Aaron Sharockman, executive director of PolitiFact, says, “We really have been stretched to the limit. We’ve been asking a fact-checker to staff nights for the past few weeks to ‘live’ fact check Trump’s remarks on Twitter. We’re just not really able to get to every claim that we might typically wish to verify.”
Lori Robertson, managing editor of FactCheck.org, says, “It would be a lot of work to fact-check every single midterm rally and a lot of the stuff he says.”
Daniel Dale, Washington bureau chief for the Toronto Star and a fact-checker, says, “I’ve fallen behind because the quantity is so large. It’s an avalanche right now.”
Okay, but it’s a misnomer to equate the situation to a natural disaster. This one is man-made. Misinformation — false statements, misleading statements and, yes, lies — keep tumbling from the mouth of President Trump. And this being election season, the falsehoods and lies come in bigger doses. Factba.se breaks down word counts for Trump’s speaking engagements and press appearances, and the word count churned out by recent appearances and interviews is staggering. Trump has:
- Done an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham (3,410 words)
- Held a rally in Murphysboro, Ill. (9,204 words)
- Addressed the National FFA Organization in Indianapolis (9,153 words)
- Done an interview with Spencer Chase of Agri-Pulse (1,459 words)
- Spoken at a rally in Houston (9,228 words)
- Given an interview with a Houston TV station (954 words)
- Done a press gaggle (1,980 words)
- Done a sit-down with a Nevada TV station (954 words)
- Spoken at a rally in Nevada (7,499 words)
- Done a Nevada radio interview (920 words)
- Held another press gaggle (1,473 words)
- Spoken at a memo signing on water rights (3,132 words)
- Done a vlog post (98 words)
- Spoken at a rally in Mesa, Ariz. (6,412 words)
- Chatted at a defense roundtable (4,499 words)
- Done a third press gaggle (201 words)
- Spoken at a rally in Missoula, Mont. (9,873 words)
- Spoken at a Medal of Honor ceremony (1,465 words)
- Spoken at a Cabinet meeting (3,656 words)
- Done an interview with Stuart Varney of Fox Business (1,805 words)
- Spoken at a meeting with workers on regulatory reform (2,883 words)
- Recorded another vlog post (101 words)
- Done an interview with Trish Regan of Fox Business (4,262 words)
- Done an interview with the Associated Press (5,540 words)
- Spoke at a visit to a Federal Emergency Management Agency outpost in Florida (454 words)
- Spoken to Red Cross workers in Georgia (209 words)
Hundreds of thousands of words — flimsy and false words — piling up day after day as part of an effort to deceive just enough people to record a “win” in the midterm elections.
The Post’s Kessler and two other staffers — Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly — are charged with sifting through all of them as part of a continuing effort to track the total number of false or misleading claims made by the president. As of Sept. 12, the database had logged 5,001 such claims. According to Kessler, the imperative of amassing a full count originated in the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, propelled by the notion that logging the low-hanging falsehoods would free up the team to do full-on checks of more complicated statements coming from Trump. Instead, the project has become a “huge albatross,” says Kessler. “There are days where he says 100 or more things that are wrong and with all these interviews and press availabilities and rallies,” there are only so many resources to nail down all the claims. That said, “we’re very committed to it and we’ve gotten a tremendous reader response.”
At FactCheck.org, Robertson helps oversee* a team of seven fact-checkers, two of whom are tied up with monitoring fake news on Facebook. The five others churn through Trump pronouncements and other stuff in the political arena. Fact-checking all of Trump’s recent utterances is not part of the plan, says Robertson, who has worked with her team to organize them into three baskets: Trump Stump Speeches: Health Care; Trump Stump Speeches: Economy; and Trump Stump Speeches: Immigration. Those baskets are heavy files and cover a lot of counterfactual terrain. “I think we’re comfortable with what we left out, but there’s always something that’s going to be left out,” says Robertson.
Especially in this political season. There are 11 rallies planned between now and the Nov. 6 midterm elections, according to Trump’s campaign website. For fact-checkers, that’s a chilling and leisure-stealing prospect. As Dale notes, the rallies are Trump’s “most dishonest venue.” On his Twitter feed, Dale fact-checks the proceedings in real time, a high-wire act:
The plume of false Trump pronouncements in recent months has generated a curiosity: Are the falsehoods spiking because Trump is just talking more, or is he belting out more falsehoods per word? Back in September, Kessler presented the results of an examination of two Trump rallies in Montana, one in July and the other in September. For the first event, 76 percent of the 98 statements were “false, misleading or unsupported by the evidence,” versus 70 percent of the 88 statements for the second event.
“I found that he is getting more dishonest per word,” says Dale.
Professional hazards do attach to this line of work. “It’s a very depressing duty to read through all these speeches and see so many false things or misleading things said over and over again,” says Kessler, who says his team has identified more than 185 false or misleading statements that Trump has repeated more than three times.
The president’s persistence is a long-standing strategy. As Trump reportedly told then-entertainment reporter Billy Bush years ago regarding his false claims about ratings for his TV show: “Billy, look, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do,” Trump said, according to Bush.
*Clarification: The original language indicated that Robertson “helms” the staff. As managing editor, she is the No. 2 on the masthead, under Director Eugene Kiely. Also updated to note that Robertson “worked with” her team on fact-checking categories, as opposed to having “directed” it.