Trump’s shameful legacy includes 30,000+ false & misleading claims

Last year, in my “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” numeracy programs, I focused on the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign. Anchoring the session each time was my “GOlympics” quiz, in which each letter (G-O-L-Y…etc) covers a mathematical principle that intersects with the art of story-telling.

One of those queries:

“Since Donald Trump became President, the Washington Post has tracked false and misleading claims that he has made. In coverage of prior administrations, the Post has tracked a number of previous presidents’ per-day lying habits. How many other presidents’ false and misleading claims have been tracked?”

Usually, people would guess anywhere from two to five prior Presidents. Once or twice, an alert individual would give the correct answer: zero.

Although it’s obvious that prior U.S. Presidents had fibbed in a multitude of manners, it is safe to say that none had ever done so with as much frequency or flagrancy as Trump. But without a more exhaustive analysis, we have no way of knowing with any precision by how many times our 45th President eclipsed his predecessors in the Liar, Liar Pants on Fire department.

About That Number 0

Quick aside about that “zero” answer: my point in crafting what some might consider a “trick” question is that it should not be seen as tricky at all–zero is not only a bona fide number, but it’s immensely important. One reason for its outsized significance is that it can be embedded into misleading or murky communication.

To wit: “The city council member noted that his vote came because a number of people have been complaining about the issue.”

Each time I covered this question during my Go Figure program, I would pose another one that goes to the heart of journalistic ethics: Do you believe the Post should continue this false/misleading tracker with future Presidents? My students, I am glad to report, would answer in the same manner that I would emphatically argue: absolutely yes!

For one thing, Trump has given all future Presidents a benchmark against which they can be measured. Do they have the gall (and stamina and outright detachment from honesty) to utter false or misleading claims upwards of 21 times a day?

Beyond that, though, it’s only appropriate that, in fairness and balance, Biden (and future Presidents) ought to be held to the same standard of forthrightness that we seek in our leaders.

In Praise of The Post

The task of tracking politicians’ statements, and checking them against the truth, is herculean. The Washington Post deserves the highest praise for its effort, as do all others who tackle such a monumental challenge. It is also notable that the Fact Checker’s editor in chief, Glenn Kessler, points out that his team does not fact-check “to influence the behavior of politicians; we write fact checks to inform voters. What voters — or politicians — do with the information in our fact checks is up to them.”

You should check out the Post Fact Checker’s database of Trump’s false and misleading claims. While charting it along a daily and monthly timeline, the newspaper breaks it down by topic, from terrorism and trade to the coronavirus, his own biographical record, and a host of other categories. It is horrifying to behold–and that’s no lie.

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Oh, baby! New year’s news warms weary soul

In my journalism career, I had the opportunity to write about so many subjects—quite literally from A (archaeologists, academics, activists, annual budgets, and an astronaut, just for starters) to Z (maybe a zoo? a zebra? Well, at least some folks had first and last names starting with the 26th letter of the alphabet).

However, I cannot recall ever writing about a New Year’s Baby—that hyper-local staple of journalism that, come every January, chronicles a community or region’s inaugural boy or girl.

Page 1 of the Jan. 8, 2021 edition of the Harlan News-Advertiser. Inside were police reports, high school basketball game accounts, birthday notices for those celebrating their 70th and 90th birthdays, obituaries and other local news and columns.

This all comes to mind on the heels of my 1,000-mile trek last week from Colorado back to Chicagoland. Along the way, at multiple convenience store/gas stations, I encountered local newspapers that were faithfully on the New Year’s baby beat.

I chuckled at the recurring theme and could not resist purchasing one of those editions, the Harlan Advertiser-News in Harlan, Iowa. The front page proclaimed the news of the birth of Maya Louise Scheffler, the fourth child of Megan Gettys and Adam Scheffler. A pretty cool subplot: one local resident won a year’s subscription to the paper ($69 value) by being the closest to predict the precise time of the first area baby’s arrival. Stunningly, JoAnn Bruck of Earling was a mere one minute off the mark.

It may be hard to summon the memory, but can you think back to the closing days of the seemingly never-ending 2020? Were you, like so many of us, anxious to put the trying, terrible, tragic, traumatic year in our rear-view mirror? It was a horrible time in countless ways; too many of us have our stories of woe, me and my family included.

Sadly, 2021 has felt like a colossal doubling-down of 2020. At the heart of its terrible tumult: the heinous insurrection last week at the U.S. Capitol.

From afar, like so many millions of Americans, I witnessed that ugliness with a heavy heart. A few days later, making our way back after a week of blunted restoration near the Rockies, my soul was warmed to see these beaming couples along with their healthy children in those newspaper accounts from across the heartland.

Not sure if you had occasion to come across any similar account. If not, here you go—may it offer you, amidst the madness and brokenness, at least a small measure of hope and joy.

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