Now that Donald Trump is president, our “fact checkers” have gone into overdrive. Every day, they crank out news stories purporting to correct Trump’s errors. More often than not, the “fact checkers” are merely relating the other side–the Democratic Party’s side–of the story.
This story by Politifact is typical: “Fact-checking President Donald Trump’s Florida rally.” Politifact claims to correct five things that Trump said:
Trump takes Jefferson out of context
Trump used the words of President Thomas Jefferson to make the case that the media, and newspapers, are illegitimate.
Wrong. Trump made the case that the news media are biased and frequently lie about him. Which is true.
“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” Trump quoted Jefferson as saying on June 14, 1807. That quote checks out.
It checks out, and it is not “out of context.” Trump actually quoted a little more of the letter, and you can read the whole thing here. The context merely elaborates on the theme, e.g., Jefferson also wrote:
I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.
So Politifact should have simply scored Trump’s quotation of Jefferson “true.” What justifies saying it was “out of context”? Twenty years earlier, Jefferson had said something different about newspapers:
But it’s not the whole story on Jefferson.
In 1787, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington and presented a seemingly different opinion.
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” Jefferson wrote. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”
Those statements, while certainly more pro-newspaper, are not a “different opinion” from Jefferson’s judgment twenty years later that “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.” And, in any event, Jefferson’s saying something different on another occasion does not render Trump’s quotation “out of context,” misleading, or in any way inappropriate. Score: 1-0, Trump.
Trump misleads on saving the F-35 contract
Trump told the thousands at his rally that he turned around a troubled contract for the F-35 that had been “seven years late, hundreds of billions of dollars over budget.”
Trump said he negotiated for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin to shave “hundreds of millions of dollars off the price.”
That’s a line he’s used before. It’s Mostly False.
Really? This is what Lockheed Martin said about Trump’s role:
We’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense for the next 90 F-35 aircraft. The agreement represents $728 million in savings and a nearly 8 percent reduction in price over our last contract for the air vehicle delivered by Lockheed Martin and our industry partners. The increase in the number of aircraft in this agreement enables us to reduce costs by taking advantage of economies of scale and production efficiencies.
President Trump’s personal involvement in the F-35 program accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price. The agreement was reached in a matter of weeks and represents significant savings over previous contracts.
So Lockheed Martin agrees with Trump. Politifact argues that the savings were already in the pipeline, and that per-aircraft costs would be expected to decline as production ramps up, which may be part of what is going on here. So they argue that Trump shouldn’t really get all the credit. Fine. That is the Democratic Party’s perspective. But to say Trump is “mostly false” when he precisely echoes Lockheed Martin’s account is ridiculous. Score: 2-0, Trump.
Trump wrong on vetting refugees
Defending his stalled immigration ban, Trump said “there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was nothing.”
Trump has said this before. It’s False. A refugee vetting system does exist and has existed since 1980.
That is true. If Trump had said vetting was inadequate, he would have been correct. But to say there was “no documentation. There was nothing” is an exaggeration. Score: 2-1, Trump.
Trump spins polls on optimism
Trump bashed polls that showed he would lose the 2016 election, but he celebrated polls showing an increase in optimism.
“Look at what’s happening to every poll when it comes to optimism in our country,” Trump said. “It’s sweeping across the country.”
Yes, that is correct. In fact, Politifact admits that Trump is right:
Backing up Trump’s case is Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, which shows Americans more confident about the country’s economic outlook. Take a look:
Much more polling data could be cited to the same effect, e.g., many more Americans say the country is on the right track following Trump’s inauguration. So what’s the problem?
There is support for Trump’s point, but it ignores other polling that highlights a more pessimistic view.
Conversely, 57 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the country’s standing in the world. That’s the highest that number has been in a decade, according to Gallup. And Trump’s approval rating, of 41 percent, is lower at this point than any other president Gallup has tracked since Dwight Eisenhower.
So what? Those polls don’t contradict Trump’s statement about optimism. Again, Policifact simply presents the Democratic Party’s contrary perspective–one could say, the Democrats’ alternative facts–to conclude that Trump is “spinning.” Here, Trump told the truth, and Politifact spun. Score: 3-1, Trump.
Trump spins immigration ban ties to Obama
Trump defended his immigration ban by maintaining that his ban applies to “countries picked by Obama.”
As Politifact goes on to acknowledge, Trump was right. The seven countries covered by his travel order were the ones identified by the Obama administration as “countries of concern.” But Politifact isn’t content to acknowledge that Trump was correct. Instead, it counters with its own spin:
But that misses context about the actions of the Obama administration. … Trump’s action goes much further and includes banning people who have a valid visa to enter the United States.
But no one said that Trump’s order was the same as one already promulgated by Obama. That would really be a scoop! Of course Trump’s order went farther; that was the point. All Trump said was that the seven countries covered by his order were “picked by Obama” as “countries of concern.” Which is true. Score: 4-1, Trump.
We could go through this exercise multiple times every day. Correcting the Democratic Party “fact checkers” would be a full-time job that I don’t plan to undertake. Suffice it to say that Trump is more often right than are the press’s purported fact checkers who pretend to correct him.