Trump 'Lies,' Biden 'Slips' -- But Fact Checks Tell Different Story

Trump 'Lies,' Biden 'Slips' -- But Fact Checks Tell Different Story
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Trump 'Lies,' Biden 'Slips' -- But Fact Checks Tell Different Story
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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When a politician stretches the truth, did he “misspeak” or did he “lie”? The way in which fact-checkers frame the hyperbole and falsehoods that typically define the political sphere tells us a lot about the fractured state of society, but the narrative of Donald Trump as an unparalleled serial liar appears at odds with actual fact-checking verdicts.

CNN summarized the partisan divide best when it argued this week that “[Joe] Biden's misspeaks, misrememberings and other gaffes are not the same as Trump's purposeful daily assaults on the truth” and that voters must distinguish between “Biden's slips” and Trump’s “cavalcade of lies.”

Fact-checkers have often adopted a similar distinction in their editorialized headlines, labeling Trump’s errors as “bizarre,” “baffling,” “bungles” and “whoppers” whereas his predecessor Barack Obama’s were merely “misleading” or “cherry-picked.”

When it comes to the actual verdicts fact-checkers have assigned to Trump’s claims, does he actually fare any worse than Biden at the truth?

Looking at the eight fact-checked claims in the RealClear Fact Check Review attributed directly to Joe Biden over the last four months (not including ones from his campaign or surrogates), three were given the verdict of “False,” two were “Mostly False (Misleading),” and there was one each of “Distorts the Facts (Misleading),” “Not What Plan Says,” and “Three Pinocchios.”

Of the 37 fact-checked claims attributed directly to Donald Trump, 14 were labeled “False,” seven were “Misleading,” four were “Exaggerated (Misleading),” three were “True,” two were “Mostly False (Misleading),” and one each was “Correct Attribution (Misleading),” “Distorts the Facts (Misleading),” “False (Lack of Evidence),” “Half True (Misleading),” “Mostly False,” “Mostly False (Misleading) (Lack Of Evidence)” and “Three Pinocchios.”

While it is difficult to directly compare such a wide range of verdicts -- and Trump’s number of fact checks far exceeds Biden’s -- it is worth noting that both candidates had 38% of their claims labeled “False”; 46% of Trump’s statements were merely “misleading” in the view of the fact-checker (rather than false) compared with 38% of Biden’s. And 8% of Trump’s statements were judged to be true versus none of Biden’s.

In contrast to CNN’s depiction of Trump as an unrestrained liar and the vivid language used in fact-check headlines, when it comes down to the actual verdicts, it seems fact-checkers haven’t measured Trump’s statements over the last four months to be significantly worse than those of Biden.

Explore the Fact Check Review yourself.  

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

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