One persistent narrative in U.S. politics is that Hillary Clinton is a slippery, compulsive liar while Donald Trump is a gutsy truth-teller.
Overall, the latest CBS News poll finds the public similarly repulsed by each candidate: 34 percent of registered voters say Clinton is honest and trustworthy compared with 36 percent for Trump.
Yet the idea that they are even in the same league is preposterous. If deception were a sport, Trump would be the Olympic gold medalist; Clinton would be an honorable mention at her local Y.
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One metric comes from independent fact-checking websites. As of Friday, PolitiFact had found 27 percent of Clinton’s statements that it had looked into were mostly false or worse, compared with 70 percent of Trump’s. It said 2 percent of Clinton’s statements it had reviewed were egregious “pants on fire” lies, compared with 19 percent of Trump’s. So Trump has nine times the share of flat-out lies as Clinton.
Likewise, The Washington Post Fact-Checker has awarded its worst ranking, Four Pinocchios, to 16 percent of Clinton’s statements that it checked and to 64 percent of Trump’s.
“Essentially, Clinton is in the norm for a typical politician,” says Glenn Kessler, who runs Fact-Checker, while Trump “is just off the charts. There’s never been anyone like him, at least in the six years I have been doing this.”
When I speak with Trump voters, they often argue that Clinton is an inveterate liar and crook, yet when pressed they draw from the same handful of examples.
One is Clinton’s 2008 claim that she landed in Bosnia in 1996 “under sniper fire” and “ran with our heads down” from the plane. The Washington Post dismantled that claim; video shows that Clinton was greeted not by gunshots but by a crowd of dignitaries that included an 8-year-old Bosnian girl.
But it’s also true that as the plane prepared to descend, security officials gave a spine-chilling briefing of the risks of sniper fire, and Clinton wore body armor in case of shooting.
Critics also claim that Clinton lied to the families of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, but fact-checkers have said the evidence is unclear. Harder to defend is her disingenuous explanation of flip-flopping on the Asian trade agreement. And her accounts of her use of private email servers have been consistently false or misleading; astonishingly, she continues to mislead by claiming that the FBI director, James Comey, judged her answers truthful (he didn’t).
All this is junior varsity mendacity. In contrast, Trump is the champ of prevarication.
You don’t need to go back eight years to find a Trump embellishment; eight minutes is more than sufficient. In March, Politico chronicled a week of Trump remarks and found on average one misstatement every five minutes. The Huffington Post once chronicled 71 inaccuracies in an hourlong town hall session – more than one a minute.
If Clinton declares that she didn’t chop down a cherry tree, that might mean that she actually used a chain saw to cut it down. Or that she ordered an aide to chop it down. As for Trump, he will insist, “I absolutely did not chop down that cherry tree,” even as he clutches the ax with which he chopped it down moments earlier on Facebook Live.
Trump used to boast that he and Vladimir Putin were buddies — “I spoke directly and indirectly with President Putin” — only to acknowledge later that they had never met or spoken. He retweeted an incendiary graphic indicating that 81 percent of murdered whites are killed by blacks (the actual figure is 15 percent). He denied telling The New York Times’ editorial board that he would impose a 45 percent tariff on China; The Times then released the audio of him saying just that.
Then there was Trump’s claim that he had seen thousands of Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11. That was preposterous, but he then claimed that an article from the time backed him up (it didn’t), mocked the disabled reporter who wrote it, and denied he had done so. Lately he stitched yet another quilt of lies about all this.
Equally brazen were Trump’s claims about his fundraiser for veterans in Iowa: He said on video that he had raised $6 million for them, then when the money didn’t show up he denied ever saying that. He claims to have been “among the earliest” to oppose the Iraq War, even though interviews from 2002 and 2003 show he then supported the war.
“The man lies all the time,” says Thomas M. Wells, his former lawyer. Wells recalls being curious that newspaper accounts varied as to the number of rooms in Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower – eight, 16, 20 or 30. So Wells asked him how many rooms were actually in the apartment. “However many they will print,” Trump responded.
Tony Schwartz, the co-writer of his book “The Art of the Deal,” told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, “Lying is second nature to him.”
In short, Clinton is about average for a politician in dissembling, while Trump is a world champion who is pathological in his dishonesty. Honestly, there is no comparison.