In compiling the top 10 list, we focused on full fact checks of specific claims. Thus, we did not include roundups of speeches or announcements. If we had, our fact check of the fifth Democratic primary debate and fact checks of Trump’s State of the Union address, Oval Office address on immigration and impeachment-eve letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have made the cut. If you added up the readership of various updates on our database of Trump’s false and misleading claims, that would have ranked in first place.
We also listed five of our most popular videos, as well as the top fact checks that were published before 2019.
(Meanwhile, we’re going to try to take a needed break before the new year. Only something dramatic will cause us to change our plans.)
1. Are U.S. women’s soccer players really earning less than men?
At the top of the list — and one of the most popular fact checks in our 12-year history — is something distinctly nonpolitical, though we started with quotes from politicians calling for the U.S. Women’s National Team (WNT) to be paid equally to the men’s team. We decided to explore whether there was a big pay gap, in part with information from never-seen-before documents obtained by the Fact Checker.
The answer was complicated because the two teams have different collective-bargaining agreements that outline different pay structures. A contract player on the women’s team makes a base salary and can earn performance-based bonuses. On the men’s team, players earn only bonuses.
The lawsuit from the women’s team sketched out the following scenario: If both teams played 20 friendlies in a year, a top-tier women’s national team player would earn $164,320 less, or “38% of the compensation of a similarly situated MNT player.” That was true under the previous collective-bargaining agreement that ended in December 2016. The Fact Checker obtained the new agreement, which took effect in April 2017. Using the same 20-game scenario, we calculated that the player on the women’s team would earn $28,333 less, or about 89 percent of the compensation of a similarly situated men’s team player. If both teams lost all 20 games, the players would make the same amount. That’s because the men earn a $5,000 bonus when they lose and the women have a $100,000 base salary.
What that means is that when the female players have appeared to make about the same or more money, they’ve had to turn in consistently outstanding performances on the world stage. Even with those feats, earning the same amount as the men’s soccer players was effectively impossible under the previous collective-bargaining agreement. There is — without question and for whatever reasons — still a massive gap between men’s and women’s World Cup bonuses.
2. Schiff’s false claim his committee had not spoken to the whistleblower
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has spearheaded the impeachment inquiry with diligence and determination since an anonymous whistleblower emerged with allegations of presidential pressure on Ukraine. But Schiff stumbled early on when he told MSNBC: “We have not spoken directly with the whistleblower. We would like to.”
That turned out to be false, as the whistleblower had approached a House Intelligence Committee staff member for guidance before filing a complaint with the Intelligence Community inspector general. We gave Schiff Four Pinocchios. It’s quite possible this article was so widely read in part because the White House kept tweeting about it.
3. ‘Some people did something’: The full context for Rep. Omar’s remarks
In April, a video clip of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaking to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spread like wildfire across social media. She said, “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
A video snipping that line from Omar’s speech quickly went viral, and the phrase “some people did something” as a reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks drew heated criticism. As we often find, looking at the entire speech gives a different view. For starters, CAIR was founded in 1994, not in response to 9/11, as Omar claimed.
Her remarks were part of a larger point about anti-Muslim discrimination and came after she listed some examples. A longer look at what she said: “For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” We leave it for readers to decide whether Omar was clear enough on terrorism.
4. Does the Walton family earn more in a minute than Walmart workers do in a year?
No matter how you measure it, this claim from Sen. Bernie Sanders is solid. Even assuming a 40-hour week, the average Walmart worker earns less in a year than the Walton family earns in a minute just from dividends paid on the family’s stock holdings.
It’s the kind of surprising statistic that usually makes for a good fact check, and it happens to be correct. Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, earned a Geppetto Checkmark.
5. Eric Trump’s Four-Pinocchio claim that the Obamacare website cost more than Trump’s border barrier
Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons, attributed a quote to actor Tim Allen in an Instagram post: “President Trump’s wall costs less than the Obamacare website. Let that sink in, America.”
