Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Fact Checker: President Trump is bad at estimating crowd sizes

Democracy Dies in Darkness
Fact Checker
The truth behind the rhetoric

President Trump is bad at estimating crowd sizes

This year, we're thankful for the reporters, local officials and Twitter users across America who were our eyes and ears for this fact-check exploring how many people really attended #MAGA rallies.

For nine of these rallies in 2018, Trump gave hilariously overblown estimates of his crowd sizes. He claimed 50,000 people were outside a rally in Houston because they couldn't get in, but the city's police chief said the number was much lower: 3,000.

In Cleveland, Trump claimed "thousands" of people were outside because the venue was packed. But Twitter users at the event posted evidence that Trump didn't fill the venue and that only a handful of people were milling around in the parking lot. In Tampa, Trump claimed thousands who couldn't get in were watching outside on a "tremendous movie screen" — that didn't exist, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Trump's crowd-size total came to 352,600 for the nine rallies combined. Our review of news reports, official estimates from local law enforcement, and photos and videos posted by Twitter users at these events shows the number was much lower: 100,972. We awarded Four (Thousand) Pinocchios.

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Mike Pence, by himself, has a solid record on press freedom

But what does it matter when he works for President Trump and defends his "enemy of the people" shtick?

In Singapore last week, the vice president stated, "This administration has stood strong for a free and independent press and defended the freedom of the press on the world stage." It's fair to acknowledge that Pence and the State Department have a sterling record of defending press freedom in the United States and overseas. But there's a press-bashing elephant in the room: Donald Trump. It's impossible to remove him from the equation.

The president routinely calls journalists the "enemy of the people," doles out insults and payback for tough questions, cheered Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) for assaulting a reporter, fantasizes about "opening up the libel laws" so he can sue journalists more easily, and spreads false claims to argue that preserving the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia is more important than punishing the kingdom's leaders for directing the brutal murder of a Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi.

Presidential words have consequences — and reverberate around the world. Now, all sorts of odious regimes use one of Trump's favorite expressions, "fake news," as a propaganda tool. In Myanmar, a government official said: "There are no such thing as Rohingya. It's fake news." In Libya, after a CNN report showed migrants being sold into slavery, officials used a tweet by Trump calling the network "fake news" in an attempt to discredit the story.

So, Pence's remark would be Geppetto-worthy ... if it weren't for the fact he reports to Trump. As things stand, the VP earns Three Pinocchios.


Fake news watch

We found several stories this week delving into the psychology of fake news. What makes people believe or abide it? Who is pumping out this stuff? And why is Facebook hiring opposition researchers to spread conspiracy theories about George Soros?

  • A detailed investigation by the New York Times found that as Facebook became a tool to "disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe," its top two executives, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, were fixated on growth so much they "ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view." Eventually, they hired a PR firm that "cast Mr. Soros as the unacknowledged force behind what appeared to be a broad anti-Facebook movement." (Soros, a billionaire donor to liberal causes, is a Facebook critic and frequent target of right-wing conspiracy theories.)

  • The Washington Post wrote about a liberal blogger posting satirical items on Facebook that resembled right-wing conspiracy theories. It was supposed to be a joke, but instead, it became a monster hit with conservatives over 55. "No matter how racist, how bigoted, how offensive, how obviously fake we get, people keep coming back," the blogger once wrote, on his own personal Facebook page. "Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they're being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?"

  • Poynter found that what's good for the fake goose is good for the fake gander. A (different) conspiracy theory about Soros hopscotched through a bunch of different European countries. "The good news is that conspiracy theorists are lazy and don't adapt their hoaxes. A fact check from one country can serve as an early warning in another. The bad news is confirmation bias: The real stories that seem to echo elements of the hoax are enough for true believers."

We're always looking for fact-check suggestions.

You can also reach us via email, Twitter (@GlennKesslerWP, @mmkelly22, @rizzoTK or use #FactCheckThis), or Facebook (Fact Checker). Read about our rating scale here, and sign up here for our weekly Fact Checker newsletter.

Scroll down for this week's Pinocchio roundup.

— Salvador Rizzo

President Trump's crowd-size estimates: Increasingly unbelievable
The president loves to inflate his crowd sizes, sometimes adding tens of thousands of people to the count. But the reality is much, much lower.
The recurring GOP myth about John McCain's 'no' on Obamacare repeal
Republicans often suggest they were just one vote from victory. But there were negotiations and many more votes to come, with the outcome in doubt.
The disconnect between President Trump and his administration on freedom of the press
Vice President Pence and the State Department defend reporters overseas. But their efforts are undercut by the president's rhetoric on "fake news" and "enemy of the people."
Gillibrand's cascade of misfired employment statistics
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a potential 2020 presidential candidate, mangled three employment statistics while making the case the economy can do better.
Fact-checking President Trump's wild Daily Caller interview
Election fraud, the Mueller investigation, the midterm elections and the Affordable Care Act — there were a lot of subjects subject to presidential misinformation in Trump's interview with the Daily Caller.
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