Last Friday, Glenn Kessler, head of the Washington Post “Fact Checker” operation, published his final postmortem on the Trump presidency, saying that Trump had fathered “30,573 false or misleading claims” during his presidency.
It’s a staggering number, which Kessler writes “became an untruth tracker for the ages, widely cited around the world as a measuring stick of Trump’s presidency.”
Four years is 1,460 days. So it comes to more than 20 falsehoods a day, although obviously views can differ of exactly where lies the line between a slip of a tongue, an exaggeration, a knowing lie, or a habitual liar just flapping his gums.
Of course there were other fact-check operations operating during the Trump years, many of which I esteem highly. But Kessler and his team gained my trust early and never lost it. So I’ll pass along below a link to his final report, in which he announces that his team will no longer run regular fact checks of Trump’s statements.
Personally, I was truly and utterly shocked at Trump’s mendacity. The lies were so frequent, so blatant. And yet, despite my expectation early on that no president’s credibility or effectiveness could survive under such a steady stream of falsehoods, I was secondarily shocked that Trump’s approval rating never seemed to change. It was a bad rating – generally around 40 percent approval. And I thought it should have been much lower. But after the early days of his term, it stayed steady. It actually pained me to see a president lie this much and apparently suffer little or no decline in his followership.
I’m someone who places a high value on factual accuracy. It’s a professional habit. In my 30 years at the Star Tribune, the ombudsman caught me in two factual errors (in one of them of them I accurately quoted a very famous source saying something that wasn’t true, but I should have checked it). Still, they both stung. Journalists of my generation treated factual accuracy as the North Star, the first and most sacred necessity.
Maybe that changed me, or maybe it’s just the way I am, but during the early Trump years I kept waiting for him to lose followers, which would be measured by a declining approval rating, just because he was such a frequent and blatant liar. But it never happened. Seeing that shocked me, even hurt me at first. Then I became relatively numb to it, but not all that numb. And I never got very far in understanding whether his loyal approvers were unaware that he lied to them constantly, or knew it but just didn’t care.
The new media, cable TV and online environment — in which more and more citizens easily can and generally do turn to sources of information that share their biases and perhaps avert their eyes from those that might tell them that Trump was the biggest liar in presidential history — must surely be a factor. But the whole thing creeps me out. We’ll see whether it’s the new normal. A great many would-be successors to Trump seem to be embracing a similar disregard for factual accuracy.
According to the Post Fact Checker operation, the pace of Trump’s falsehoods actually increased, with nearly half of his falsehoods coming in his last year in office. I don’t take that too literally. Obviously, views can differ on what constitutes a falsehood or a lie. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump erased the norm that it’s a big deal for a president to lie to the American people, and that he will pay a serious price for constant lying. Maybe it can be restored. That, also, is above my pay scale.
Here’s a little taste of Kessler’s final Trump report:
For more than 10 years, The Fact Checker has assessed the accuracy of claims made by politicians in both parties, and that practice will continue. But Trump, with his unusually flagrant disregard for facts, posed a new challenge, as so many of his claims did not merit full-fledged fact checks. What started as a weekly feature — “What Trump got wrong on Twitter this week” — turned into a project for Trump’s first 100 days. Then, in response to reader requests, the Trump database was maintained for four years, despite the increasing burden of keeping it up.
The database became an untruth tracker for the ages, widely cited around the world as a measuring stick of Trump’s presidency — and as of noon Wednesday it was officially retired.
Fact Checker Kessler’s full good-bye-to-Trump-and-his-falsehoods is here. Please let this not become the new normal.