The most popular fact checks of 2017, so far

It has been quite a year for fact checking so far. Here are five of the most popular fact checks from the first six months of 2017. (Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

It has been quite a year for fact checking so far. Fact Checker reached record traffic, and we have been busy keeping up with the new president’s false and misleading claims. Now that we are halfway through 2017, we wanted to take a look at our 10 most-read columns from the first six months of the year.

We published several roundups of various claims in speeches and news conferences by President Trump. We did not include those roundups in this list, but many of them would have ranked on this list if we had. The roundups of Trump’s claims that interested readers the most so far this year were ones of his first news conference as president-elect on Jan. 11, his inaugural address on Jan. 20, his Feb. 24 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, his Feb. 28 maiden address to Congress, his falsehood-laden March 23 interview with Time, and his June 1 speech announcing his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord on climate change.

The Fact Checker has been keeping track of the progress of his campaign promises through the Trump Promise Tracker and has been tracking every false or misleading claim by the president through the Trump Claims Database.

Click on the headline to read the full column.

1. Trump’s facile claim that his refugee policy is similar to Obama’s in 2011

In January, President Trump justified his original, controversial executive order halting travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries by claiming that former president Barack Obama did the same thing in 2011. But the comparison is a bit facile.

Obama responded to an actual threat — the discovery that two Iraqi refugees had been implicated in bombmaking in Iraq that had targeted U.S. troops. Under congressional pressure, officials decided to reexamine all previous refugees and impose new screening procedures, which led to a slowdown in processing new applications. Trump, by contrast, issued his executive order without any known triggering threat. Obama’s policy did not prevent all citizens of that country from traveling to the United States. Trump’s policy was much more sweeping. The Trump White House failed to provide any evidence for its position, pointing to attacks unrelated to countries named in the original executive order. 


2. President Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Twitter day

The president claimed (and continues to claim) that Russian tampering in the 2016 election was “fake news” produced by the Democrats. On March 20, while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, then-FBI Director James B. Comey confirmed that a criminal investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign was active. The president’s Twitter account went into spin mode — trying to make lemons out of lemonade.

But the tweets in response to Comey’s — and later National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers’s — testimony were misleading, inaccurate or simply false. The gravity of the disclosures might have called for a more restrained response. But the president chose another approach — which clearly backfired, tweet after tweet. 


3. Trump’s ‘evidence’ for Obama wiretap claims relies on sketchy, anonymously sourced reports

In March, Trump fired off a series of tweets, accusing Obama of “wire tapping” phones in his New York office during the “very sacred election process.” Trump called his predecessor a “bad (or sick) guy,” but his explosive accusation seemed to be very thinly sourced. None of the news reports the White House provided as justification supported Trump’s claims that Obama ordered the tapping of his phone calls.

Furthermore, James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence under Obama, who presumably would be aware of a FISA court order, issued an on-the-record denial. And Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement refuting Trump’s claim, echoing Clapper’s denial. Comey later testified before Congress, again refuting the president’s claim.



4. Here’s what you need to know about preexisting conditions in the GOP health plan

Much of the debate in May over the House GOP health-care bill focused on whether Obamacare’s popular prohibition against denying coverage based on preexisting medical conditions will remain in place. The reality was more nuanced and complicated, as is often the case in Washington policy debates, so we compiled Fact Checker’s guide to the debate. 

When it comes to health care, readers should be wary about claims that important changes in health-care coverage are without consequences and that people are “protected” — or that the changes will result in massive dislocation and turmoil. There are always winners and losers in a bill of this size. In this case, if the House bill ever became law, much would depend on unknown policy decisions by individual states — and then how those decisions are implemented. 

We explored a similar debate over the Senate version of the GOP health plan and preexisting conditions.

5. Kellyanne Conway’s claim of a ‘Bowling Green massacre’

In defending the president’s initial executive order temporarily banning refugees, immigrants and citizens from Iraq and six other Muslim-majority countries, Conway blamed two Iraqis for a massacre that didn’t happen. There was no massacre, and she got some other details wrong in her recalling the incident during a TV interview.

