Fact-checking Trump-speak so you don’t have to

It is easy to spot Trump’s falsehoods and misdirection, so why don’t news organisations do it more?

Fact-checking trump speak opinion/Larry Beinhart [Shawn Thew/Pool/EPA-EFE]
Trump takes questions during the Coronavirus Task Force briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on April 15, 2020 [Shawn Thew/Pool/EPA-EFE]

I have a television fantasy. Whenever the US president appears, he gets fact-checked, as he goes, in real-time.

MSNBC is one news agency that is claiming to do that with Trump‘s so-called “coronavirus briefings”.

But they don’t. They just let him rant on. When he takes a break to do something, like bring on a guest performer to do a short routine, MSNBC turns to its own little team and gives it a chance to make comments.

Sadly, I find that by doing the Google, I can come up with more falsehoods than they do, and I do it more quickly, too.

For example, on Tuesday, April 14, Trump came out swinging against the World Health Organization (WHO). He announced he was going to cut all US funding to them.

He said it was because WHO had called coronavirus all wrong. According to him, they were too late in telling the world the full extent of the danger posed by the virus.

“They called it wrong,” he said. “They could have called it months earlier. They would have known, and they should have known, and they probably did know, so we’ll be looking into that very carefully.” 

That, he said, is what caused “everyone” in the world to respond the wrong way. Except him, of course.

Therefore, WHO was responsible for all the disease and death. Or at least a lot more than would have happened if WHO had not “minimised the threat very strongly.” In reality, of course, WHO had sounded the alarm early.

Trump had already made these accusations a few days before, although not as viciously.

USA Today had already fact-checked and rated Trump’s claims “false to mostly-false”, except for the charge that WHO was too friendly to China, where USA Today found “no clear evidence either way”.

I found all that out as he was speaking.

Trump claimed that “we went into the ventilator business. We made tens of thousands of ventilators.”

When I searched, I could not find any large number recently made. There is a big contract with General Motors to deliver 30,000 ventilators to the Strategic National Stockpile by the end of August this year, with a production schedule promising delivery of more than 6,000 by the start of June.

These have not been shipped from the manufacturer to anywhere yet, but are expected to be at the end of the month, at which point they will send out 600. Ford is scheduled to begin deliveries of ventilators within the US in June, but might start earlier.

Trump went on to claim that the US has more hospital beds for coronavirus victims than any other country in the world. In fact, it has 2.8 beds per 1,000 people. Half the number of Belgium. France, Austria and Germany have even more. South Korea has 12 for every thousand people.

Indeed, most advanced countries have more hospitals per capita than the US. When it comes to hospitals, the US is Number One in only one area – the number of administrators.

And on and on like that.

OK, credit to MSNBC, sometimes the New York Times, and a little bit at CNN, for trying to keep up with Trump Deception. But they aren’t good at it.

Here is what I propose. Set it up like Jeopardy. On one side of the screen, there is Trump, making pronouncements. On the other, there are four or five journalists and researchers. Each has a big button. They compete to be the first to catch each lie. Smash the button. Freeze the pres. The contestant announces what they think is the truth. If they are right, they get points. Or money. A new refrigerator. A supply of face masks. If they are wrong – if they are the liars – they get voted off the island. At some point, we hope, the audience votes Trump off the island as the biggest liar.

The overall question on this particular night is why attack the WHO?

Trump did what Trump does. He made a list of everything he himself did wrong, then accused someone else of doing them. While announcing that everything he himself did was perfect.

Why now?

We go back two days. On Sunday, April 12, the New York Times, in its detailed, methodical, print way, laid out the history of Trump and COVID-19.

It was a devastating depiction of complete dysfunction. All backed up by documents and testimony. He was warned. He was told. What has come to pass was predicted. Over and over. He runs an administration that cannot do anything effectively. Even when it sort of, kind of, wants to. Except destroy.

The next day, Monday, April 13, Trump really went off the rails. He snarled at the camera: “When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that’s the way it’s got to be. It’s total.”

That is a claim that democracy is over. That the US now has a dictator. A loony King Donald. Copies of the Constitution can now be recycled as toilet paper.

But for the most part, the media treated this as Trump-speak. One of those things that he blurts out instead of the greatest of all transgressions.

Or they minimised it as only part of the context in which it occurred – a debate about who gets to call the end of shut-downs; state governors or the president. If that was the case, then it would not matter that much because in reality they can and he can’t and, when the time comes, Trump will probably forget what he said and expect that everyone else will too.

This is the way it has always been with Trump.

What is truly weird is the reaction he gets. Those who like him, keep liking him. They don’t really believe that he lies. Those who don’t like him, know he lies, are outraged over and over, and frustrated that they can’t do anything about it.

The Gallup polling organisation has charts of presidential approval and disapproval ratings for every president from Roosevelt to the present. All of them change vividly, up and down, bouncing around. Except Trump’s.

For him, approval and disapproval maintain remarkably straight lines. His lies lock him in with that portion of the population who crave lies and lock him out from those who despise them.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.