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American Politics

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@JamesMiller
Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
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The Facts: Clinton is Surprisingly Truthful, Trump Is Alarmingly Dishonest
6 months
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The fact checkers sure don't think Clinton is lying. Facts?! Meh, who needs them? Certainly not people supporting Trump

Full disclosure -- I have never voted for Hillary Clinton. Not in 2008, not in 2016 (I'll write more about why later). But if one thing about Clinton strikes me, it's that she is actually incredibly honest in her political rhetoric, which is ironic since both supporters of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump often refer to her as dishonest, the latter calling her "Lying Crooked Hillary" in just about every sentence.

It's ironic because, according to the non-partisan fact-checking organization Politifact, Clinton is the most truthful politician running in 2016, more truthful than Sanders, and light-years more truthful than the GOP nominee, one of the worst liars in the history of the Politifact index, Donald Trump. That study was done in March, but the numbers have not changed very much for Clinton.

In March, 36% of Trump's statements fell into either the "false" or "pants on fire" categories, the least truthful statements on the Politifact website. That number has now risen to a stunning 54%. Only 15% of Trump's statements that have been fact-checked by the organization are true (4%) or mostly true (11%).

Last night Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for the Democratic Party. Her speech has been fact-checked by NPR, itself the most balanced name in news, and is nearly completely accurate.

NPR did quibble with one claim about income disparity, calling it "half true" since it references some older statistics which have somewhat improved. They also thought Clinton's statements that Donald Trump offered "no solutions" in his speech accepting the GOP nomination was an oversimplification (though, depending on your viewpoint, that may just be a subjective analysis).

Still, going on the truthfulness of her speech, Clinton was nearly flawless.

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FACT CHECK: Hillary Clinton's Speech To The Democratic Convention, Annotated

Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a speech that lays out her plan to address terror threats and create jobs. NPR's politics team is live annotating Clinton's speech below - we will continue as Clinton speaks. Portions we commented on are highlighted, followed by analysis, context and fact check in italics.

View full page →
Jul 29, 2016 17:02 (GMT)
Watch the speech here:

Donald Trump's speech has also been fact-checked by NPR. While many of the statements in the first quarter of Trump's speech are true, mostly true, or half-true, many are also lacking context. As we see, however, as the speech goes on, Trump's truthfulness begins to fall apart.

Trump mischaracterizes the power of the president, the role of the federal government, and the positions of both Hillary Clinton and sitting-president Barack Obama. He glossed over major policy differences between Trump and his own running mate Mike Pence. He also made references to illegal activity done by Hillary Clinton despite the fact that the FBI and Justice Departments say that no crime took place.

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FACT CHECK: Donald Trump's Republican Convention Speech, Annotated

Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a speech that lays out America's struggles with crime, terrorism and immigration and how he plans to address them. NPR's politics team has annotated Trump's speech below. Portions we commented on are highlighted, followed by analysis, context and fact check in italics.

View full page →
Jul 29, 2016 17:13 (GMT)
That speech can be watched here:

Here is the bottom line:

In 2008, Clinton's likability numbers were very high. Since then, she has gained significant and important experience in her role as Secretary of State. She has made several high-profile mistakes, most importantly her use of a private email server for her work at the State Department. But this practice was also done by several other Secretaries of State including her predecessors (Republicans) Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell. The FBI has thoroughly investigated this and found that no crime was committed. It may have been a bad call, and she may have been dishonest in her response to this controversy. But she's hardly a criminal in any sense of the word we mean in America. If Clinton had been accused of a crime, she would be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the courts. She has not even been accused of a crime.

Trump, on the other hand, has not yet been accused of a crime but is being sued for fraud over the false claims of the now-defunct Trump University. The trial will begin in November -- after the election. 

It is striking that the character of these two officials is now the central focus of the American public. This strikes this author as nothing more than false equivalence, a logical fallacy that compares two situations or cases which are in fact very different, often in order to excuse case A by comparing it to case B. 

The only way to escape this character debate is to focus on the facts and the issues. Clinton's statements about policies and positions are plethora and would be impossible to summarize here. She has a long public record, and her time as Secretary of State has been heavily studied by the media. Beyond this, her own website lists detailed statements on 36 specific issues.

Donald Trump, however, often refuses to speak to reporters or answer questions about specific policy plans. As of today his positions page is uncomfortably thin, offering only few details on only seven issues:

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2016-07-29 13:33:32

A Google search reveals that Trump's website also has a separate issues page which does not appear to be linked to from his front page. It consists of 21 videos, mostly of Trump speaking, on various topics, from his own personal experiences and beliefs (which are not really policy-focused) to his defense of Trump University (not a policy) to broad claims about his policy ideas which often parrot false claims already debunked by the fact-checkers.

There are serious issues facing the country. The next president will have to deal with them all. One candidate is largely telling the truth on policy, the other is mostly spreading falsehoods. Many journalists, experts, and former officials have warned that the nature and tenor of this debate needs to change because very dangerous ideas have been expressed by Donald Trump. So far, however, the American people appear to be focused on their own false equivalence and mud throwing. The issues are being lost at a time when the issues are critically important.