I finally grabbed a barf bag and read the New York Times attack piece from the weekend titled “A Week of Whoppers.” Silly me: Donald Trump lies so often that I simply took it on faith that the Times would have no trouble finding real and substantive lies to expose from The Donald. Instead, what I found were a few genuine lies of no great significance lumpod with statements that were obviously not meant literally, off-the-cuff remarks that any objective listener would assume were just generalizations, self-evident hyperbole, or opinion. None rose to the level of outright attempts to deceive on the magnitude of “I never sent or received classified material,” or “wiped? Like with a cloth?”
Needless to say, but I’ll still say it, none came within a Washington mile of lies like “I did not have sex with that woman,” which is one Hillary Clinton attempted to facilitate. It is depressing that any reporter, editor or reader would find the analysis that all 31 of these alleged “lies by Trump were “lies” fair, rational or convincing. Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman prove themselves to be partisan hacks with this weak piece of anti-Trump hype. The statements flagged here are so clearly the result of a concerted anti-Trump bias that editors must have assumed that few would actually read them, and just take the headline and sheer size of the feature as proof that the Times had legitimately proven massive dishonesty.
And it had: its own.
Here are all 31 alleged Trump “lies,” with the Ethics Alarms verdicts on each.
1. He said a supportive crowd chanted, “Let him speak!” when a black pastor in Flint, Mich., asked Mr. Trump not to give a political speech in the church.
Fox News interview, Sept. 15.
There were no such chants.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Unproven. Who knows what Trump heard, or what someone said or may have told trump someone said. The fair assumption would be that this is a mistake on Trump’s part, not a lie.
2. “I was against going into the war in Iraq.” Speech in Florida, Sept. 19.
This is not getting any truer with repetition. He never publicly expressed opposition to the war before it began, and he made supportive remarks to Howard Stern.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Since Trump (this time) didn’t say he was always against the war, this is not a provable lie as worded. “He never publicly expressed opposition to the war before it began” proves nothing. If I say “I’ve always admired James K. Polk,” would Burns and Haberman say I was lying because I never publicly expressed admiration of Polk in the past? Well, if I was a Republican running against Hillary, probably so.
3. He said any supportive comments he made about the Iraq war came “long before” the war began.
Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
He expressed support for the war in September 2002, when Congress was debating whether to authorize military action.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Again, unless they can show that Trump was saying what he didn’t believe himself, it’s not a lie or a “whopper.” Lies are intentional untruths told to deceive. How can you write a column about lies when you don’t know what a lie is?
4. He said he had publicly opposed the Iraq war in an Esquire interview “pretty quickly after the war started.” Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
The Esquire interview appeared in the August 2004 edition, 17 months after the war began.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: I hate to be picky, but lies 2-6 on this list are essentially the same alleged lie. As for this one, “pretty quickly” is not susceptible to fact-checking. Who knows what Trump regards as “pretty quickly”? It was 12 months ago: we all compress time in our imperfect memories. Again, there is no proof that this is a “lie.” It doesn’t matter that people who talk and reason as sloppily as Trump think it’s a lie: the job of journalists is to clarify, not further obscure.
5. Before the Iraq invasion, he said, he had told the Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto something “pretty close” to: “Don’t go in, and don’t make the mistake of going in.” Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
Not remotely close. He told Mr. Cavuto that President George W. Bush had to take decisive action.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Boy, these are really lame accusations! So Trump doesn’t remember exactly what he told Neil Cavuto. I was interviewed by Cavuto some time ago, and less time than has elapsed since Trump’s interview. I have no idea what I said to Neil. If I took a guess and was wrong, would I be lying?
6. He said that when Howard Stern asked him about Iraq in 2002, it was “the first time the word Iraq was ever mentioned to me.” Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
Mr. Trump expressed alarm about Saddam Hussein and the situation in Iraq in 2000 in his own book.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: FOUL. Trump was obviously talking about the Iraq war in reference to Stern, not Iraq generally. Why don’t the reporters point out that they can prove Trump studied Iraq in 5th grade geography? That would be about as legitimate an argument that he’s lying here.
7. “You see what’s happening with my poll numbers with African-Americans. They’re going, like, high.” Speech in North Carolina, Sept. 20; made same claim in Ohio, Sept. 21.
Polls show him winning virtually no support from African-Americans.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Trump isn’t lying because he looks at different polls than the Times. This is really bottom-of-the-barrel smearing.
8. “Almost, it seems, everybody agrees” with his position on immigration. Remarks in Texas, Sept. 17.
Most Americans oppose his signature positions on immigration.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This one is particularly outrageous. A phrase as vague as “Almost, it seems” cannot support the claim of lying! What are Trump’s “signature positions on illegal immigration?” That it’s illegal? That it needs to stop? A majority of Americans agree with that. The article’s statement is as much of a lie as Trump’s!
9. He has made “a lot of progress” with Hispanic and black voters, and “you see that in the polls.” Fred Dicker radio show, Sept. 15.
