It’s been a banner year for political whoppers — and for one teller of tall tales in particular: Donald Trump.
In the 12 years of FactCheck.org’s existence, we’ve never seen his match.
He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.
He is by no means the only one telling whoppers, of course. Once again this year there are plenty of politicians, in both parties, who hope voters will swallow their deceptive claims. Hillary Clinton, for one, said she was “transparent” about her use of a private email server, when in fact she wasn’t. That was one of the bogus claims she made about her unusual email arrangement while secretary of state.
But Trump topped them all when he claimed to have seen nonexistent television coverage of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11 — and then topped himself by demanding that fact-checkers apologize for exposing his claim as fantasy. And that’s only one example.
Here we’ve assembled, as we do every year at this time, a generous sampling of the most far-fetched, distorted or downright fallacious claims made during 2015.
In past years, we’ve not singled out a single claim or a single person, and have left it to readers to judge which whoppers they consider most egregious.
But this year the evidence is overwhelming and, in our judgment, conclusive. So, for the first time, we confer the title “King of Whoppers.”
Note: This week’s video in our fact-checking collaboration with CNN’s Jake Tapper is on the Whoppers of the Year and can be found on CNN.com.
We won’t get into Trump’s controversial policy positions; it’s not a fact-checker’s role to offer opinions on whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea for the federal government to bar Muslims from entering the United States or to kill the families of terrorists, for example. What we focus on here are some of the many cases where he’s just wrong on the facts.
We start with his Nov. 21 claim to have watched on television as “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey were “cheering” the fall of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Multiple news organizations and the New Jersey attorney general’s office searched for evidence of public celebrations at the time of 9/11 and found none.
“Never happened,” former state Attorney General John J. Farmer, a Republican appointee who later served as a senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, wrote in response to Trump.
In a tweet, Trump demanded an apology, citing as evidence one news story about an alleged incident that was unattributed, unverified and not televised. One of the reporters on that story said he visited the “Jersey City building and neighborhood where the celebrations were purported to have happened,” but he could “never verify that report.”
And Trump’s false claim about “thousands and thousands” of Muslims is just part of a pattern of inflammatory claims with little or no basis in fact. Here are some more — and it’s not an exhaustive list.
- Trump boasted that he “predicted Osama bin Laden.” Nope. The book Trump published in 2000 mentioned bin Laden once, and predicted nothing about bin Laden’s future plans.
- Trump “heard” that Obama is “thinking about signing an executive order where he wants to take your guns away.” If so, he misheard. What Obama reportedly considered was requiring large-volume private gun dealers to conduct background checks, not confiscating firearms from those who own them.
- Trump said he “heard” the Obama administration plans to accept 200,000 Syrian refugees — even upping that wildly inaccurate number to 250,000 in another speech. Nope and nope. The number is about 10,000.
- Trump said he got to know Putin “very well” while the two were on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Nope. The two men were interviewed separately, in different countries thousands of miles apart.
- Trump claimed his campaign is “100 percent” self-funded. Nope. At the time, more than 50 percent of his campaign’s funds had come from outside contributors.
- Trump said his tax plan is revenue neutral. Nope. The pro-business Tax Foundation estimated the Trump plan would reduce revenues to the Treasury by more than $10 trillion over 10 years, even assuming his plan would create economic growth.
- Trump told the story of a 2-year old who got autism a week after the child got a vaccine. But there’s no evidence of such a link. The study that claimed to have found a link between vaccines and autism has been exposed as an “elaborate fraud.” It was retracted five years ago by the journal that published it, and the author was stripped of his license to practice medicine in Britain.
- Trump said Mexico doesn’t have a birthright citizenship policy. It does.
- Trump claimed credit for getting Ford Motor Co. to move a plant from Mexico to Ohio. Ford says that’s baloney; it made the decision years before Trump even announced his run for president.
- Trump denied that he ever called female adversaries some of these things: “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” He used all of those terms.
- Trump said in June “there are no jobs” to be had, when official statistics were showing 5.4 million job openings — the most in 15 years.
- Trump claimed economic growth in the U.S. has “never” been below zero — until the third quarter of 2015. “Who ever heard of this?” he asked. Except it’s not unheard of. Economic growth has been below zero 42 times since 1946.
Trump Gets Refugee Numbers Wrong, Oct. 4
Facts about the Syrian Refugees, Nov. 23
FactChecking the CNBC Debates, Oct. 29
FactChecking the CNN Republican Debate, Sept. 17
Trump on Birthright Citizenship, Aug. 25
Trump’s Bogus Boast on Ford, Oct. 26
Trump’s Amnesia, Aug. 11
Trump Tramples Facts, June 16
This is just a sampling of the falsehoods and exaggerations that lead us to award our “King of Whoppers” title to Trump. See our full and up-to-the-minute file on him for more.
But enough about the Republican front-runner. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has told some whoppers, too.
- Clinton said in July that she “had done what other secretaries of state have done.” That’s not so. The State Department in October 2014 sent letters to three other previous secretaries: Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Only Powell used personal email for official business. None of them had their own servers.
- Clinton later said her personal email account was “allowed by the State Department.” Federal rules permitted the practice if work emails were preserved before she left office. But Clinton did not turn over her emails until 21 months after she left office.
- Clinton said “turning over my server” to the government shows “I have been as transparent as I could” about her emails. But she did so in August — after the FBI opened an investigation into possible mishandling of classified information. Months earlier — in March — she had rejected calls to turn over the server to a neutral party, saying “the server will remain private.”