Later, Conway did note that her use of “massacre” was an “honest mistake,” tweeting that she meant to say “Bowling Green terrorists.” We don’t play gotcha at The Fact Checker. Uncorrected, this would have been worth Four Pinocchios. While many readers requested a Pinocchio rating, we chose not to do so because she noted her mistake. 

6. Stephen Miller’s bushels of Pinocchios for false voter-fraud claims

In February, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller appeared across Sunday talk shows, spouting the White House’s go-to false claims about voter fraud. Miller repeated that 14 percent of noncitizens are registered to vote — yet the researcher of the study disputed such use of the research. He cited other examples that also failed to support the White House’s allegations of voter fraud.

However, these claims have now morphed into a commission to investigate their veracity. Many months later, we still have not seen evidence to support these bogus talking points that have been repeatedly shown to be false.


7. Spicer earns Four Pinocchios for false claims on inauguration crowd size

The day after President Trump’s inauguration, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” Trump later made similar claims touting his crowd size.

It was easy to discover that this statement was simply not true. Although crowd estimates are not definitive, images extending over the Mall and looking toward the Capitol clearly showed that fewer people attended Trump’s inauguration than either of Barack Obama’s. Viewership data further debunked such claims. 

This was an appalling performance by Spicer, then the brand-new press secretary. He managed to make a series of false and misleading claims in service of a relatively minor issue. As we said at the time: Spicer earns Four Pinocchios, but seriously, we wish we could give five.


8. Julian Assange’s claim that there was no Russian involvement in WikiLeaks emails

Assange assured the American public that he is 1,000 percent confident that the Russian government, or anybody associated with Russia, was not the source of hacked Democratic National Committee emails published on WikiLeaks. But the situation was much less certain than he made it seem, and the facts we knew at the time contradicted Assange’s assurance. 

Guccifer 2.0, a hacking entity, claimed credit for providing the hacked DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Independent cybersecurity experts found Guccifer 2.0’s links to Russian hackers, noting that Guccifer 2.0’s malware and hacking activity are similar to known Russian hackers. Researchers have assessed that Guccifer 2.0 likely is connected to Russians. But Guccifer 2.0 has denied ties to the Russian government. Further, cybersecurity experts and the FBI both confirmed to The Washington Post that they believe Russia was responsible for the hack.


9. Did the Clinton Foundation pay for Chelsea’s wedding?

After the 2016 presidential election, two readers separately asked The Fact Checker about a news report that apparently swayed some voters at the last minute. These readers’ friends had heard just before Election Day that Hillary Clinton used Clinton Foundation money to pay for Chelsea’s wedding — and this news tipped their vote for Trump. “I know the election is over, but I would love to know the real facts,” a reader said.

The claim originated in a former Clinton aide’s email, released via WikiLeaks just before Election Day. The aide claimed Chelsea had used “foundation resources for her wedding.” But no evidence has emerged that even volunteers were used. The foundation, the family and the wedding planner deny the claim made in the email. The wedding planner paid the bills and submitted one bill to the Clinton family. We didn’t award a Pinocchio rating, since no specific person repeated this allegation.

10. Trump’s claim that Korea ‘actually used to be a part of China’

Trump’s inartful retelling of Sino-Korean history after his meeting with China’s Xi Jinping sparked widespread outrage among South Koreans, who were particularly sensitive to the U.S. president’s rhetoric amid heightened tensions between North and South Korea. Leaders across the political spectrum criticized Trump’s characterization, calling it a clear distortion of history and an attempt to undermine Korean sovereignty. 

It’s unclear whether Trump misunderstood what Xi told him during their meeting, or whether Xi really told him that Korea “actually used to be a part of China.” But what is clear is the history, which we explained in our fact check. Bottom line: Korea and China have long been intertwined, geopolitically and culturally. But Korea was not a spinoff of China, as he made it seem, and Korea has its own unique roots and history. 

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