No major poll has shown him making up significant ground with black or Hispanic voters.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Did Trump say “major polls”? He said polls. All this says is that he sees progress in the polls. You can’t prove he doesn’t, so you can’t call this a lie.
10. He was “never a fan” of Colin Powell. Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
In his book “The America We Deserve,” he named Mr. Powell as among the “best and brightest” in American society.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: …which does not make Trump a “fan.” I could and will say honestly that “Barry Bonds was one of the best players in baseball history,” and also that I was never a fan of his, since he was a lying, cheating fraud. Nor do the reporters know how Trump felt about Powell when he wrote that assessment.
11. Mr. Trump said that after The Times published an article scrutinizing his relationships with women, “All the women came out and said they think Donald Trump is terrific.” Fox News interview, Sept. 18.
Only one woman who was quoted in the article came to his defense after its publication.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Pure hyperbole and a self-evident generalization. Not meant to deceive, and not a lie.
12. “Unlike other people” who only raise money for themselves during presidential campaigns, he also raises money for the Republican Party.
Fox News interview, Sept. 15.
Every presidential nominee forms a joint fund-raising agreement to share money with his or her national party.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Like many Trump statements, this is probably just ignorance. Ignorance isn’t lying.
13. In the primaries, Mr. Kasich “won one and, by the way, didn’t win it by much — that was Ohio.” Fox News interview, Sept. 19.
Mr. Kasich crushed him in Ohio, winning by 11 percentage points.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Oh, for heaven’s sake. Seriously? Seriously? Trump is “lying” because he regards 11 points as “not much” and the Times calls it “crushing?”
14. Lester Holt, the NBC anchor and debate moderator, “is a Democrat.” Fox News interview, Sept. 19.
Mr. Holt is a registered Republican, New York City records show.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Holt is black and is a journalist. I assumed he was a Democrat too. Knock me over with a feather! Does that mean I was lying? Gee, do you think Holt voted for Obama twice? How one is registered does not, moreover, necessarily prove what one’s partisan leanings are. Trump may well be correct.
15. The presidential debate moderators “are all Democrats.” “It’s a very unfair system.” Fox News interview, Sept. 19.
Only one, Chris Wallace of Fox News, is a registered Democrat.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Uh-huh. Trump means they are all probably liberals and biased to the left. He’s almost certainly correct, but even if it’s not an entirely accurate rationalization, it’s pretty close, and not a lie. It’s less misleading than the Times’ statement, which is deceit.
16. He said it “hasn’t been reported” that Mrs. Clinton called some Trump supporters “deplorable.”
Speech in North Carolina, Sept. 20.
It would be difficult to find a news organization that didn’t report her remark.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: I’ll give this one to the Times, I suppose. That’s one out of 16 so far.
17. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy. I finished it.” Remarks in Washington, Sept. 16.
Mrs. Clinton and her campaign never publicly questioned President Obama’s birthplace; Mr. Trump made it his signature cause for five years.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This is not a lie, even though the news media tried to spin it as one. I wrote about this here. Note the Times’ Clintonesque use of “publicly,” as if under-the-radar efforts to spread rumors don’t count.
18. Mrs. Clinton had “the power and the duty” to stop the release of unauthorized immigrants whose home countries would not accept their deportation after they were released from prison. Numerous speeches, including in Colorado, Sept. 17, and Florida, Sept. 19.
The Secretary of State does not have the power to detain convicted criminals after they have served their sentences, and has little power to make foreign countries accept deportees.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: At best, a vague statement asserting that Clinton was not powerless—in her influence within the administration, in her dealings with other nations—to address the problem. At worst, ignorance.
19. Mrs. Clinton has not criticized jihadists and foreign governments that oppress and kill women, gay people and non-Muslims. “Has Hillary Clinton ever called people who support these practices deplorable and irredeemable? No.” Speech in Florida, Sept. 19.
She has denounced jihadists and foreign countries on the same grounds, if not necessarily using the same words.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This is reckless disregard for the truth, and is the most fairly labelled a lie so far. Score so far: two out of 19.
20. “Do people notice Hillary is copying my airplane rallies — she puts the plane behind her like I have been doing from the beginning.” Twitter, Sept. 20.
He did not invent the tarmac rally or the campaign-plane backdrop.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: He didn’t say he invented them. He says Hillary is now copying what he does. That maybe a foolish conclusion, but Trump is a narcissist, after all.
21. Mrs. Clinton destroyed 13 smartphones with a hammer while she was secretary of state. Speeches in Florida, Sept. 15 and Sept. 19.
An aide told the F.B.I. of only two occasions in which phones were destroyed with a hammer.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: The notes says she lost 13, and two were destroyed with a hammer. Big deal. He may have been wrongly briefed or gotten mixed up.
22. He said Mrs. Clinton is calling for “total amnesty in the first 100 days,” including “a virtual end to immigration enforcement” and for unauthorized immigrants to receive Social Security and Medicare. Speech in Colorado, Sept. 17.