- Clinton said “everybody in government with whom I emailed knew that I was using a personal email.” Perhaps so. But even President Obama said he did not know that she conducted all her government business using her personal email account and private server.
More Spin on Clinton Emails, Sept. 8
Phantom ISIS Videos: Clinton also made up a claim about terrorists using Trump in recruiting videos. During the Dec. 19 Democratic debate, she said that Islamic State recruiters were “going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims,” but her campaign could produce no evidence that any such videos exist.
The best that her campaign aides could do was to cite an NBC News article quoting an expert as predicting that Trump’s remarks would “surely” show up in Islamic State social media. The article, however, contained no evidence that it has happened and made no mention of any video. Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri later conceded that Clinton was “not referring to a specific video.” ABC News quoted White House and National Security Council aides as saying they are unaware of any examples of the Islamic State group using Trump in videos.
Benghazi: On a subject intensely scrutinized by Republicans, Clinton said in October that all of the government investigations into the terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi concluded that “nobody did anything wrong.” Not quite. An accountability board that Clinton herself appointed found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels.” On the day the report came out, four State Department employees were placed on administrative leave, and all four were later reassigned.
Clinton and the Benghazi Reports, Oct. 7
Charter Schools: Clinton said “most charter schools … don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids. Or if they do, they don’t keep them.” But her campaign could not provide any evidence for such a sweeping claim. In fact, the campaign cited a Washington Post article about the rate of expulsions in Washington, D.C., but the Post wrote: “Many charter schools — 60 out of 97 campuses — did not expel students in 2011-12.” That not only doesn’t support Clinton’s claim, it is evidence that helps to refute it.
Other Democratic Whoppers
Clinton’s Democratic rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination weren’t innocent, either.
Sanders on Social Security: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont dusted off a shopworn Democratic whopper when he insisted in October that Social Security hasn’t contributed “one penny” — or “one nickel” — to the deficit. In fact, it contributed $73 billion to the deficit in 2014.
Sanders Misleads on Social Security, Oct. 12
Sanders on Inequality: Sanders said in May that “in America we now have more income and wealth inequality than any other major country on earth.” Actually, the World Bank estimated that at least 41 countries had greater income inequality than the U.S. As for the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent, the U.S. ranked 16th out of 46 economies included in the Global Wealth Databook.
Sanders Exaggerates Inequality, May 28
Sanders on Climate Link to Terrorism: Sanders said “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” The Department of Defense has referred to climate change as a “ ‘threat multiplier’ — because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism.” As for the current rise in terrorism, one study concluded that climate change likely worsened a drought in Syria and contributed to instability there. But the report stopped short of drawing a direct causal link between climate change and the Syrian civil war, let alone between climate change and terrorism.
Sanders on Climate Link to Terrorism, Nov. 17
O’Malley on Wages: In October, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley claimed that “70 percent of us are earning the same, or less than we were 12 years ago.” Not true. Average weekly earnings for rank-and-file workers are up 5.8 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.
FactChecking the Democratic Debate, Oct. 14
Other Republican Whoppers
Fiorina on Planned Parenthood Video: Carly Fiorina falsely claimed that Planned Parenthood videos released by an anti-abortion group showed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” But that scene isn’t in any of the videos. She continued to insist that she had “seen the footage” after her vivid description was shown to be false.
Fiorina on Job Losses: Fiorina claimed that 92 percent of the job losses in President Obama’s first term belonged to women, but women — and men — gained jobs by the end of Obama’s first term. After initially sticking by the claim the day after the debate, Fiorina relented and admitted she had “misspoken.” She said, “Well, in this particular case the fact-checkers are correct.”
FactChecking the CNN Republican Debate, Sept. 17
Doubling Down on Falsehoods, Sept. 22.
FactChecking the CNBC Debates, Oct. 29
Cruz on Refugees: Sen. Ted Cruz falsely claimed the 2013 immigration bill Sen. Marco Rubio cosponsored “would have dramatically expanded President Obama’s authority to admit Syrian refugees with no background checks whatsoever.” Not so. The bill would have made it easier for members of certain groups designated by the president to qualify as refugees, but they would still be subject to the required background checks before they could come to the U.S.
Cruz on Hispanic Unemployment: Cruz said “Hispanic unemployment has gone up” under Obama. Actually, it’s the reverse. The number and the rate of unemployed Hispanics are both down.
Cruz Attacks Rubio on Refugees, Dec. 10
Carson on Choosing to Be Gay in Prison: Ben Carson claimed that being gay is “absolutely” a choice, and as proof he said “a lot of people” go into prison and change their sexual orientation while incarcerated. There is no evidence to support these claims.
Carson on Illegal Immigration: Carson said that “a lot” of the people captured crossing the U.S. border and then released are from Iraq, Somalia and Russia. He’s wrong. Federal statistics show that number is less than 1 percent.
Carson on Syrian Refugees: Carson said that the majority of Syrian refugees are “young males.” But the United Nations’ figures showed that women outnumber men, and children 11 years old and younger, male and female, account for 38.5 percent of all refugees.
Carson on Border Apprehensions, Oct. 2
Stretching Facts on Syrian Refugees, Sept. 15
Bush on Climate Change: Jeb Bush claimed that the science is unclear as to how much humans contribute to global warming. The United Nations climate change research organization, however, said it was “extremely likely” that more than half of the warming since 1950 is due to human activities.
For fact-checkers, 2015 has been a whopper of a year. We hope we won’t see another like it, or feel compelled to name another King of Whoppers, for a long time.
— by Brooks Jackson, Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore