WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — American politicians aren’t revered as society’s sturdy pillars of truth, but voters expect relative forthrightness when electing a new president.
One fact-free statement sets millions of fingers atwitter.
True to political form, leading 2016 candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both been caught in some doozies this election cycle — frequency notwithstanding.
The subject matter has been heavy: FBI investigations, ties to Russia, Iran ransom money, rigged elections, terrorism and pay-for-play charity work.
Consider the events of the last two weeks.
Democratic standard-bearer Clinton was emphatically called out by the Washington Post, slapping her with the feared “Four Pinocchios” label on its truth-lie scale, for claiming FBI Director James Comey characterized her public statements about her private email servers as “truthful.”
In fact, Comey only said Clinton’s statements to FBI investigators were truthful, never endorsing her public statements.
Clinton admitted that she “short-circuited” by transferring Comey’s seal of approval to all of her public explanations. Supporters were satisfied. Critics, however, were far from quelled.
Trump’s invisible video
Trump, the Republican nominee, spent several days tamping down hubbub over his blatantly false recollection of viewing a nonexistent video showing American “ransom” money being paid to Iran for freeing four hostages, which he repeated at several public rallies despite evidence to the contrary.
“The tape was made, right? You saw that with the airplane coming in, nice plane,” said Trump. Then he claimed to see “the airplane coming in, and the money coming off.”
Trump concluded that the tape, which, again, didn’t exist, “was given to us, has to be, by the Iranians. And you know why the tape was given to us? Because they want to embarrass our country.”
Following widespread blowback, Trump eventually tweeted, “The plane I saw on television was the hostage plane in Geneva, Switzerland, not the plane carrying $400 million in cash going to Iran!”
During the same week, President Barack Obama denounced Trump’s claim that 2016’s final outcome will be rigged, declaring, “Of course the elections will not be rigged. What does that mean? That’s ridiculous. That doesn’t make any sense.”
The electorate has a vested interest in sussing out who, once in the Oval Office, will fess up to embarrassing — or worse, incriminating — stories and resist the temptation to save face through misdirection.
So who’s more apt to tell a whopper?
The answer appears clear: Donald Trump.
Fact-checkers at the Washington Post keep close tabs on the candidates and in the past week have published articles like “Trump’s false claim that Clinton only recently pledged to renegotiate NAFTA” and “Trump is right: He didn’t kick a baby out of a campaign rally.”
A recent breakdown of the candidates’ questionable statements through July concluded that 63 percent of Trump’s assertions earned the lowest truthfulness rating (Four Pinocchios) while just 14 percent of Clinton’s claims earned the same distinction.
In summary, the Washington Post concluded that “the ratio of Trump’s Four-Pinocchios ratings is sky-high. In fact, nearly 85 percent of Trump’s claims that we vetted were false or mostly false … By contrast, Clinton has a bell curve of a typical politician.”
Similarly, the non-partisan fact-checking site Politifact features Trump statements far more often than Hillary’s in its “Pants On Fire” section devoted to the most egregious of mistruths.
Despite Trump and Clinton’s lopsided propensity for lying, public perception of their honesty is neck and neck.
“Trustworthiness is a problem for both candidates,” reports CNN, saying a recent ABC News poll revealed that “only 38 percent view Clinton as honest and trustworthy, and just 34 percent say Trump is honest and trustworthy.”
With more fact-checks and attack ads on the way, the final toll of the candidates’ fibs remains to be seen on November 8 when voters cast their ballots.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales