Book review: Donald Trump And His Assault On The Truth, by The Washington Post Fact Checker Staff

Trump sets a new standard for mendacity, writes Elsa Maishman

In his first three years in the White House, Donald Trump clocked up over 16,000 falsehoods

Donald Trump And His Assault On The Truth is well-named. In the first three years of his presidency, Trump launched an incessant and unprecedented attack on the truth, pummelling it with more than 16,000 falsehoods by the count of the Washington Post’s Fact Checker team.

While politicians have lied since the dawn of time – as the authors of this book are quick to point out – no American president has so relentlessly and successfully beaten the truth to a pulp during his term in office.

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It has become accepted even by many his own supporters that Trump’s claims are often exaggerated, misleading or downright false. Many of us have reached a shrugging indifference, moving on with our lives and leaving the battered husk of truth for dead.

The Washington Post Fact Checker team are one of several groups taking a stand to defend the truth. Launched in 2007 during the Bush administration, the team award politicians’ statements with “Pinocchios” on a sliding scale: one Pinocchio for selective truth-telling, four for a downright lie.

This book, written by Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly, is a summary of the team’s work during those first three years of the Trump administration and a few months into 2020. It sets itself apart from “biographies of chaos” charting the perceived horror of Trump’s presidency, in that it is purely a rigorous fact-checking exercise. It aims to present the data in a more or less impartial manner, but a sense of weariness and frustration at Trump’s falsehoods does come through – perhaps inevitably as a result of charting more than 16,000 of them.

The total tally of 16,241 falsehoods in Trump’s first three years is incomprehensible in its scale, but the book does an excellent job of presenting a sample in manageable sections. Most are organised by theme, including Trump’s statements about himself, his enemies, and immigration.

Misleading statements are quoted from interviews, speeches, remarks and, of course, Tweets. The authors find a good balance between listing statements and counter-statements and providing commentary and context, and photographs, graphs and transcripts offer a welcome change of medium. A lengthy appendix gives detailed examination of one campaign rally held during the vote to impeach Trump: out of 179 factual statements the team counted 120 falsehoods, some 67 percent.

The authors are excellent guides to the murky waters of Trump’s misstatements. They rise admirably to the challenge of not fatiguing the reader, and the information and commentary is presented in a clear, succinct and engaging way.

While the battle to defend the truth against Trump’s onslaught has long been lost, the Washington Post Fact Checker team present a fascinating and necessary guide to his behaviour, well-suited both to those only vaguely familiar with US politics and those who follow Trump’s every move.

Donald Trump And His Assault On The Truth by The Washington Post Fact Checker Staff, Scribner, £11.99

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