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Politics

PolitiFact's 2015 'Lie of the Year' Goes To Donald Trump

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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As it does at the end of each year, the Pulitzer-prize winning fact-checking service PolitiFact has named its "Lie of the Year."

With the 2016 presidential campaign in full swing, there was no shortage of debunked claims to choose from, but one particular candidate stood out in 2015. 

Jon Greenberg, a staff writer for PolitiFact, joined NHPR's Morning Edition to talk about this year's "Lie of the Year" award. 

What was the biggest lie of 2015?

We had so many choices, we couldn’t decide, so we came down to the statements of Donald Trump.

What led PolitiFact to give this distinction to a single candidate, as opposed to a single false statement?

It is a matter of the whole opus of Donald Trump. Over the years, and this goes back to before this presidential cycle, we have looked at 77 statements from Donald Trump. And over the years, 76 percent of them are ranked Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. Nobody else that we’ve ever looked at has ever come close. And Donald Trump is riding at the top of the polls among Republican voters, so this guy is important and his statements were stunning.

What were some of the biggest lies Trump told?

The biggest one, certainly if you asked the readers choice, the runaway favorite was his claim that he watched in Jersey City, New Jersey thousands of people were cheering as the buildings came down on Sept. 11. Total Pants on Fire. There is no video evidence. At best, there were some allegations a couple weeks after the attacks. There’s just not a scrap of evidence behind it and Trump refuses to back down.

Polls show Trump is also far and away the frontrunner among the GOP field, so the question seems to be – does fact checking still matter?

I think if you did take a look at the relationship between his various statements, such as saying that the Mexican government is intentionally sending criminals into the United States, or his distortions about how many whites are killed by whites or how many whites are killed by blacks. If you look at every time those things get pointed out, his poll numbers seem to go up. So you could make the argument that fact checking doesn’t make a difference. But I will say this: when you’re looking at 30, 40 percent popularity among likely Republican primary voters, you’re not talking about a majority in the country. We shouldn’t let the poll results tell us what is the impact of fact checking. We just don’t know. There haven’t been any votes yet.

So while Donald Trump takes the title this year, do you think he’s just an outlier?

An outlier? Yes, he’s an exceptional person. We have never seen a political phenomenon in a relatively recent Republican or Democratic primary like Donald Trump. He’s fascinating to see. I think if you were to review what the political commentators and analysts have said over the months, you’d find articles from many of them saying they could not have predicted this. So, he’s an unusual guy.

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