As seen from a window outside the Oval Office, President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, at the White House in Washington.
( AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Two days before Trump went to Texas, and after a debate among the networks which finally gave in to his request for a primetime slot, he addressed the nation from the Oval Office in presidential mode. Fear mongering about the border in tones brooding, bleak and replete with baloney. Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer served up an arid rebuttal. As the networks gathered their fact checkers for the Sisyphean task of addressing presidential falsehood.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: After fantasy,
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: After phantasms,
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country. And thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now. [END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Toronto Star's Washington bureau chief, Daniel Dale, has been fact checking Trump since September 2016.
DANIEL DALE: This was a highly dishonest speech. You know, he said that Democrats had made a request for this barrier to be made out of steel. That's something that he invented as a quasi solution that no one ever asked for. He claimed, falsely again, that the new trade deal, the update to NAFTA, could possibly pay for the border wall. That's simply not how it works even if the deal is eventually ratified, which it hasn't yet. The factualness of the claim that there is a crisis on the border, given that the number of illegal crossers is about a quarter of what it was about 20 years ago–there was a lot of dishonesty there. There is arguably a crisis on the border, but it's not the crisis the president describes. What is unprecedented, right now, is the number of families that are attempting to cross and legally claim asylum crossing through legal ports of entry, simply presenting themselves to US authorities and making an asylum claim. And that is not a number that can be addressed with a wall because, you know, a wall wouldn't stop these people from just walking over illegal crossings.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've noted that Trump made 78 false claims in the first week of 2019. How does that square with his general record so far?
DANIEL DALE: Well, it's above average but lower than his peak right before the midterms. In the 31 days leading up to the midterms, by my count, he made 815 false claims. That's 26 per day. So, this is just an explosion. And so, 78, you know, is well above his 2017 average. It's even above his 2018 average. But compared to the midterm barrage, it's a little bit calmer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: By your count he's up over 4,200 false claims since his inauguration? By the Post, which tracks both false and misleading claims, close to 6,500. Why do you think the president lied last night and hasn't ever stopped since he entered the political scene in 2015?
DANIEL DALE: Part of it is simply who he is at this point. He lied as a real estate man. He lied as a playboy celebrity, you know, as a TV entertainer. He lied as a candidate and now he lies as the president. And then, to some extent, it's strategic. And I think, particularly on immigration, much of Trump's other lying is just him impromptu ad libbing. But with immigration, what we see over and over is that the lying is written into the speech. So this is an administration strategy to deceive people on this particular subject.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You have acquired almost legendary status as a fact checker in chief among the Washington press corps.
DANIEL DALE: Haha, that's very kind. Honestly, the way I do it is that he repeats himself over and over. And so the first time, you know, I'll have to research it. I might not be able to point out immediately that he's not telling the truth. But you know the fifth time or the 10 time or literally the 75th time, you know, some of these claims he makes literally that many times, by that point I know it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I guess you must now have an instinct for identifying when something just has to be wrong like making up a nonexistent phone call from the Boy Scouts of America. Or saying that the four presidents told him privately that they supported his wall.
DANIEL DALE: One of the telltale signs that Trump might be making something up is if he claims that someone called him or otherwise told him privately something that's helpful to him. So the Boy Scouts claim is actually similar to the president's claim from this past period. You know, he claimed the head of the Boy Scouts called me to compliment my speech. Turns out that didn't happen. Past presidents told me that they should've built a wall. So, when he's making claims about conversations that nobody else heard, I'm very skeptical of those.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He's done that with foreign leaders as well.
DANIEL DALE: Yeah. There was I suppose a phone call from the president of Mexico–that didn't turn out to be the case. He misdescribed phone calls with other foreign leaders. And so, I think he sees sort of opportunity when he knows there are no witnesses.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You seem to recognize lies like little melodies before you even pay attention to the content because of the way it sounds.
DANIEL DALE: One of the telltale signs is simply when he ad libs during his speeches. The speeches that they write for Trump are often largely factual. But when he ad libs and starts sounding like Trump again for a moment, that's often a telltale sign that he's about to lie.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how do we strike the balance between continuing to point out the falsehoods and becoming numb to them? I mean, some people suggest that given the volume of the president's BS, you need to triage, focus on only the lies that have an impact on the most people or pose the greatest threat to democracy and leave out the countless little hypocrisy and exaggerations that he says whenever he's not looking at a monitor. What do you think?
DANIEL DALE: I think that's a reasonable argument, but I disagree. My argument is that a lot of the little lies are extremely revealing. All of us, probably, are not entirely honest 100 percent of the time–especially when we're on the defensive. But it's the people who are lying for no reason about little stuff who we really sort of question. And so when Trump is making stuff up for no reason, even if it doesn't have a big impact on policy debates, I think it often tells us something about who this president is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But haven't we already figured out his character? I mean, someone who lied about the number of floors that were in his towers or the square footage of the apartments, things eminently checkable. You wrote in The Washington Post that people will email you asking why you waste your time when the facts don't even matter anymore.
DANIEL DALE: I reject that suggestion. Of course there a constituency that loves Trump no matter what. That doesn't care even if he lies repeatedly. But I don't think that we need to be so obsessed with this group of the population that we consider them the only group. I think this stuff matters to tens of millions of people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said that you've met Trump voters who insist that he is honest and also Trump voters who say they like his lying because it bothers quote elites like you. But then there are Trump voters like Bruce Brown of rural Pennsylvania you wrote about and I just thought that was a really interesting story.
DANIEL DALE: This was a man who was an ardent Trump supporter, although he was critical of him on healthcare. He was a Medicaid recipient so he didn't like what Trump was doing on Obamacare but he loved Trump and I interview him about healthcare. Then he messaged me on Twitter, where I found him, afterwards and said I found your fact checking. And I was like, 'oh no, he's going to tell me I'm fake news.' But instead he said something like, 'I had no idea he lied this much. You know I kind of had an idea that he wasn't always honest but I had no idea he was lying, you know, hundreds of times in a month.' He said, 'I can't wait to show this to my friends and neighbors who also love Trump. I really feel, you know, taken advantage of.' And so I asked him subsequently, just out of curiosity like, 'where do you get your information about Trump?' You know, he loves Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and other right wing talk radio hosts. He loves FOX News. And so for a lot of people who consume media like that, they're just not hearing about the ways the president is distorting the truth. And so it taught me, you know, if we can find a way to reach some of these people, they can be persuaded.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
DANIEL DALE: Thank you so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Daniel Dale is Washington correspondent for The Toronto Star.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, Democrats who used tactics to interfere in a high profile Alabama election–straight out of the Russian hacker playbook.