As a matter of fact: Fact-checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale reflects on the Trump era

·4 min read
As a matter of fact: Fact-checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale reflects on the Trump era

What began as a side project for Canadian journalist Daniel Dale soon ballooned into a full-time job, as he fact-checked U.S. President Donald Trump — often in real time — and Trump's near-daily spreading of misinformation.

Now, with Trump's four-year term over, Dale reflects on some of Trump's most damaging and befuddling lies.

Dale went to Washington to cover analytical and human interest stories for the Toronto Star, where he was the paper's bureau chief for four years. He began fact-checking Trump as a side project. The president, he soon found, provided ample material to work with.

"It turned out that the president lied so frequently that it could be a full-time thing," said Dale, speaking with CBC's Leigh Anne Power.

"And that's what it became for me."

Dale, who moved to CNN in 2019, was often sought out for what was true — and more often what wasn't — in Trump's tweets, speeches, remarks and news conferences. Dale now has more than 1.2 million followers on Twitter.

The volume and frequency of Trump's tweets created a demanding schedule, said Dale, and fact-checking the president soon became a kind of lifestyle.

"He would lie from sometimes 6 a.m. when he would get on Twitter, to just about midnight where he would stop tweeting," said Dale.

"You could be watching a game, or watching a movie, or out at a park or something and just have to jump because the president had said something wildly untrue and your editor is calling."

'Ridiculous' and 'unique'

Like other social media companies, Twitter suspended Trump's account indefinitely over his role in this month's violent riot at the Capitol.

Through the months, Trump's tweets often veered from the potentially violent to the outright bizarre.

While Dale says that all politicians lie or bend the truth in order to win elections or play-up their personal accomplishments, Trump would often claim outlandish and easily verifiable facts about himself.

"He claimed that he was once named 'Michigan Man of The Year', even though he never lived in Michigan," Dale said. "There's no reason he would've gotten this award, he did not get this award, but he kept saying it."

Another of Trump's lies which stood out was a claim that he had been called by the leader of the Boy Scouts of America, and was told that he had given the greatest ever speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree event.

The Boy Scouts of America confirmed to Dale that had never happened.

"He made that up, the White House later admitted it," said Dale. "So a president who lies about the Boy Scouts is a pretty unique president."

Dangerous tweeting

Though Trump's time in office yielded many remarkable claims and fabrications, the more serious of his lies, said Dale, were the ones which put American institutions and lives at risk.

"The lies that he won the election, that it was rife with fraud, Joe Biden stole it, or it was rigged— all that. I think we've seen the serious damage to democracy," he told CBC's Newfoundland Morning.

In addition to allegations of election fraud, Dale said that the most damaging day-to-day implications of Trump's lying were the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Listen to Newfoundland Morning's interview with Daniel Dale, beginning at 9:30:

"[Saying] things were under control and it wasn't that bad, and it was just like the flu," Dale said, "that kind of family of lies I think very likely resulted in a lot of Americans dying, because people didn't change their behaviour in a way they would have if the president had been more honest with them."

While some fact-checking might have been as simple as a Google search, others required him to track down obscure characters, and dig into archives or statistical databases.

As for what it takes to be a good fact-checker, Dale pointed to a willingness to wade into the weeds to find the truth is imperative.

"I would say you have to have stamina. You have to take a breath and second guess yourself, make sure that you are not misunderstanding what's said, and you're not tweeting prematurely before you've listened to all the facts," said Dale.

"I think you have to be willing to go the extra mile in pursuing the truth."

And while the Trump era has ended, Dale's zeal for checking the facts has not. On Friday, he reported on a false claim by President Joe Biden.

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