In the era of former President Donald Trump, fact-checking became “Trump-checking.” Nowhere was it more obvious than at The Washington Post’s Fact Checker, which went into overdrive and obsessed over every Trump speech, interview and tweet.
The Fact Checker rating system ranges from 1 Pinocchio (“omissions and exaggerations” or “mostly true”) to 4 Pinocchios (“Whoppers”) and has been led by Post veteran Glenn Kessler since 2011. It is a signatory of Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network which results in its facts being used on Google, Facebook and other social media platforms to expose what it calls misinformation.
Although it claims it tries to be “dispassionate and non-partisan,” it launched an unprecedented database of Trump’s falsehoods. Former President Barack Obama didn’t get this level of scrutiny, nor did Hillary Clinton or President Joe Biden — evidence the Fact Checker is at least guilty of selection bias.
But, since Glenn Kessler and his fact-checking team even gave out Pinocchios for true statements, there appears to be much more than selection bias at work. For example, in April 2019 Trump said “By the end of this year, the United States will have 92 5G deployments in markets nationwide. The next nearest country, South Korea, will have 48...” Kessler and crew actually admitted the statement’s truthfulness in a nonsensical fact-check. They acknowledged, “The U.S. is on track to have the most deployments,” but warned a report indicated China might catch up.
Similarly, they slammed Trump more than 100 times for correctly citing tremendous employment gains that followed his election, because they didn’t think counting from Election Day was fair. That’s not fact-checking.
But those claims helped the Fact Checker rack up a database of more than 20,000 misleading or false Trump claims, which it promoted in a book released several months ahead of the 2020 election.
That 20,000 figure is also wildly inflated by counting the same claims between several times to hundreds of times over because (like all politicians) Trump repeats himself. They have also boosted the overall numbers by rating opinions, predictions and boasts with Pinocchios.
- Glenn Kessler challenged Team Trump on Twitter after they seized on a Biden gaffe. Biden had accidentally suggested that African-Americans mostly think alike. Kessler’s tweet claimed “he didn’t actually say this,” when the summary they posted was essentially accurate.
- Making the media rounds for the anti-Trump book, Kessler called fact-checking Trump an “almost all consuming task.”
- Conservative journalist Mark Hemingway countered the Fact Checker’s claim that Trump has made 20,000 false or misleading statements. He pointed out redundancies, nitpicking and said that sometimes it even “flirts with dishonesty” by omitting information about Trump remarks. When it came to a Trump statement about liberals wanting to defund the police, Hemingway said the Fact Checker’s criticism was “moving the goalposts to give Biden cover.”
- When challenged by Steve Goldstein for fact-checking true Trump statements, Kessler replied by email “As you well know, ‘literally true’ comments can be misleading without the proper context, especially in the economic sphere.” Goldstein analyzed 50 “economy” and 50 “jobs” statements from Trump that were scored with Pinnochios and found 27 of them “defensible if not unimpeachably accurate.”
- During the State of the Union, the Fact Checker analyzed 31 Trump statements and not a single one from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D-MI) Democrat response speech.
- Too often, liberal’s falsehoods have been minimized or not even examined in the first place. They will even remove Pinocchios when politicians engage with them. That is how Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) avoided them over the infamous Green New Deal FAQ sheet after claiming it was “doctored.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was given only 2 Pinocchios or (half true) for saying the “median pay for a McDonald’s worker was $7,000 in 2017.” Her stat was roughly one-third of the correct figure.
- The Fact Checker received $250,000 from the Google News Initiative/YouTube in 2019 to expand video fact-checking.
- "Regular readers know that we generally do not award Pinocchios when politicians admit error, and we certainly give an allowance for a slip of the tongue during a live event. We don’t play gotcha at the Fact Checker."