Fact check: Breaking down Trump’s 654 false claims over 14 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic
President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been deeply dishonest.
He has been dishonest about testing. He has been dishonest about his travel restrictions. He has been dishonest about the supplies his predecessor left him, about what his opponents have said about the pandemic, even about what he has said himself.
Trump made as many false claims at some of his official pandemic task force briefings as he does in some of his rally speeches.
Over the 14 weeks from the Monday his coronavirus task force started meeting, January 27, through Sunday, May 3, he made 654 false claims — 215 of them specifically about the pandemic. (Lots of the others were about related subjects, like the economy and China.)
We usually publish a breakdown of Trump’s dishonesty over a seven-day period. In this article, we’ll delve into his dishonesty over the critical 98-day period when the US went from no confirmed coronavirus deaths to more than 67,000 — on its way past 100,000.
Trump’s most frequent false claims
When he was criticized for being too slow to act against the virus, Trump had a go-to defense. Almost invariably, he cited the fact that he imposed travel restrictions on China in early February.
Except he kept calling the restrictions a “ban” on travel from China. They aren’t a ban: they contain exemptions for US citizens, permanent residents, many of the family members of both groups, and some other types of people. Trump inaccurately described the restrictions on 41 separate occasions during this 14-week period, more than he made any other individual false claim.
Trump also exaggerated 17 times about the scope of his March travel restrictions on many (but not all) European countries. And he 17 times uttered his debunked assertion that China, not Americans, is paying the cost of his tariffs on imported Chinese products.
A variety of pandemic nonsense
Undeterred by the pandemic, Trump kept using a bunch of his old favorite false claims. (No, he is not the one who got the Obama-era Veterans Choice program passed; no, he has not always protected patients with pre-existing conditions.) But he also created entire new categories of pandemic-specific dishonesty.
Trump made 71 false claims about the pandemic and travel. He made 37 about coronavirus testing. This includes one of his most infamous and most egregious false claims of the crisis — his March 6 declaration that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” — and 12 renditions of perhaps his most absurd pandemic false claim, the insistence that the Obama administration left him bad or old tests for this new virus for which there could not have been a test until Trump’s presidency.
Trump also made 24 false claims about ventilators and the Strategic National Stockpile. Ten of these were versions of his claim that he was left entirely empty stockpile shelves by Obama. In reality, Obama left thousands of ventilators and various other supplies.
One indication of the brazenness of Trump’s dishonesty: he made 12 false claims about what it was he himself had said in the past — sometimes things he had said just the day prior, sometimes in the very same briefing.
Highly dishonest briefings
In theory, the daily White House coronavirus briefings gave the President a chance to inform Americans about the crisis.
In practice, they became modified campaign rallies — a nearby stage on which Trump could be Trump, with all the usual boasting, rambling, and disregard for truth.
Trump made 16 false claims at the briefing on April 6, a marathon session where he appeared for more than 95 minutes. He made 14 more at the April 13 briefing, where he appeared for more than 100 minutes.
We counted 23 briefings in which the President made five or more false claims.
Trump’s three most dishonest events during this 14-week period all came before he stopped traveling because of the pandemic: 21 at a January rally in Des Moines, 19 at a February rally in Las Vegas, 18 at a March Fox News town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
But Trump also made 16 false claims at a pandemic-related Fox News “virtual town hall” at the Lincoln Memorial in early May.
A slight slowdown
Trump averaged about 8.5 false claims per day from July 8, 2019, when we started counting at CNN, through January 26, 2020. During this 14-week pandemic period starting on January 27, it was about 6.7 false claims per day.
So that’s a decline. But 6.7 false claims is a lot, especially in a crisis. Let’s not judge Trump only against his own astonishingly high (or low) bar.