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Clinton’s exaggerations about Trump and Sanders on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Hillary Clinton appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on May 22 and made several claims about her opponents that stretch the truth or lack context. In part, she relied too much on media accounts without doing enough double-checking about the facts. As we often warn, the burden of the evidence rests with the speaker. Politicians can’t hide behind press accounts.

“I don’t think he’s had a single negative ad ever run against him.”

— Clinton on Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Clinton made this comment in the context of saying that while Sanders polls better against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, she has been in the public eye much longer and thus has been “vetted.” Her implication was that Sanders has not faced the onslaught of negative attacks that she has faced over the years.

The Sanders campaign pointed our colleagues at PolitiFact to a handful of negative ads, but upon closer inspection, virtually all of these ads appeared only on the Internet, not on television. For instance, this ad, run by a super PAC backing former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, is listed by our partners at the Political TV Ad Archive, but we confirmed that it actually never appeared on television.

A super PAC supporting former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley releases a video questioning Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)'s record on gun control. (Video: Generation Forward)

The group, Generation Forward, ran only positive spots of O’Malley on television — fewer than 200 times — though one featured an image of Sanders and other candidates running for president suggesting they were talk, not action.

A super PAC established to promote former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley released a video comparing Democrats' records on gun control. (Video: Generation Forward)

Similarly, the pro-Clinton group Correct the Record produced Internet-only content that attacked Sanders, including one focused on fact checks of his statements. The group says they are web videos, not ads, so no money was spent promoting them. 

The only television ad we could find that attacked Sanders is an odd one. It aired 410 times on Iowa television, according to data from Kantar Media/CMAG analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity. But it was sponsored by a right-leaning group — and it attacked him as “too liberal” for Iowa, highlighting positions that would be popular with liberal voters. So this looks more like political jujitsu — an attempt by conservatives to drive Democrats toward Sanders and away from Clinton.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is "too liberal for Iowa," according to a video paid for by a fund that has spent money opposing Sanders this election cycle. (Video: ESA Fund)

“Every so often, a political group from one party will try to move the needle in the other party’s primary,” said Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity, who helped us track the spending. “It could be that some Republicans preferred to run against Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton and hoped that ads portraying Sanders as too liberal would attract more voters to him.”

The Sunlight Foundation says that three groups — the Ending Spending Action Fund (ESA Fund), Future 45 and Generation Forward — have spent a total of about $860,000 opposing Sanders so far this election cycle. But $804,000 of that came from Ending Spending Action, the GOP group that ran the “too liberal” ad. Future 45 is another GOP-aligned group that announced it would spend $600,000 in Iowa attacking Sanders — also in ways that appeared to benefit him — but in the end it spent only $45,000 (one-third of which was for production).

Generation Forward, the O’Malley group, reported that it spent just $10,000 attacking Sanders. (As we noted, its one negative ad never appeared on television.)

By contrast, the Sunlight Foundation says that $7.4 million has been spent this campaign cycle attacking Clinton. So that’s basically a ratio of 740 to 1, excluding the faux attacks on Sanders by right-leaning groups.

Clinton goes too far in saying that not a single negative ad was run against Sanders. But her basic point is largely correct, given that what was spent amounts to peanuts, especially if you discount the spending by right-leaning groups. Moreover, the ad that aired on television ran only in Iowa, meaning that the vast majority of Democratic voters did not see any televised attacks on Sanders.

Clinton earns One Pinocchio.

One Pinocchio

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“Look what he’s done this past week, you know, attacking our closest ally, England. Heaping praise on a dangerous dictator in North Korea.”

— Clinton on Donald Trump

Trump’s digs at the British prime minister and new mayor of London have been in the news. But when did he heap “praise” on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un?

The Clinton campaign pointed to a series of news stories from around the world, all of which use some variation of the word “praise” in the headlines.

Okay, that’s the media spin. But our colleagues at dug up Trump’s original remarks, made at a rally on Jan. 9:

“If you look at North Korea — this guy, he’s like a maniac, okay? And you have to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden — you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes…. Right now he’s probably got the weapons but he doesn’t have the transportation system. Once he has the transportation system, he’s sick enough to use it.”

As usual with Trump, it’s a bit difficult to understand his overall point, as Trump switches between calling Kim “sick” and “a maniac” and appearing to admire how Kim ruthlessly killed his opponents, including his uncle. But in context, the headlines are a bit overheated, as is Clinton’s statement. Trump made it clear he thought Kim was a threat, in part because of how he ruthlessly seized power. So it’s going too far to say Trump praised Kim. 

As we have said, you can’t craft talking points based on headlines. This is worthy of Two Pinocchios.

Two Pinocchios

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“I think he needs to release his tax returns. The only two we have show that he hasn’t paid a penny in taxes.”

— Clinton on Trump

Here, Clinton is citing a May 20 Washington Post article titled, “Trump once revealed his income tax returns. They showed he didn’t pay a cent.”

The article began:

The last time information from Donald Trump’s income-tax returns was made public, the bottom line was striking: He had paid the federal government $0 in income taxes.
The disclosure, in a 1981 report by New Jersey gambling regulators, revealed that the wealthy Manhattan investor had for at least two years in the late 1970s taken advantage of a tax-code provision popular with developers that allowed him to report negative income.

Once again, Clinton (or the people crafting her talking point) needed to dig a bit deeper. The Fact Checker posted that 1981 casino report on the Internet back in March, when we examined Trump’s false claim that he built his empire with just a $1 million loan from his father. As we wrote in that article:

Trump’s tax returns at the time indicated his salaried income in 1976 was less than $100,000 a year, which he received as an officer in his father’s company. (His father remained chief executive of the company.) His income taxes reported $76,000 in income in 1975, $25,000 in income in 1976 and $118,000 in income in 1977. He paid no income tax in 1978 and 1979 as he reported negative income, likely because of tax shelters.

Specifically, as page 33 of the report says, Trump paid about $19,000 in taxes in 1975, $11,000 in taxes in 1976 and $42,000 in taxes in 1977, before paying nothing in 1978 and 1979.

In other words, the report showed five years of tax data, with two of those years showing zero taxes. But Clinton falsely said only two tax returns were released. The Post article and headline only focused on the last two years, but the full information was on the web for anyone to double-check.

In fact, before the Post article appeared, on May 12 The Fact Checker had linked to the report in an article on Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

We had even tweeted out the report again on May 14, with a reference to the page number containing the relevant information:

So there’s no excuse for the Clinton campaign for failing to do its due diligence on this issue. Clinton could have more accurately said that the last two tax returns made public show Trump paid no taxes. But instead she earns Three Pinocchios.

Three Pinocchios

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