The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fact-checking President Trump isn’t enough

President Trump at an April 27 rally in Green Bay, Wis. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

It’s a tsunami of lies.

It’s an avalanche of falsehoods. It’s a deluge, a torrent, a rockslide, a barrage, an onslaught, a blitzkrieg.

President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading statements since becoming president — on the size of the inaugural crowd, the number of steel plants being built in America and whether he knew about hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels, to name just three.

And as unbelievable as it sounds, the tempo is picking up dramatically.

On Tuesday, an oddsmaker predicted that the prevaricator-in-chief will tell 22,500 false statements by Election Day 2020.

“As the election approaches and the number of rallies, debates and opportunities to discuss policy is magnified, we are expecting all-time highs in the number of false statements from President Trump,” said odds consultant John Lester of

The gambling site sent out its prediction as an email blast on Tuesday, and when I followed up with Lester, he told me that Trump is more likely to bend the truth when he is “caught up in the excitement of crowd reaction” and when he is discussing policy.

The site — which uses The Washington Post’s Fact Checker as its measuring rod — has been burned before by underestimating the president’s tendencies.

After Trump gave his first address from the Oval Office (on border security) last January, the site had to pay out nearly $300,000 to people who had bet that he would tell more than 3½ lies during his televised talk.

“We knew we were in trouble early with this one,” Lester, at the time, told BuzzFeed News. The Post, as it turned out, clocked six presidential falsehoods in that address. The site’s experts had reasoned that Trump would be constrained by the address’s short duration and the fact that the world was watching.

Clearly, they didn’t know who they were dealing with: the greatest.

At some point, and we’ve definitely arrived there, the number of presidential falsehoods overcomes the public’s ability to care.

The thinking seems to go like this: We get it, already. He lies a lot. Now, back to whether James Holzhauer will win big again tonight on “Jeopardy!” or whether the Nationals’ bullpen will get fixed.

But it does matter. Lies — especially repetitive lies — are a crucial part of how propaganda works. Truth is a basic part of a functioning democracy.

And the press is supposed to hold powerful figures accountable for their misdeeds.

So, to do their jobs, the news media can’t engage in business as usual.

Yes, they have to do the hard work of fact-checking and keeping track.

But they also have to bring some new tools and techniques — and maybe a new attitude — to the project.

First off, they should stop using euphemisms, such as the New York Times did the other day when on Twitter it described one particularly brutal falsehood by Trump — that doctors and mothers collaborate to execute newborns — as a case of the president reviving
“an inaccurate refrain.”

As one Twitter wag put it, an inaccurate refrain is when the Jimi Hendrix lyric from “Purple Haze” is bungled as “ ’Scuse me, while I kiss this guy.” This, on the other hand, is a despicable lie.

The Times is far from alone in this tendency to soft-pedal, as Daniel Dale, the excellent Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star, told Benjamin Hart of New York magazine.

“I think our job as journalists is to call things what they are. And so if someone commits 100 crimes, you don’t say, ‘We’re gonna call the first two ‘crimes’ and the [rest]’ — I don’t know what the softer word would be — ‘non-legal behavior.’ ”

“If we use the word ‘lie’ 100 times in a week, you know, people are gonna think we’re biased or the word is gonna lose its power. But, to me, if there’s 100 lies, you use the word ‘lie’ 100 times.”

Editors have noted, reasonably enough, that the word lie denotes intentionality, and it’s sometimes unclear if Trump’s misleading statements are always intentional or just what some have called his “word salad.”

But when appropriate, say so, as a Post editorial did recently with this headline on Trump’s border separation policy: “Lie No. 10,000 is really a whopper.”

Dale would also like to see reporters challenge the president more directly and more often on false statements, even small ones such as his recently saying that his father was born in Germany, when it was actually New York.

Do it, he suggests, in the president’s frequent, informal gaggles with reporters. (“Why did you say that your father was born in Germany?”)

“I don’t expect that a more confrontational approach would result in him being dramatically exposed and no one supporting him anymore,” he said. But it would be worthwhile anyway.

And look for innovative ways to tell the story of the endless lies, as the Times did in a graphic, putting to rest the often-heard argument from Trump supporters that “all presidents lie, you guys are just picking on our guy.”

None of this, of course, will solve the problem. It’s unlikely to reverse the avalanche or slow the ever-increasing pace.

But it may help an overwhelmed and numbed public find renewed reason to care.

For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit