At the outset of his presidency, several major news outlets eagerly and proudly announced that they were going to fact-check Donald Trump's every utterance and document all the misinformation he was spreading. To their credit, news organizations set aside considerable resources to dutifully unpack Trump's “falsehoods,” as the press preferred to call them. The unspoken assumption was that as the detailed fact checks piled up and it became obvious to everyone that Trump so often wasn't telling the truth, he would feel shame or embarrassment and change his ways, and that members of his own party would likely be unwilling to defend his chronic mendacity.
Boy, that didn't work out, did it? It didn't work because, of course, Trump is utterly shameless. As a pathological liar, he doesn't care if he gets fact-checked, and he doesn't care if his claims are immediately debunked. He doesn’t care because he wants to create an alternate universe where he and his loyalists bask in their own “facts.” He wants nothing to do with the real world where agreed-upon facts are the basis for public debate. And rather than being nauseated by Trump's lies, the GOP has feasted on them for years now.
Now, as the 2020 campaign gains momentum and the same news outlets are fact-checking Democratic candidates, here’s the problem: By setting up this side-by-side forum where Trump and Democrats are, at least on the surface, treated as equals when it comes to the veracity of their statements, the fact-checking exercise creates a huge perception problem. That's because, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being complete truths and 10 being complete untruths, the fact checks of Democratic candidates suggest they basically operate in the 1-2 range. Trump, on the other hand, hovers around 30 or 40.
By all means, the media should keep fact-checking Democrats and make sure their campaign rhetoric is accurate. That's certainly a worthy endeavor. But it shouldn’t use that same traditional umbrella of truth-telling to deal with Trump. He's so obviously in a separate category that it makes no sense for him to be included the same fact-checking space as Democrats.
Yet today, the fact-checking forums use the same language for both Trump and Democrats. They're both guilty of making “misleading,” “incorrect,” or “exaggerated” statements. But does anyone think that actually captures the damage Trump has done with his brutally dishonest onslaught over the past two years, when it's been almost impossible for him to open his mouth and not lie?