employees investigate things that puzzled you and your team, make you sit up and take notice or sound wrong. You search for information on the net, in newspapers or in databases and talk to experts. The aim: to delve into a topic as deeply as possible, deeper than fast news journalism allows. The goal: to verify statements as well as possible or to expose them as false.

"The world has changed dramatically"

At that time, the fact-checkers did not yet know how much their work would gain in importance over a few years. "Our work has actually remained the same", Holan describes her everyday life in the Tagesspiegel, "but the world around us has changed dramatically."

The reason is clear: Donald Trump and his claims, false statements, alternative facts, sometimes lies. They are statements that underpin his policies and meet the expectations of his supporters, be it on denying climate change or on the subject of immigration. It is not uncommon for his words to leave you perplexed because nobody knows why he is spreading them, even though they are so easy to refute. Just like Trump's claim that his father was born in Germany, although his grandfather Friedrich Trump emigrated from Kallstadt an der Weinstrasse to the USA, where Trump's father Frederick was born.

From the community

For Trump there are no limits in many areas. It is frightening that Republicans in the House of Representatives - some ashamed, many in silence, numerous applauding, but very few with occasional critical remarks - watch this horror game.

... writes user letterfromboston

The extent of such incorrect statements has risen sharply, which is not only noticed by the researchers at Politi-Fact. You are by no means alone in the fight against false claims; fact checkers work in many American editorial offices.

According to a count by the Washington Post, the US President has just crossed 10,000 false and misleading allegations during his tenure, which lasted just over two years. The frequency of false statements has increased significantly, reports the newspaper.

26 misleading or false claims per day

After 601 days in office, the limit of 5,000 had already been reached - eight a day. Only 226 days later - on April 26th - there were already 10,000 false statements. During these seven months, an average of 26 false or misleading allegations came from the mouth or the pen of Trump every day. The Washington Post calls this a “tsunami of falsehood”.

Campaign appearances before the mid-term elections last autumn are responsible for the increase in recent months, but a long interview with Fox News presenter Sean Hannity a few days ago also plays a role. The fact checkers noticed 45 false claims during the conversation. At an election campaign appearance in Wisconsin last Saturday it was even 61. At the same time, Trump criticized the media again with the words: "You are forger."

For particularly blatant false statements, the “Washington Post” has devised the negative award “Bottomless Pinocchio” and has awarded it 21 times - for non-factual statements that the US President has repeated at least 20 times.

The bottomless Pinocchio was there for Trump's words about the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico and its financing - the previous leader. His exaggerations about the size of the trade deficits with Japan, China and the European Union are also included, as well as the supposedly largest tax cut or, according to Trump, the best economic situation of the US economy of all time.

When Trump took office in January 2017, the Washington Post began meticulously documenting false claims. At that time, the "milestone" that has now been reached was not considered possible, wrote fact checker Glenn Kessler in the newspaper. With an average of five false assertions per day, as in his first 100 days in office, Trump would have only made 7,000 false assertions during his tenure until 2021. The newspaper originally wanted to limit the fact check to Trump's first 100 days in the White House, but decided to continue.

Trump gets away with it

Trump also led to changes in the work processes at Politi-Fact. Actually, the main focus here is on the election campaign. A reduced team then follows the implementation of election promises. At least that is how it was before Trump. Today, a dozen employees continue to scrutinize statements, but not exclusively from President Trump. After the president moved into the White House, the editorial team expanded its offering.

It is "worrying", says Holan, that someone "who holds such high office is lying and spreading conspiracy theories". At the same time, it ensures that the public has less and less a sense of where to get credible and accurate information.

This is probably one of the reasons why Trump gets away with his representations. CNN commentator Chris Cillizza is also worried about why all the false claims can hardly harm him. The lack of trust in the media, he reported recently, played a role, as did a widespread belief that all politicians are lying anyway.

Trump lies because he can

Most of all, according to Cillizza, Trump's voters are used to disregarding facts. Trump had already exaggerated, distorted and lied during the election campaign. Surveys show that two thirds of voters did not consider him honest or trustworthy.

Many voters who voted for Trump would have "never thought that he was an honest guy," says Cillizza. “They knew that he had lied about things,” he says, “and they didn't care.” The simplest reason for this is that “he is not really punished for his almost constant inventions”.

The first candidates for the 2020 election campaign have recently been warming up. That should mean additional work for the fact checker as well. At Politi-Fact, Holan promises, they will be prepared for this. (with dpa)

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page