The Washington Post Sunday

Year-end roundup:

- Glenn.kessler@washpost.com

A look at the biggest Pinocchios of 2018.

It’s time for our annual roundup of the biggest Pinocchios of the year.

Once again, we face the challenge posed by President Trump, who could easily dominate this list if we’re not careful. There has been no serial exaggerato­r in recent American politics like the president. He not only consistent­ly makes false claims but also repeats them, even though they have been proved wrong.

We wanted to keep this list to nine statements and four midterm campaign commercial­s, so in two cases we combined a series of Trump statements into two all-around categories, “flights of fantasy” and “caravan of claims.” Maybe that’s cheating, but we can’t let the president dominate everything, can we?

Meanwhile, the midterm election campaign, of course, was also an endless source of false claims, as an avalanche of negative ads tumbled across television­s screens. One of the president’s ads is included on this list.

We also have a bonus award for Pinocchio-thievery this year.

In compiling this list, which is in no particular order, we mostly focused on claims that earned Four Pinocchios during the year. To keep it simple, in some cases, we have shortened the quotes in the headlines.

‘There was no knowledge of any payments’

The president and his aides denied for months any knowledge of hush-money payments before the 2016 election to women who alleged that they had affairs with Donald Trump. But the lie slowly unraveled over the course of 2018, earning the president’s lawyer a jail term and imperiling the presidency. At first, Trump’s aides said he had no knowledge of the payments. Michael Cohen, his attorney, then said he had used his own funds to make the payoffs, but Trump still insisted he knew nothing about it. Then the White House said Trump had been aware of “the general arrangemen­t.” Trump tweeted that it was related to a monthly retainer, not the campaign. But that was false; Cohen had sought and received reimbursem­ent from the Trump Organizati­on. Cohen eventually admitted that the payments were intended to aid Trump’s presidenti­al campaign.

Presidenti­al flights of fantasy

Trump says many things that are factually incorrect, but he sometimes says things that are mind-blowingly false. He has repeatedly claimed that U.S. Steel announced it is building new plants — anywhere from six to nine — but that’s not true. He said that as president, Barack Obama gave citizenshi­p to 2,500 Iranians during the nuclear-deal negotiatio­ns, but that’s not true. Over and over, Trump claimed that the Uzbek-born man who in 2017 was accused of killing eight people with a pickup truck in New York brought two dozen relatives to the United States through “chain migration.” The real number is zero. Finally, Trump has repeatedly attacked Sen. Richard Blumenthal (DConn.) over his Vietnam record, saying Blumenthal claimed to have fought in Danang (false) and that Blumenthal for 15 years described himself as a “war hero” (false). Caravan of claims Trump’s fixation on the U.S.Mexico border has dominated the news cycle this year and certainly added to his tally of false claims. Trump and his aides claimed they did not have a family separation policy, when in fact they did. They said U.S. laws or court rulings forced them to separate families that crossed the border illegally, but that was not true. When a caravan of more than 5,000 migrants from Central America started making its way to the border, another series of dubious claims was spawned, including that people of Middle Eastern descent were involved. The president also falsely claimed that he had started building his border wall.

‘The Democrats colluded with the Russians’

Throughout the special counsel’s investigat­ion of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the president has sought to deflect attention by asserting that the Democrats were the ones colluding with Russia. But Trump has little evidence to make his case, which largely rests on the fact that the firm hired by Democrats to examine Trump’s Russia ties, Fusion GPS, at the same time was working to defend a Russian company in U.S. court. In fact, U.S. intelligen­ce agencies found that Russian entities hacked Democratic leaders’ email accounts during the campaign, and the special counsel has indicted 12 Russian intelligen­ce officers.

‘Kavanaugh sent a dog whistle for going after birth control’

During the confirmati­on hearings on Brett M. Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) took aim at comments he made regarding “abortion-inducing drugs” while discussing a case brought by an antiaborti­on religious group challengin­g Affordable Care Act rules on providing employees health coverage for contracept­ion. In a highly misleading tweet, she included a video that snipped out a key part of his statement. But a plain reading of Kavanaugh’s answer during the hearings shows that it was broadly consistent with his written opinion. From the context, it is clear he was quoting the views of the plaintiffs rather than offering a personal view.

‘Forty percent of the guns are sold without any background checks’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) resurrecte­d a “zombie” statistic we thought we had buried long ago. Gun-control activists had long used this number, but it was based on stale data from two decades prior. New research shows that 22 percent of gun owners reported obtaining a firearm without background checks. Moreover, among purchased firearms, the figure was 13 percent. That’s one-third of Sanders’s 40 percent claim. Firearms acquired as gifts or via inheritanc­e accounted for a large share of the weapons obtained without background checks.

