Once again, we present a list of our 10 most popular fact checks of the past year.
The most widely read column of the year was the Four Pinocchios given to Donald Trump for false claim that he watched television images of “thousands and thousands” of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. In fact, this is the most popular column in the history of The Fact Checker—proving that althought Trump may be bad at sticking to the facts, but he is certainly good for fact checking.
In compiling this list, we focused on full fact checks of specific claims. Otherwise, some of The Fact Checker’s coverage of the GOP and Democratic debates and our list of the Biggest Pinocchios of the Year would have easily qualified for the top 10 list.
Click on the headline if you want to read the full column.
GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump falsely and repeatedly asserted that he saw TV clips of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks. Despite an army of fact checks, including ours, and repeated debunking, Trump continued to assert he was correct, even though he could produce no evidence except a handful of news stories that made brief mentions of alleged celebrations—which never could be confirmed. He earned Four Pinocchios. Ben Carson, another GOP aspirant, briefly said he too had seen such a video. But to his credit, he withdrew the statement after realizing it was of Palestinians in Gaza, not New Jersey. (This column also topped the biggest Pinocchios list.)
Paul did not complete his undergraduate degree at college, though he earned a medical degree from Duke University. Previously Paul’s staff has accused the media of misunderstanding his unusual educational background, but twice during a conference Paul asserted that he had a “biology degree.” Paul studied biology and English at Baylor University, but he didn’t earn a degree. We thought this was worthy of Three Pinocchios, but many readers thought we were being unfair.
Clinton unexpectedly again brought up the dubious story that she had once tried to join the Marines in the mid-1970s, only to be rebuffed. There are many reasons to be doubtful about this tale; a pair of friends had vouched for her story when she first raised it in 1994, but with a different context. So she earned Two Pinocchios, subject to change if more information becomes available. (Readers split sharply on whether we were generous or too tough on her.)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made a bold claim –that new gun laws would not have prevented recent mass shootings—and so we explored the details of 12 mass shootings since 2012. It was a depressing chronicle of death and tragedy. But Rubio’s statement stood up to scrutiny — at least for the recent past, as he framed it. He earned a rare Geppetto Checkmark.
We examined GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina only-in-America life story and found it wanting. But many readers vehemently disagreed with our award of Three Pinocchios — so much so that we published a response. That still didn’t end the complaints.
“Hands up, don’t shoot” came to symbolize the need to hold law enforcement accountable in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. But an extensive Justice Department investigation concluded that Wilson did not know whether Brown was armed, that he acted out of self-defense and that he was justified in killing Brown. The majority of witnesses told federal investigators that the initial claims that Brown’s hands were up were not accurate. We concluded that “hands up, don’t shoot” was worthy of Four Pinocchios. (Also on the biggest Pinocchios list.)
President Obama repeated false claims about the Keystone pipeline that had previously earned him Pinocchios, yet he managed to be even more misleading than before by suggesting that the pipeline would have no benefit for American producers. Moreover, his remarks are contradicted by the analysis of his own State Department. Thus the president earned Four Pinocchios. (Also on the biggest Pinocchios list.)
We dug deep into Sen. Marco Rubio’s handling of his state Republican Party-issued corporate card when he was the Florida House speaker. Ahead of most of the press pack, we concluded that the supposed scandal did not add up to much. Rubio’s carefully-worded explanation did not rise to the level of a Geppetto Checkmark, but it was accurate enough that it did not warrant even a single Pinocchio.
Donald Trump repeatedly defended his claim that the Mexican government is sending criminals and rapists to the United States. But a range of studies show there is no evidence immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. Moreover, the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants in prison do not belong in the category that fit Trump’s description: aggravated felons, whose crimes include murder, drug trafficking or illegal trafficking of firearms. (Biggest Pinocchios list.)
Are abortions just a small portion of the array of Planned Parenthood’s services, as advocates of abortion rights say? Or is Planned Parenthood mainly an abortion provider that masquerades as a reproductive health organization, as opponents of abortion rights say? We determined that both sides use meaningless and incomplete comparisons to make their argument — and both received Three Pinocchios.
Send us facts to check by filling out this form
Check out our 2016 candidates fact-check page
Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter