The top 10 most viewed fact-checks of 2017
During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, nothing drew eyeballs to our site quite like the president’s words.
Readers turned out in droves for our fact-checks of Trump’s first joint address to Congress and his speech announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. His claims about CNN’s ratings, the national debt and his controversial travel ban also drove a large volume of traffic to our site.
In addition to our fact-checks, readers clicked on special reports and roundups, with particular interest in our coverage of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Here are the most clicked-on fact-checks and stories of the past 12 months.
After a terrorist attack in Barcelona in August, President Donald Trump repeated his Pants on Fire claim about a brutal tactic he said U.S. Army Gen. John Pershing used to end "radical Islamic terror" in the Philippines for 35 years. The tale involves Pershing ordering his soldiers to execute terrorists using bullets dipped in pig’s blood, an animal that’s disfavored in the Islamic world. Historians took issue with Trump’s suggestion that the tactic — if it was even used at all — actually worked to end tensions, noting that unrest persisted for years.
A viral meme claimed former President Bill Clinton gave North Korea $5 billion and two nuclear reactors in 1994, which "essentially (gave) them nukes." While Clinton did negotiate a deal to provide North Korea with two reactors and heavy fuel oil, he did so in exchange for the country giving up its nuclear weapons program. Not only did the agreement not culminate in giving North Korea nuclear weapons — but experts said it actually slowed them down. We rated this False.
This year saw a combustible mixing of sports and politics when Trump waded into the debate over NFL football players kneeling during the national anthem. But as we explain, the history of athletes protesting the national anthem dates at least as far back as 1968, when U.S. Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave a raised-fist "black power" salute on the medal stand as the Star-Spangled Banner was being played.
Television viewership still looms large in the mind of the former reality TV star-turned-president. In July, we looked at CNN’s trendline after Trump claimed the news network’s ratings were "way down." What we discovered is that CNN was at a five-year high in several key ratings categories, earning Trump’s claim a Pants on Fire.
We first surveyed the complex tale of Hillary Clinton, Russia and Uranium One during the 2016 election. The story re-entered the news cycle in October when it was reported that the FBI had been investigating whether Russia was trying to gain influence in the U.S. nuclear industry when the Uranium One deal was approved while Clinton was secretary of state.
As we laid out in our explainer, the upshot is that while the connections between the Clinton Foundation and the Uranium One deal may appear fishy, there has been no proof of a quid pro quo. And we aren’t aware of any evidence that Clinton knew anything about the FBI investigation when the Uranium One deal was greenlighted.
In White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s first press briefing of the new administration, he forcefully claimed that Trump had enjoyed the biggest inaugural crowd ever. Yet the most generous estimates of Trump’s crowd size falls short of the 1.8 million people who attended Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural. Even when Spicer amended his claim to include TV and online viewership, we determined his claim was off the mark. We rated this Pants on Fire.
While Trump’s claim that national debt decreased by $12 billion during his first month in office got the numbers right, his statement is highly misleading. The national debt fluctuates up and down depending on the day. While the debt was "down" after one month, as of the time of this writing, the debt is "up" $545 billion since Trump took office. This factoid is a gross misrepresentation of the state of the debt and the role the new president had in shaping the figure. We rated his claim Mostly False.
When President Trump outlined his vision for America in an address to a joint session of Congress, we fact-checked his speech and found exaggerations about the health of the Affordable Care Act, the cost of illegal immigration and the state of the economy. Trump also made misleading statements about the size of his spending on the military, the national murder rate and the U.S. trade deficit.
During his announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change, Trump characterized the deal as bad for the country. While reasonable people can disagree on the policy’s relative costs and benefits, we found Trump’s speech contained several misleading claims about how the accord worked. He wrongly said the deal would allow China to build additional coal plants, while preventing the United States from doing so, and his claim that the accord would result in lost jobs, lower wages and diminished production was based on a flawed study.
During his first week in office, Trump issued an executive order that banned citizens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya from entering the United States for 90 days, and indefinitely halted the admission of Syrian refugees. After a weekend of nationwide protests, Trump said his policy was "similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months." We found this comparison suffered from serious flaws, and rated Trump’s claim Mostly False.