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Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

“He’s like an indestructible monster in a Godzilla movie. The authorities keep firing at him, but he just keeps walking through town, gaining power.”

I hope 2019 won’t be the year that fact-checkers give up from exhaustion.

They are understandably tired. Despite fact-checking Donald Trump for nearly a decade (the first PolitiFact check of his birther claims was published in 2011), his extraordinary run of whoppers and Pants on Fires and four-Pinocchio claims shows no signs of slowing.

He’s like an indestructible monster in a Godzilla movie. The authorities keep firing at him, but he just keeps walking through town, gaining power.

The fact-checkers have tried every weapon they’ve got: Lie of the Year, Whoppers of the Year and even running lists of thousands of his falsehoods. They’ve created new ones, like The Washington Post Fact Checker’s new Bottomless Pinocchio, which is reserved for false claims that have been repeated more than 20 times. Fittingly, only one politician qualifies: Trump.

(Also quite fitting: The Bottomless Pinocchio was introduced on the front page of The Washington Post’s print edition next to a story about Russian propaganda.)

But despite the new weapons, Trump storms on, leaving the truth in tatters.

Looking ahead to 2019, fact-checkers shouldn’t be deterred by his persistence nor by his bogus claims of “fake news.” They should continue to check everything he says and look for more ways to innovate. News organizations should consider:

  • More alliances between fact-checkers and reporters covering the daily news. A growing number of news stories call out Trump’s falsehoods at the moment he utters them. I hope that trend continues and publishers insert fact-checks in the middle of every news story that contains a falsehood.
  • More live fact-checking. Here at Duke, our Tech & Check Cooperative includes a partnership with the Post, FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact that is exploring promising new ways to present fact-checks during speeches and debates. We’ll be continuing our experiments with our FactStream app in the coming year.
  • More fact-checks on TV. CNN earned lots of praise when it posted facts during a recent Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefing. They should do that every day.

Bill Adair is Knight Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University.

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