Counting Trump's lies: Daniel Dale's relentless quest to fact-check the president
Dale has documented 5,276 false statements since Trump's inauguration
For Daniel Dale, Donald Trump has been his bread and butter.
Dale is the currently the Toronto Star's Washington bureau chief, and since moving to the U.S. he's spent a lot his time — much of it his own time — fact-checking the U.S. president.
"You take a look at collusion between Hillary Clinton and Russia. She had more to do with the campaign with Russia than I did," said Trump before getting on a plane last week.
"We're taking in billions of dollars in tariffs. China is subsidizing products. So the United States taxpayer is paying for very little of it," Trump continued later.
According to Dale, neither of these claims is true.
"There's simply no basis for the claim that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign," Dale said.
Trump was saying so many things that weren't true, and this wasn't being treated really as an important story.- Daniel Dale
"On the tariffs and China, every study that has actually analyzed these tariffs has shown that indeed, Americans are the ones who are ending up paying this tax on imported Chinese products."
He tallies and live-tweets the false claims and, as of June 2, his database has counted 5,276 false claims since the day Trump was inaugurated.
This high-level fact-checking is how Dale made a name for himself outside of Canadian journalism. And now he's making it his career. Dale announced this week that he is going to work for CNN, to fact check Trump full-time as a reporter.
As he tells Day 6's Brent Bambury, while the unceasing fact-checking might be tiring, it's well worth it.
Here's part of that conversation:
What was the moment when you decided that you needed to publicly fact-check Donald Trump?
It was September 2016 ... and there was a day when I just became frustrated that Trump was saying so many things that weren't true, and this wasn't being treated really as an important story.
Reporters were sometimes fact-checking him on Twitter, but if you were to read their story online or [in the] next day's paper or watch the news, people weren't being told that one candidate in this race was being overwhelmingly, serially, frequently dishonest.
So I thought I'd just do it informally, take a little screenshot, make a list on Twitter, and the response was just so big. I had no idea that there would be a reception like this.
The thing with Trump is that he says some of these things so many times that once you fact check it five or 10 times, you just know it.- Daniel Dale
Trump is not the first lying politician that you've covered. You were at Toronto City Hall when Rob Ford was mayor and you famously had to threaten to sue Ford to get him to retract a lie that he told about you. What did that teach you about lying and politics?
It taught me that lying in politics should be combated aggressively, and that was my formative moment on this subject.
The Star let me say in the Star that Ford was lying about me because he was. That was objective truth. Then after that died down, I thought, 'Well if I can say that he was lying about me, why can't I say that he's lying about other things?' That is just as objectively true.
Why should I get special treatment for myself or from my own paper? So I started saying that Ford was lying.
Then that era was over, I went to Washington, I felt I would cease having to do that so frequently — and then Trump came along.
But Trump — and Rob Ford before him — doesn't care when he's caught in a lie. There's some evidence that his supporters don't care. And the people who don't like him already think he's lying all the time anyway, so what do you think you're achieving by documenting all of them?
Those are fair points and I think it's hard to know with any certainty what I am achieving.
I'd say a couple of things: One, I think we can be overly fixated on the existence of his base. People will say, well 35-40 per cent of people still love him, so facts don't matter. Well, a larger percentage of people don't love him. That's shown in every poll.
So if that's how we're judging, there is a larger constituency for facts than non-facts, about the people who already think he's a liar. They may generally think he's a liar, but they may not know how they're being deceived on a particular subject, whether it's NAFTA or immigration or tariffs on China.
People are not experts on everything, and a lot of people simply want the information. It's not just being told Trump is a liar, it's ... how can I educate readers so that they're better informed on a particular matter.
There are lots of days in D.C. where the birds chirping, it's a lovely spring day, and I'm sitting by my computer fact-checking him.- Daniel Dale
You're often doing this in real time. I've been on Twitter when Trump is having a rally and there you are. You're live-tweeting Trump's rallies in real time and it amazes me that you're able to fact check what the president is saying the moment it's coming out of his mouth. How do you do that?
The thing with Trump is that he says some of these things so many times that once you fact check it five or 10 times, you just know it. There's there's no magic trick here. There's no special skill. It's just that I read or listen to literally everything he says.
Are there cues that you watch for that signal that Trump is lying or about to lie?
Yes. A large percentage of his numbers, his figures, are incorrect. So literally any time he cites a figure, I'm on extra alert. I know I have to Google that.
There are lots of times where he will be reading from a script, he'll be reading a teleprompter, and then he'll deviate from the script. You'll see him sort of become Donald Trump again and he'll ad lib. A large percentage of those ad libs are ad libs to dishonesty.
He's breaking from a script to add something that isn't true. So anytime I hear that Trump voice come back or I see him look up, away from the teleprompter, I'm on guard for something that isn't true.
This sounds exhausting. What does it do to you personally to have to fact check these rallies?
I think I'm the same guy. It hasn't wounded my soul or injured my brain. It is tiring though, without complaining about it, just as a factual matter. To fact check 52 [false claims] in total, or you know, eight or nine per day, it just takes a lot of time that I would be using to sleep or to hang out with people.
There are lots of days in D.C. where the birds chirping, it's a lovely spring day, and I'm sitting by my computer fact-checking him on the China trade deficit for the 112th time and I'm just like 'man this is unpleasant.' But I think it's important work and I get a lot of good feedback so it's not too hard to keep going.
This transcript has been edited length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Daniel Dale, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.