The most widely read column of the year gave Four Pinocchios to Fox’s Sean Hannity for a false story about Donald Trump. This became the most popular column in the history of the Fact Checker, proving yet again that although Trump may be bad at sticking to the facts, he is certainly good for fact-checking.
It was a very close election in the end — even in fact checks. Five of the top 10 were about Trump, and the other five were about Hillary Clinton.
(Meanwhile, we’re going to try to take a needed break before the new year. Only something really dramatic will cause us to change our plans.)
In compiling this list, we focused on full fact checks of specific claims. Otherwise, some of the Fact Checker’s coverage of the Republican convention and the presidential debates would have easily qualified for the top-10 list.
Click on the headline if you want to read the full column.
1. Too good to check: Sean Hannity’s tale of a Trump rescue
Topping the list is an inaccurate yarn promoted by Fox News personality Sean Hannity. Lazar Cohen, a reader, was suspicious of a story promoted on Hannity’s website — Donald Trump’s sending his personal plane down to Camp Lejeune, N.C., when 200 Marines were stranded after fighting in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Trump campaign even confirmed the tale. But, after checking military operations records, we discovered that Trump had nothing to do with the dispatch of the jet to the troops at Camp Lejeune. The aircraft that ferried them was part of the Trump Shuttle fleet, at a time when Trump barely had control over the airline and was frantically trying to negotiate deals with bankers to prevent the collapse of his business empire. Trump Shuttle had a contract with the military, and this flight home was part of that contract. (This column also was part of the Biggest Pinocchios list.)
2. The facts about Hillary Clinton and the Kathy Shelton rape case
Before the second presidential debate, Trump held a brief news conference with three women who claimed they were abused by President Bill Clinton — and one woman, Kathy Shelton, who said Hillary Clinton ruined her life after Clinton was appointed in 1975 by a judge to defend the man who raped Shelton when she was a child. Readers were intensely interested in this little-known story, so we detailed the facts, including disclosing that court records showed that a central part of Shelton’s story — an alleged psychiatric exam — does not appear to have taken place. Other aspects of Shelton’s account also changed over time, though we did not assign a Pinocchio rating.
3. The inaccuracies in Donald Trump’s Air Force One tweet
Shortly after being elected president, Trump tweeted that Boeing’s planned project to build the next generation of aircraft designated as Air Force One should be canceled because “costs were out of control.” But there were a number of inaccuracies in his tweet, including that Boeing was not yet building the jet, that costs had not yet been set and that the order had not been placed. Trump, as president, will be able to adjust the contract as he sees fit. Because this was a roundup of claims, we did not assign a Pinocchio rating.
4. Did the Clinton Foundation raise ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ for a hospital in Haiti that was never built?
A Trump surrogate made this unsupported claim in passing, but it spread widely on social media after pro-Trump duo Diamond and Silk picked it up. This is a mishmash talking point stringing together different information relating to Haiti recovery efforts, like a message from the last player in a game of “Telephone.” There is no Clinton Foundation-funded hospital project. The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by Bill Clinton, approved a $99 million public hospital in Port-au-Prince as one of its first recovery projects. The project has been delayed, but it is not funded by the Clinton Foundation; it is backed by money from the U.S. government, Haiti and France. The Clintons have faced a lot of criticism for their involvement with Haiti recovery efforts, but this one is not credible.
5. Donald Trump’s misleading claim that he ‘won most of’ the lawsuits over Trump University
Trump faced attacks over allegations made in lawsuits against him and Trump University, a free introductory seminar that promised to give people insider knowledge about real estate investing if they paid as much as $35,000. He said he “won most of” the lawsuits, in which plaintiffs claimed that the program was a scam and that they did not get the access and information they were promised. Trump’s claim was quite misleading; the lawsuits were pending at the time, and there were court rulings in favor of both Trump and the plaintiffs. After Trump was elected president, he agreed to a $25 million settlement to end all three of the lawsuits. The settlement included a $1 million penalty to New York state for the use of the word “university,” which violated state law.
6. Did Clinton laugh about a rapist’s light sentence and attack sexual-harassment victims?
We looked at two key claims in a Republican National Committee ad that offered a kitchen sink of allegations slamming Clinton. One claim alleged that Clinton laughed about a light sentence given in the Kathy Shelton rape case. In a recorded interview, Clinton is heard laughing or giggling four times when discussing the case with unusual candor; the reporter is also heard laughing, and sometimes Clinton is responding to him. Clinton certainly laughs during the conversation, but at no point does she laugh specifically about the sentence. The other claim alleged she politically attacked sexual-harassment victims, but the timeline did not support that. These were both very complex situations that had been reduced to misleading sound bites.
7. Clinton’s claim that the FBI director said her email answers were ‘truthful’
To her later regret, Clinton, during an interview on Fox News Sunday, cherry-picked statements by FBI Chief James B. Comey to preserve her narrative about the unusual setup of a private email server. She was relying on this statement by Comey: “We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.” But Comey repeatedly had dodged or sidestepped questions about whether Clinton had lied to the American public. So Clinton earned Four Pinocchios. (Also on the Biggest Pinocchios list.)
8. What we know about Donald Trump and his taxes so far
Trump was the first major-party presidential candidate in four decades not to release his tax returns. Presidential candidates have released their returns for the sake of transparency, even though they have no legal obligation to do so. Still, Trump’s long history of litigation has given the public a sense of what is in his returns: He did not pay any (or nearly any) income taxes at least five times in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. After this fact check was published, the New York Times revealed that Trump had reported a $916 million loss in 1995, which would have been large enough to allow him to avoid paying any federal income taxes for up to 18 years. This was an explainer, so no Pinocchios were given.
9. Trump is right: He didn’t kick a baby out of a campaign rally
In one of the campaign’s stranger episodes, the media spun a fable that Trump had kicked a baby out of his rally in Ashburn, Va. When Trump complained that this was “a lie,” we decided to check it out. Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star, was seated behind the mother and wrote that the entire incident was mischaracterized. (Most of the media wrote the story based on a videotape.) We also contacted the mother, who said that “the media did in fact blow this entire situation out of proportion.” She said she chose to leave the auditorium on her own. We concluded that Trump had been unfairly maligned and gave him a Geppetto Checkmark.
10. Does Huma Abedin have ‘ties’ to the Muslim Brotherhood?
Huma Abedin is a longtime aide to Clinton who has also been the subject of suspicion on the right, given that she grew up in Saudi Arabia (after being born in Kalamazoo, Mich.). Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.) claimed that Abedin had been “an editor for a Sharia newspaper” and had “ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.” We looked into his claims and concluded they were bogus. Abedin had worked for a sober academic journal edited by her mother — and her alleged connections to the Muslim Brotherhood were so tenuous as to be obscure. So Duffy earned Four Pinocchios.
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