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Trump’s smear of Time magazine as the source for his ‘facts’

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“I took a story out of Time magazine, and the story was exactly what it said. It said a $2.2 billion deficit. Now if Time magazine’s wrong, then they should apologize, and then I would certainly apologize for reading Time magazine. But Time magazine gave that information.”

— Donald Trump, interview with Charlie Sykes, March 28, 2016

In a contentious interview with conservative radio host Charlie Sykes, Donald Trump was quizzed on claims he made about Wisconsin at a time when Gov. Scott Walker (R) was still a presidential contender. Sykes said that Trump’s claims were false, in particular that under Walker the state had gone from a $1 billion surplus to a $2.2 billion deficit, and he wanted to know if Trump would apologize.

But Trump blamed Time magazine for the error. He claimed he simply got the figure out of the magazine, and he would only apologize for reading it.

So we decided to check: Did Time actually report this information? (The Trump campaign, as usual, did not respond to a query.)

The Facts

With the help of a researcher at Time magazine, we came up with an article that might have been the source of Trump’s comment: a March 19, 2015, profile of Walker, which included this line buried in the middle of it: “Due largely to tax cuts under Walker, the state could face a $2 billion shortfall in its projected budget, according to the left-leaning Wisconsin Budget Project.”

Now, first of all, this was not strictly Time’s information; it was attributed to a policy group. Moreover, the figure was not $2.2 billion, which is how Trump frequently expressed it. And it concerns a budget shortfall, not a deficit.

The only time that the $2.2 billion figure has appeared even on Time’s website is after the magazine published a transcript of the second Republican debate, on Sept 16 — and quoted Trump as jabbing at Walker: “In Wisconsin, you’re losing $2.2 billion right now.” He added: “You were supposed to make a billion dollars in the state and you lost $2.2 billion. You have right now a huge budget deficit. That’s not a Democratic talking point, that’s a fact.”

But here’s the rub: weeks before Trump uttered the claim at the September debate, fact checkers had already called him out for using it. On July 28, PolitiFact Wisconsin gave Trump a “mostly false” for making this claim in a campaign event. And on July 29, published an article titled “Wisconsin’s Trumped Up Deficit.”

Both fact checks made similar points: Wisconsin, under state law, is required to have a balanced budget. There had once been a projected budget shortfall of $2.2 billion over two years, back in November 2014, after an earlier projection of a $1 billion surplus. But the shortfall was never a deficit — because the law requires a balanced budget.

Indeed, on July 12, two weeks before Trump made the comments that were fact checked, Walker signed into law a two-year balanced budget.

The Facts

In other words, Trump’s claim in the debate was incorrectly stated, was based on old information and had already been thoroughly fact checked

Maybe Trump doesn’t understand the difference between a projected budget shortfall and a budget deficit. Maybe he failed to see the fact checks of his statement before he uttered them yet again in the debate.

But he has no business pinning the blame on Time magazine. (In fact, based at the facts on hand, we doubt Trump got this information from Time.) Time correctly reported the possible shortfall at the time — but the budget issue had already been resolved two weeks before Trump started spouting this factoid. He had even less reason to repeat it again in the debate weeks later.

Sykes wanted to know if Trump would apologize to Walker and Wisconsin. He now needs to add Time magazine to the list.

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