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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5 predictions on Trump’s post-coronavirus path

There are super-spreader events, and then, in Trumpworld, there is apparently at least one variation on that coronavirus scourge: a Supreme-spreader event.

How else to characterize the Rose Garden announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court?

No doubt, it is but one of numerous instances where Trump and his inner circle were exposed to the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans. And there’s no telling how many others Trump and his entourage have exposed to the coronavirus.

The most shocking part: that the infections of Trump and a rising number of his inner-circle contingent took this long to happen. (And just watch, the numbers will continue to rise daily–witness Kayleigh McEnany’s positive test disclosure today).

What should happen next, on so many levels, almost certainly will not happen. Humility is not a Donald J. Trump hallmark, with his drive-by wave to visitors outside the Walter Reed Medical Center only the latest case in point.

Here are predictions for some of the truly Trumpian decisions that are likely to follow:

1. Trump will push to get back to the Oval Office sooner than later, and sooner than is medically prudent.

As I write this, it’s 1:15 p.m. CST on Monday, October 5th, and Trump will surely be released from the hospital by this evening. Once doctors said over the weekend that he could come home “as early as” today, then anything less than that, in Trump’s view, would be regarded as “being a wimp.”

So even if it’s against medical advice (maybe especially if it is), Trump will be back at the White House by nightfall. Such a strong, bold leader (will be his spin)!

2. Trump will make outrageous allegations about the source of his illness.

People are out to get him. Someone from the liberal media intentionally sickened him. Or a plant in one of the audiences he spoke to recently. Or someone from “the deep state.” It couldn’t have been Trump’s own arrogant sloppiness and disregard for basic safety precautions that led to his infection. Odds-on chance that Trump picks up more than a few conspiracy theories from his Twitter feed, then cranks them out, conveyer-style, like that hilarious “I Love Lucy”  scene featuring Lucy and Ethel.

3. Trump will make a return to the campaign trail much earlier than is wise.

With only 29 days until Election Day–and every day serving as Election Day with early voting underway–Trump will lose what’s left of his mind if he stays cooped up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for more than a few days.

By this Saturday, Oct. 10th, he will be out and about campaigning again. It fits the archetype of Rough, Tough Trump, who would equate staying home and isolated as a sign of weakness, not wisdom.

4. Most of his rally attendees will be mask-less…still

If you are counting on a surge of mask-wearing among attendees, don’t get your hopes up. Trump will continue to mock masks, and double-down on his contention that the virus is almost beaten. In fact, by his surviving the coronavirus, Trump will make it seem as if he “took one for the team” and somehow has hastened its demise. His rapid recovery (aided by world-class treatment available to virtually nobody else) will be “proof” that the virus really isn’t that bad, after all.

It’s a sure-fire bet that he will wear his illness as a badge of pride, and talk about the COVID-19 in increasingly personal, militaristic terms. Witness the whiplash-fast creation of “Trump Defeats COVID” commemorative coins on the White House Gift Shop website. For someone who ducked military service, this illness is a perverse sort of substitutionary atonement.

5. Trump will push to debate Democratic nominee Joe Biden on October 22nd.

Trump won’t be able to debate on October 15th, though he will make a big show of being ready, willing and prepared to be there. So the 22nd will represent his last, biggest chance to command center stage before Election Day, and he knows that he bombed in that first debate last week.

Barring a turn for the worse that all but incapacitates Trump, he will make that debate at Belmont University in Nashville, even if he has to be carried onto the stage. He will be as fiery (and filled with falsehoods), perhaps more so than ever before.

An image from the first debate on Sept. 29 between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump almost assuredly had been infected by the coronavirus by this point.

He will again mock Biden’s mask-wearing precautions, while making the first debate last week seem tame by comparison.

In short, it will all be business as usual. Trump will more fully immerse himself in the parallel universe of his own imagination. In that realm, he can do no wrong, the election is rigged, and the world revolves around him and his own self-delusion and selfishness.

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Hazy on number of masked Trump rally-goers in Tulsa? Media failed to zero in on the figure

Before President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa this past Saturday evening, I predicted that 2 percent of those in attendance would be wearing masks as a precaution against catching the COVID-19 coronavirus. (You can find my forecast here, on my “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” page.)

