The conventional thing for media fact-checkers to do these days is to focus on President Trump’s myriad gaffes, goofs, misstatements, jokes, exaggerations, etc. — and to characterize them all as intentional lies. The non-conventional and wholly unexpected thing for a media fact-checker to do is to focus on the media’s own dishonesty.
But that is just what the fact-checking website Snopes did in a recent post, “The Lies of Donald Trump’s Critics, and How They Shape His Many Personas,” by Dan MacGuill.
Conservatives have long accused Snopes of having a left-wing bias when it comes to fact-checking political stories — so this comes as a very welcome surprise.
This article is intended as a neutral, reliable analysis of the lies, false allegations and misleading claims made about and against Donald Trump since his inauguration in January 2017. We’ve attempted to strip away the hyperbole, name-calling and generalizations, and examine the patterns and trends at work: what characterizes these lies and exaggerations, the effect they have, what might explain them.
We pay particular attention to selected examples — claims that have gained prominence among the mainstream opposition to Trump, revealing much about the methods, priorities, and tone of that opposition, and illustrating how this movement both cultivates and plays off a number of caricatures of the 45th President and at times falls prey to a handful of identifiable and repeated errors of thought.
This is nothing new. Supporters and opponents of every high-profile politician in American history have done exactly the same, but in the current cultural atmosphere, where “the truth” is universally, even manically, exalted as an abstract concept but then widely degraded in practice, it’s essential to confront, correct, and analyze patterns of falsehoods like these.
This is not an exhaustive list. For that, and a litany of fact checks of claims made by the President, you can browse the Snope archive on him.
The focus here is on attacks against Trump. So for the purpose of this article, we’re not interested in false claims that are intended to reflect favorably on him. Nor does this analysis address claims made against his family members, of which there have been many. It’s also limited to the period following the inauguration on 20 January. This analysis was primarily based on an in-depth search of our own archives.
MacGuill says that the media’s falsehoods about President Trump are drawn from what they perceive to be the “four public personas” of the president.
- Donald Trump: International Embarrassment
- Trump the Tyrant
- Donald Trump: Bully baby
- Trump the Buffoon.
Some of these claims are downright fake, entirely fabricated by unreliable or dubious web sites and presented as satire, or otherwise blatantly false. But the rest — some of which have gained significant traction and credibility from otherwise serious people and organizations — provide a fascinating insight into the tactics and preoccupations of the broad anti-Trump movement known as “the Resistance,” whether they were created by critics of the President or merely shared by them.
Generally speaking, we discovered that they are characterized and driven by four types of errors of thought:
- A lack of historical context or awareness
- Cherry-picking of evidence (especially visual evidence)
- A failure to adhere to Occam’s Razor — the common-sense understanding that the simplest explanation for an event or behavior is the most likely.
In this example, numerous websites, including Politico, propagated a false narrative that fell into the “Donald Trump: Bully Baby” category:
Appears, in another angle, that he threw it back to the teen who handed it to him. https://t.co/LdEGQR7gvq
— Micah Grimes (@MicahGrimes) April 17, 2017
In an example of “Trump the Buffoon,” Daily Kos, BuzzFeed, The Root, Stephen Colbert and others spread a false narrative about a poem President Trump recited while in Ireland.
In March, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny came to the White House for a traditional St Patrick’s Day visit with the sitting President. During a speech, Trump recited a verse:
As we stand together with our Irish friends, I’m reminded of that proverb — and this is a good one, this is one I like, I’ve heard it for many, many years and I love it:
“Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.”
The response was huge. Almost instantly, Trump was mocked for citing as an Irish proverb a poem written by a Nigerian man. The Daily Kos web site wrote:
[Trump] took his moment to read the following, which he described as an old “Irish proverb”…Within minutes, the true origins of the “Irish proverb” were known and surprise! Not Irish. In fact, the words were from Nigerian poet Albashir Adam Alhassan.