But there are two big problems. First, it’s factually incorrect. The border barrier will cost far more than the $2 billion estimate for the cost of the website. Second, while Allen is a conservative, he did not say this. (A jewelry technician in Virginia named Tim Allen had posted a lengthy diatribe on Facebook making this claim, which he had borrowed from a post by singer Ted Nugent.)
We gave Eric Trump Four Pinocchios and suggested he delete the post. He has not done so.
6. Trump tweets nonsensical figures on illegal immigration
A presidential tweet from January caught our eye because it included huge (and oddly precise) numbers on illegal migration. “We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168. Cost Friday was $603,331,392,” Trump tweeted. “There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country.”
The president tweeted that these figures were from the Homeland Security Department, but instead they appeared to come from the right-leaning One America News Network. That’s not all. Trump appears to have taken OANN’s number for “total aliens” and used it to describe “illegal aliens” instead. We gave him Four Pinocchios.
7. What happened in the White House between Democrats and Trump?
Trump met with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) over the border barrier in January, but things apparently went off the rails. Did Trump “slam” the table, and did Pelosi reject border security? We investigated. Everyone at this meeting was biased in some way, so no Pinocchios were given, but there were a few conclusions we could draw nevertheless.
8. Trump’s fuzzy vision on the 9/11 attacks
During remarks on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Trump said he saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center while looking out a window of a building in midtown Manhattan. We recounted how he has told ever-grander versions of this supposed story and also provided a roundup of Trump claims about 9/11 that are clearly false, such as saying that he predicted Osama bin Laden’s attack on the United States.
This was based on one vague reference to bin Laden in a book he issued in January 2000. Even if his claim were true, Trump would have been echoing predictions of experts, news organizations and even bin Laden himself, who in media interviews indicated that he planned to attack the United States.
9. What’s actually in the Green New Deal?
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) rolled out the Green New Deal resolution with Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Republicans lampooned the plan as an attempt to ban cow farts and air travel. The Green New Deal resolution doesn’t go quite that far, though it’s very ambitious, as we found in this fact check.
Key goals include cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero over 10 years and guaranteeing jobs for all. The plan has prominent Democratic backers, including Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), all of whom at one point were running for president. Many liberal and environmental groups are on board. Republicans say it’s a nonstarter that reeks of socialism.
10. Harris’s misleading tweet on Trump’s tax cuts
In February, Harris dashed off a critical tweet after the IRS reported preliminary data showing the average tax refund check was down 8 percent ($170) compared with last year: “The average tax refund is down about $170 compared to last year. Let’s call the President’s tax cut what it is: a middle-class tax hike to line the pockets of already wealthy corporations and the 1%.”
But the size of a refund tells you nothing about a person’s tax bill. We gave Four Pinocchios to Harris because she linked these facts deceptively and without context, making it appear as though the smaller tax refunds were evidence of a tax hike on the middle class. In reality, the size of a tax refund reflects nothing about the size of a tax cut or tax increase — and at least in 2018, the vast majority of middle-class Americans can expect to pay less in taxes as a result of the Trump tax law. Moreover, Harris jumped to a faulty conclusion based on preliminary data. In the end, tax refunds in 2018 were little different from in 2017.
A fact: More people watch our videos than read our fact checks. Videos have given us a different option to tell particularly visual and complicated stories in new ways. In the past year, Fact Checker videos have expanded into covering global issues, not just fact-checking U.S. politicians. Videos updating readers on our database of Trump’s false or misleading claims remain wildly popular. (Here’s our video on Trump breaking 10,000 claims.) Many of the videos above were hugely popular. The ones listed below also ranked among the top performers.
Top five columns in 2019 — that were published before 2019
Many readers discover old fact checks when searching the Internet for information. Here’s a list of fact checks that ranked among the top 75 in 2019 — even though they were first published in 2018 (or earlier).
1. The ‘Trump economy’ vs. the ‘Obama economy’ (Sept. 18, 2018)
2. Was Obama’s $1.7 billion cash deal with Iran prohibited by U.S. law? (March 1, 2018)
3. President Trump’s claim that Democrats gave Iran $150 billion (Dec. 13, 2018)
4. The kooky tale of ‘Cocaine Mitch’ (May 4, 2018)
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