She has not proposed this.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This is a lie. 3 in 22.
23. Mrs. Clinton is “effectively proposing to abolish the borders around the country.”Numerous speeches, including in Texas, Sept. 17.
She is not even proposing to cut funding for the Border Patrol.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: “Effectively” is like “virtually.” He is saying that Clinton’s policies amount to opening the borders. Virtually doesn’t mean literally. If he meant “abolish the borders” literally, then the Times’ quibble would be fair.
Most of the time, what the news media call Trump’s lies or outrages are statements that they intentionally interpret literally when they know he did not mean them literally.
24. “Hillary Clinton’s plan would bring in 620,000 refugees in her first term alone,” and would cost $400 billion. Numerous speeches, including in North Carolina, Sept. 20.
She endorsed admitting 65,000 Syrian refugees this year, on top of other admissions. Mr. Trump is falsely claiming that she wants to do this every year and is estimating the cost accordingly.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This is scaremongering and deserves to be called out as a lie. That makes 24 statements called lies, four actual lies.
25. “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before — ever, ever, ever.” Speech in North Carolina, Sept. 20.
No measurement supports this characterization of black America.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Pure opinion. Absolutely not a lie.
26. “Fifty-eight percent of black youth are not working. ” Numerous speeches, including in Florida, Sept. 16, and Colorado, Sept. 17.
This misleading statistic counts high school students as out of work. Black youth unemployment actually was 20.6 percent in July.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Deceit. Another one for the Times. Five out of 27.
27. Many dangerous refugees are being welcomed by the Obama administration. “Hundreds of thousands of people are being approved to pour into the country. We have no idea who they are.” New Hampshire speech, Sept. 15.
The Obama administration has admitted more than 10,000 Syrian refugees, using an extensive screening process.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: I’m glad the Times has so much faith in that process. I don’t, and many experts in the field don’t either. This is Trump’s opinion, not a lie.
28. “We have cities that are far more dangerous than Afghanistan.” Numerous speeches, including in Florida, Sept. 16; Colorado, Sept. 17; North Carolina, Sept. 20; Ohio, Sept. 21; and a Fox News interview on Sept. 21.
No American city resembles a war zone, though crime has risen lately in some, like Chicago. Urban violence has fallen precipitously over the past 25 years.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This is classic absurd Trump hyperbole that, again, he does not expect even his dumbest followers to take literally. Meanwhile, could these reporters be more partisan? They are spinning for Obama: murders are currently rising in cities, which is the point Trump is making. They also write for a newspaper that deemed the crisis of mass shooting so great that it called for the gutting of the Second Amendment in a front page editorial. Which is it, an urban safety crisis, or another Obama-made nirvana?
29. Ford plans to cut American jobs by relocating small-car production to Mexico, and may move all production outside the United States.Fox News interview and New Hampshire speech, Sept. 15.
Mark Fields, Ford’s chief executive, said it was not cutting American jobs.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: Trump doesn’t believe him. All of a sudden, the New York Times regards the word of CEOs as gold?
30. “We have a trade deficit this year with China of approximately $500 billion.” North Carolina speech, Sept. 20.
He has made this claim repeatedly, but the trade deficit with China is significantly smaller.
Ethics Alarms Verdict: This statistic is one Google search away. It’s reckless enough to be labelled a lie. That makes six lies total.
31. Senator Bernie Sanders fell victim to “a rigged system with the superdelegates.” Speeches in New Hampshire, Sept. 15, and North Carolina, Sept. 20.
Mr. Sanders did not lose the Democratic nomination because of superdelegates. Mrs. Clinton beat him in pledged delegates, too.
But Sanders did lose to a rigged system that had superdelegates as part of its rigging.
I count only six lies out of the Times’ claimed 31, and I was generous. These mostly trivial statements certainly don’t prove Trump to be so vile and untrustworthy that they justifies abandoning journalism ethics to defeat him. Nor do they show him to be a worse liar than Hillary; indeed, most of Trumps factual misrepresentations are easily checked, unlike Hillary’s slippery and lawyerly machinations.
How could the Times possibly think this collection warranted an entire print edition page (page 25 on Sunday)? The answer is gross partisan bias. I am sympathetic to a point, for Trump’s mode of expression in a serious realm is infuriatingly casual, imprecise and vague. It is, however, how most people speak, which is why he gets away with it. It is not a lie, however, when someone says, “I do this all the time” and everyone knows that if he literally did it all the time he wouldn’t be able to eat or sleep. Yet this is the level of “dishonesty” that the Times wants us to regard as lies, and the kind of statement Trump makes routinely that the news media wants us to look at as evidence of dishonesty. Trump is undoubtedly dishonest, intellectually lazy, inarticulate, reckless with words and ignorant.By using this disingenuous “fact-check” tactic to attack him, however, all the news media succeeds in revealing is its own character deficits.