‘DOJ initiated the request for the citizenshi­p question’

More than a dozen states and cities and a range of groups have sued to block the Trump administra­tion from adding a question about a person’s citizenshi­p to the 2020 Census. They say it’s a ruse by the Trump administra­tion to weaken the political power of heavily Democratic states with large immigrant population­s. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in sworn testimony before Congress, said the Justice Department initiated the request to add a citizenshi­p question to beef up enforcemen­t of the Voting Rights Act. But emails released as part of the court challenge show that Ross worked behind the scenes to add the citizenshi­p question months before the Justice Department sent a formal request. In other words, Justice was taking its cues from Ross all along — the opposite of what he told Congress. ‘Saudi Arabia ordered $450 billion from the United States’

Trump repeatedly has inflated the gains from his 2017 trip to Saudi Arabia, upping the amount from $350 billion to $450 billion when he came under fire for defending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. According to the CIA, Mohammed probably ordered the killing of Washington Post contributi­ng columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The administra­tion, even with double counting, could document only $270 billion in tentative agreements. Separately, Trump inflated the job estimates from these purported investment­s. Many would be in Saudi Arabia, an indication that few jobs would be created for Americans.

‘The Russians are in Florida’s voting records’

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), facing a tight reelection race, claimed that Russia had access to Florida’s election systems and could purge voters from the rolls. He offered no evidence, and we could not find any backing him up. When challenged on his claim, Nelson retreated to a safe space: That’s classified. But all federal, state and local election officials and law enforcemen­t agencies contradict­ed his explosive claim. The threat posed by Russia to U.S. election integrity is real, but lawmakers shouldn’t spread falsehoods. Nelson narrowly lost his race after a recount.

‘Democrats let him into our country’

Just before the midterm elections, Trump promoted a campaign ad on border security based entirely on a false narrative — that Democrats were responsibl­e for allowing a police-killer into the United States. The reality is that Luis Bracamonte­s sneaked over the border under both a Democrat (Bill Clinton) and a Republican (George W. Bush) and was deported under both presidents. He returned again when a Republican (Bush) was president. Then he remained in the country through Barack Obama’s term — but it was a Republican local official who dropped the pending case.

‘Shocking FBI affidavit shows Menendez slept with underage prostitute­s’

In an 11th-hour attack ad, Republican senatorial hopeful Bob Hugin suggested there was “shocking” FBI evidence that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) had slept with underage sex workers. But the FBI affidavit cited in the ad simply listed allegation­s from a shadowy tipster that the FBI said it could not confirm. The FBI added that no minors could be identified. Indeed, The Washington Post had reported that the CIA and FBI had received intelligen­ce that Cuba fabricated the tipster claims as part of a cloak-anddagger operation to tar Menendez, a political foe. The ad did not pay off for Hugin, who was swamped by Menendez.

‘If you have a preexistin­g condition, Brian Fitzpatric­k sold you out’

Many moderate Republican lawmakers put their careers on the line by voting for the GOP plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act — a bet that backfired. But Rep. Brian Fitzpatric­k (RPa.) was not one of them. He voted against the repeal bill, but that did not stop the Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee from running a highly misleading ad that used minor procedural votes to claim that Fitzpatric­k “sold out” people with preexistin­g health conditions. The DCCC’s gambit did not pay off, however. Fitzpatric­k was reelected. ‘Cocaine Mitch’ In a crude and incendiary attack ad, senatorial hopeful Don Blankenshi­p attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as “Cocaine Mitch” during the Republican primary in West Virginia. What was his evidence? Actually, he had none. He could point only to the fact that authoritie­s in Colombia in 2014 had found 40 packages of cocaine, or about 90 pounds, aboard the Ping May, a bulk carrier with 91,385 tons of cargo capacity owned by New York shipping company Foremost Group. No one was ever charged. What’s the connection to McConnell? He is married to Transporta­tion Secretary Elaine Chao, whose family owns Foremost. Blankenshi­p finished a distant third in the primary but did bequeath to McConnell a memorable nickname.

Special award for Pinocchio thievery

During the midterm election campaign, at least seven Republican lawmakers under fire for their votes to repeal Obamacare tried to mislead voters about our fact checks. Somewhere, somehow, a memo must have gone out to Republican­s who voted for the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare: If you are attacked for underminin­g protection­s for people with existing health problems, jab back by saying the claim got Four Pinocchios from The Washington Post. But that was not true. In the end, the gambit did not work, as five of the seven lost their reelection bids.

 ?? JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Demonstrat­ors gather outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections headquarte­rs as election workers sorted and recounted ballots. In his failed bid for reelection, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said without evidence that Russians had access to the state’s election systems.
JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST Demonstrat­ors gather outside the Broward County Supervisor of Elections headquarte­rs as election workers sorted and recounted ballots. In his failed bid for reelection, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) said without evidence that Russians had access to the state’s election systems.
 ?? CAROLYN VAN HOUTEN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Rodney Scott, chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, looks out toward Tijuana, Mexico, in April as some of his agents respond to a call in the distance. Many of the year’s false claims related to the U.S.-Mexico border and the migrant caravan that approached it this fall.
CAROLYN VAN HOUTEN/THE WASHINGTON POST Rodney Scott, chief of the Border Patrol's San Diego sector, looks out toward Tijuana, Mexico, in April as some of his agents respond to a call in the distance. Many of the year’s false claims related to the U.S.-Mexico border and the migrant caravan that approached it this fall.
 ??  ?? The Fact Checker GLENN KESSLER
The Fact Checker GLENN KESSLER

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States