The Root added:
Alhassan was born to Nigerian parents in the Kano State of Nigeria, which, coincidentally, is not Ireland. But according to Trump, it doesn’t matter if a proverb isn’t Irish; he can make it Irish.
Alhassan himself told Buzzfeed:
It’s actually strange. I’m wondering what must have made him relate it to Ireland even if he loves the lines.
Stephen Colbert devoted this three-minute segment to eviscerating what he presented as Trump’s cultural deafness and downright ignorance.
“That’s very nice, that’s very sweet,” Colbert said of Trump’s recitation:
Very sweet thought. Only problem — Trump’s “favorite Irish proverb” is not a proverb, it’s a poem, and it’s not from Ireland, it’s written by a Nigerian poet… Irish, Nigerian — it’s an honest mistake.
Only problem, as Colbert might say, Trump never once claimed the proverb was Irish.
The video of Trump’s remarks has been played countless times, embedded into mocking reports, and retweeted by thousands of people, aghast at his tone-deafness. The clip would have been edited by staff at Late Night for use, and Colbert himself would have heard the President’s words immediately before launching into the segment (which is frankly difficult to watch) in the knowledge that it is based on an entirely fabricated characterization. Not once, apparently, did anyone hear what Trump actually said — “a proverb”, not “an Irish proverb”.
Why would Trump relate the words to the Irish? The answer to the question posed by Albashir Alhassan is once again so simple that it appears to have eluded almost everyone.
“As we stand together with our Irish friends,” is how Trump prefaced his recitation. Now remember what those words were. “Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you.” Standing next to the leader of a country with a long-standing friendly relationship with the United States, accompanied by “Irish friends”, Trump recited a verse about the loyalty of true friends. It makes complete sense for him to have read these words, and not once did he ever describe them as “Irish”.
Set aside the fact that, far from being written in 2013, those words date back at least 80 years; set aside, even, the fact that they appear online in several places, described as an “Irish proverb“. Trump never said they were Irish anyway.
The entire episode is a remarkable example of something bordering on collective hallucination, most likely brought on by confirmation bias. Here hundreds of thousands of people — including professional journalists working for influential news organizations, and a chat show host with more than three million nightly viewers — literally heard Trump say something he never said, in most cases probably because it confirmed a pre-existing image of the President as a poorly read, culturally ignorant buffoon.
There’s much more, although as MacGuill noted, he didn’t provide “an exhaustive list.” To do that would likely have taken up too much time and space because the liberal media has been nothing but a spluttering geyser of fake, anti-Trump “news” stories since he was elected.
It’s no secret that the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal, but they used to do a better job hiding it. The Obama era changed all that.
Hot Air’s John Sexton recently reminded readers about “Journolist,” the infamous media listserv created by Ezra Klein that was leaked to the public in 2009.
The list was invitation only and was mostly made up of progressive journalists. In theory, the list was a kind of digital water cooler where like-minded people could talk to others in the field. That may have been all it was much of the time, but when candidate Obama got in trouble in 2008, it also became a place for partisans to discuss a coordinated media strategy.
The strategies these partisans came up with to confront media stories unhelpful to Obama — kill it, ignore it, call them haters — “seem like media archetypes now,” Sexton sagely noted.
Indeed. How many in-depth stories about the Obama unmasking scandal have you seen in the MSM? About as many as you saw of the Fast and Furious, IRS, and Benghazi scandals. A comparison of the MSM’s minimal coverage of those scandals to their 24/7 blanket coverage of “RussiaGate” reveals a bias so blatant and obvious that even the casual (low info) observer can’t help but notice.
During the Obama years, when right-wing websites and personalities played fast and loose with the facts in their zeal to say something negative about the president, they could expect to be pounced on immediately by media fact-checkers. Now many of the media outlets and personalities smearing the president on a daily basis are members of the mainstream media — not just overtly left-wing websites like “Occupy Democrats” or Daily Kos. They have been accusing the president of lying, while lying about the president, themselves.
It’s encouraging that Snopes is calling the MSM out.