When the American Press Institute hosted a fact-checking summit in Washington, D.C. this week, one presidential candidate’s name came up more than any other.
Yes, it was Donald Trump’s.
“You can’t have a meeting of fact-checkers and not talk about Trump,” PolitiFact executive director Aaron Sharockman said.
The Washington Post columnist Glenn Kessler said that “people kept apologizing for mentioning his name.” Someone even joked about imposing a limit on the number of times attendees could say “Trump.”
The Trump-heavy focus of the gathering probably isn’t surprising, given that he has been dominating the presidential race this year.
Trump’s resilient poll numbers have confounded many pundits who expected him to be undone by a laundry list of comments that have been both incendiary and inaccurate. Some observers have even wondered if Trump’s candidacy marks the beginning of a “post-truth” era in American politics.
But while Trump hasn’t suffered much political fallout for his untruths, he has kept fact-checkers like Kessler and Sharockman busy.
Ever since he launched his campaign in June, Trump has repeatedly racked up the lowest possible fact-checking ratings employed at the Washington Post and PolitiFact.
Trump earned “four Pinocchios” from the Washington Post for comments about Mexican immigrants and crime, while PolitiFact awarded him a “pants on fire” rating for his claim to have witnessed “thousands” of people in New Jersey cheering on 9/11.
“Trump is an interesting case for us, because he’s such an untraditional politician,” Sharockman said. “All you have to do is watch his campaign rallies. His talks appear largely unscripted and are often meandering. It’s a stream-of-consciousness style that you don’t see elsewhere on the trail. And, frankly, I think it leads to factual errors.”
Virtually none of the fact-checking efforts have chastened Trump, of course. He has vehemently defended his assertion about the massive 9/11 celebrations, despite there being no evidence to support the claim.
Kessler said Trump is unusual “in that he seems to celebrate his misstatements and refuses to ever to admit to an error.”
“But his falsehoods are so easily exposed that he is relatively easy to cover,” Kessler said. “The main challenge is avoid constantly fact checking him.”
Sharockman, however, said that Trump’s reaction to fact-checkers is “typical.”
“Trying to ignore or discredit fact-checkers is a quality that spreads to politicians of all stripes,” Sharockman said. “The fact is people running for elected office would probably rather not have us around. So Trump’s reaction isn’t really all that atypical. Louder? Sure.”
At any rate, neither Kessler nor Sharockman are dismayed by Trump’s ability to weather their criticism.
“The fact checks are written to inform voters, not to influence politicians,” Kessler said.
Sharockman put it a bit differently.
“If you become a fact-checker hoping that politicians start telling the truth,” he said, “you’re going to have your heart broken.”