Of the approximately 45 people in this frame, three are wearing masks–roughly the same proportion that I found in reviewing 20 photos that I took of the TV screen during Trump’s rally.

Having heard that the capacity was 20,000 at the BOK Center (it’s actually 19,200), I computed that 2 percent figure to amount to 400 folks. After all, the Trump team was trumpeting a crowd so packed that it was going to require Agent Orange to share remarks outdoors in addition to his indoor rally, so that he could acknowledge those who couldn’t get inside the arena.

Turns out, I was wrong on both counts—massively overestimating Trump’s drawing power and, to my happy surprise, underestimating his followers’ sense of caution.

Let’s examine the first data point: turnout.

According to the Associated Press, about one-third of the seats were empty, while The New York Times coverage offered that “at least” one-third of the arena seats went unfilled. The operative part of that phrase is “at least,” as Tulsa fire officials later provided an estimate that there were just under 6,200 attendees. That latter figure, if accurate, means that more than two-thirds of the arena was empty.

The Trump camp disputes those figures, saying that it was at least 12,000 people who came. At any rate, let’s move onto my masking estimate. It’s derived from a cross-section of 20 photographs that I took of my television when C-SPAN panned to the audience during the last hour of Trump’s nearly two-hour talk.

Of the roughly 375 people in the still images that I reviewed, 28 appear to have been wearing masks. It would have been 30, but one couple (below, to Trump’s left) had their masks dangling below their chins—there’s no telling whether they were masked for most of the event.

Those 28 (to 30) represent a roughly 7- to 8-percent masked rate. Even accounting for a margin of error from this unscientific sampling, it’s hard to imagine the figure dropping below 5 percent for the entire arena, let alone going as low as my pre-event 2 percent projection.

To mask or not to mask? Who cares, anyway?

Well, for one thing, it was one of the questions that served as a hot, controversial topic in the days leading up to Trump’s visit to Oklahoma, his first rally in 110 days. Public health officials urged the President not to hold the rally. Indeed, in the context of all sorts of daily life spaces, wearing a mask (or not) is a subject of intense interest and debate across the country.

Consequently, I would have expected that news media accounts would have gone beyond the cursory general observations about the proportion of people who wore masks.

Without a doubt, hats outnumbered masks–as did beards and other staples of Trump-mania.

Instead, we got this hazy accounting from The New York Times: “Many of the thousands of Trump supporters at the rally did not wear masks or stand six feet apart — health precautions that Mr. Trump himself has ignored.” 

And an equally unambitious excerpt from USA Today: “Most of the attendees at the rally were not wearing masks, nor were social distancing guidelines observed.”

“Many” and “most” fall far short of painting the picture: by my count, more than 9 out of 10, and perhaps as many as 19 out of every 20 individuals, was mask-less. But I was watching on TV—these publications had people on the scene.

To be clear, wearing a mask is no guarantee of safety. But there is broad medical consensus that doing so lowers the likelihood of transmission, particularly from the mask wearers to those around them. So, for as long as it is a public-health matter, enterprising journalists or other observers should take the effort to provide a more precise estimate of these gatherings as the Election 2020 campaign unfolds.

Vague phrasings such as “many” or “most” going without masks—or whatever the case may be at future Trump rallies—is just sloppy, lazy reporting. The same, simple arithmetical assignment goes for journalists covering presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign gatherings, whenever those may occur.

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Strange Times in Oak Park: Responding to a Rant Straight Out of the Trumpian Playbook

There are times when you cannot stay on the sidelines, but must get into the fray. Over the past three years, the (mis)behavior and all-around despicable activities of Donald Trump have prompted me to write several letters and this blog post about our Liar-and-Scofflaw-in-Chief.

And this past week, on a more local level, I was moved to respond to a local elected official here in Oak Park, Ill. Below you can see excerpts from Trustee Susan Buchanan’s tirade:

Go here for the full meeting video, with the three-hour, five-minute mark a helpful spot to pick up the proceedings. Observing that portion of the meeting allows fuller context for the exchange between Trustee Buchanan and others on the board.

Trustee Buchanan’s behavior was downright “Trumpian,” as I note at the end of my letter to the editor of the Oak Leaves, a Chicago Tribune-owned publication, and the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, which crafted the headline, `Shut up’ is a system of oppression.

