President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019. Fact-checkers closely followed the speech.

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019. Fact-checkers closely followed the speech.

Do facts matter when the president of the United States regularly ignores them?

(The Washington Post says, President Donald Trump averaged 15 false claims a day in 2018).

That’s the question at the heart of the work PolitiFact and other fact-checking organizations are doing these days.

The Washington Post recently introduced a new ranking into their system of gauging falsehoods.

Trump’s willingness to constantly repeat false claims has posed a unique challenge to fact-checkers. Most politicians quickly drop a Four-Pinocchio claim, either out of a duty to be accurate or concern that spreading false information could be politically damaging.

Not Trump. The president keeps going long after the facts are clear, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to replace the truth with his own, far more favorable, version of it. He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.

To accurately reflect this phenomenon, The Washington Post Fact Checker is introducing a new category — the Bottomless Pinocchio. That dubious distinction will be awarded to politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.

But some critics have pushed back against the proliferation of checking. Here’s Tom Scocca, writing for HmmDaily:

Third-party fact-checking, as the establishment press does it, is the opposite of providing context. It is a process of breaking things apart—like Schumer’s completely accurate and lucid statement, or like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s criticism of the fact-checking process itself—till they lose their meaning. It purports to be an endpoint or resolution, but the fact-checks become more facts, hastily and indifferently reported ones, to be fed back into the news cycle and misused or misrepresented. Everybody gets Pinocchios; nothing gets to be real.

We’re talking to fact-checkers and researchers about how they do what they do in an era of disinformation campaigns and news fatigue.

Show produced by Avery Kleinman.


  • Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, University of South Florida
  • Aaron Sharockman Executive Director, Politifact; @ASharock
  • Kelly McBride Media Ethicist & Vice President of Academic Programs, The Poynter Institute; @KellyMcB

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