You can also read the letter (as published by the Oak Leaves) below:

It was deeply dismaying to see the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees meeting on October 7. That’s the one in which Trustee Susan Buchanan told other (white male) trustees to “shut up” and “stop it,” among other offensive remarks, as they tried to speak on revisions to the village diversity statement.

This was no momentary outburst, but a sustained table-pounding, finger-pointing diatribe that occupied the better part of four minutes. The irony and hypocrisy are thick; the topic was the diversity statement—wherein the board affirms its commitment to, um, a variety of viewpoints, among other lofty aspirations.

To place Trustee Buchanan’s misbehavior in broader context: in over six years of serving on local government boards, I have never witnessed anything remotely resembling such a scene. Further, in my 20 years as a former journalist covering hundreds of local government meetings—including some that were wildly dysfunctional—the only close analogy would be the three-ring circus that was the Town of Cicero’s public proceedings. And even by that measure, Trustee Buchanan established a new low for conduct.

Setting aside her troubling behavior for a moment, consider the utter lack of logic that Trustee Buchanan exhibited. In her view, white men (and perhaps women?), should be constrained from voicing their perspectives on issues that, presumably, have not personally harmed them in their lives.

The brilliant “Civil Discurs-O-Matic,” as illustrated by Marc Stopeck of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest.

I, for one, reject the belief that the Village Board should apply such a superficial standard to determine if he or she is “qualified” to speak on a topic.

Trustee Buchanan’s cynical tactic could have come right out of the Trumpian playbook: seize on differences in gender, race, and any other characteristics as a cudgel to silence and diminish others and their points of view.

Unsurprisingly, I am far from the only one who has taken deep offense to the trustee’s remarks. Special kudos to Marc “White Enough” Stopeck of the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest, who captured my sentiments through his spot-on, detailed cartoon (above).

A markedly different video than the above clip, by the way, is my 2011 “Oak Park’s Own” interview of Stopeck,

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Trump: A Reflection & Indictment of Our Times

A few weeks ago, a funny thought occurred to me: maybe President Trump is the perfect leader for our times.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I don’t mean funny in the “ha-ha” sense, since the closest Trump’s administration can be linked to humor is that it has been one protracted punch line in an utterly, outrageously cosmic joke.

And I don’t mean perfect in the “apex of moral code and personal conduct” sense, since it has been exhaustively documented beyond a shadow of Fake News doubt that Trump is quite the opposite.

But a few truths flashed across my mind and provided a glimpse into how Trump can be seen as Quintessentially American, 2019 Edition. So I was inspired to write a piece, “Trump is a Reflection and Indictment of Our Times,” that the Daily Herald recently published as a letter to the editor.

If clicking on the link isn’t for you (or if you are coming upon this post well into the future, and the link is perhaps no longer in effect), here is my opinion piece in its entirety:

Consider: most phone calls are from spammers trying to sell or bait or otherwise trick us into forking over money for questionable products, at best. Sure sounds like Trump and his long scandal- and scoundrel-tinged history of dubious business dealings.

Most social-media posts are an incomplete reflection of life, at best. And it is not breaking new ground to note that social media has been manipulated to sow discord and division. Again, that is reminiscent of a certain orange-haired septuagenarian whose last name rhymes with “stump.”

And most people don’t dedicate nearly enough time to expanding their minds by reading anything that requires intellectual rigor or may challenge the worldview they have developed thus far in life. By a zillion accounts, there are few things that more aptly describe President Trump than the above statement.

In short, this country has grown soft and fat. Ergo, Donald J. Trump is on his rightful throne as the King of Soft and Fat. He’s soft mentally (Holy Toledo!), he’s bloated temperamentally (Unholy Twitter feed!) and let’s stop there, since I won’t resort to his (highly ironical) penchant for body-shaming.

For too long in our culture, we have settled for the shortcut and self-deception. Likewise, we settled for Trump as president.

Will this menace continue to retain support from a majority of Republicans and Republican leaders, whether it’s grudgingly, cynically, ignorantly, gleefully or otherwise? Or will a breaking point be reached between now and the Republican National Convention next August?

We already have a clear view of the president’s character. Between now and then, we will learn more about the character of America, and especially the Republican Party, in its response to “Donald being Donald.”

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