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Communication in the Age of Trump

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Edited By Arthur S. Hayes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio fireside chats to connect with millions of ordinary Americans. The highly articulate and telegenic John F. Kennedy was dubbed the first TV president. Ronald Reagan, the so-called Great Communicator, had a conversational way of speaking to the common man. Bill Clinton left his mark on media industries by championing and signing the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Barack Obama was the first social media presidential campaigner and president. And now there is President Donald J. Trump.

Because so much of what has made Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency unconventional has been about communication—how he has used Twitter to convey his political messages and how the news media and voters have interpreted and responded to his public words and persona—21 communication and media scholars examine the Trump phenomenon in Communication in the Age of Trump. This collection of essays and studies, suitable for communication and political science students and scholars, covers the 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency.

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11. “Judicious Skepticism”: Fact-Checking Trump (Beth Knobel)

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11. “Judicious Skepticism:” Fact-Checking Trump

BETH KNOBEL

Fordham University

There’s an old joke that goes, “How do you know if a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” Although honest politicians do exist, polls show that Americans think politicians lie often (Just 4%, 2014). And Donald J. Trump has arguably lied more than any other politician in American history, creating more need than ever before for the media and politically oriented citizens to fact-check the words of the president. Trump’s tendency to prevaricate has been well documented both during the presidential campaign of 2015–2016 and since Trump assumed the presidency in 2017. “Mr. Trump is trafficking in hyperbole, distortion and fabrication on practically a daily basis,” asserted the New York Times (Stolberg, 2017). “A lot of what he himself says is as fake, misleading, and as inaccurate as it comes,” explained Mashable (Lekach, 2017). Even one of the president’s Republican colleagues admitted Trump shows “flagrant disregard for truth and decency” (Flake, 2017). This never-before-seen level of prevarication has provoked a response from the media, which has traditionally seen the watchdog role as being critical to its mission (Cater, 1959; Jones, 2009; Knobel, 2018). Given that the president lies more than five times per day on average according to a Washington Post estimate (Kessler, Kelly, & Lewis, 2017), fact-checking Trump has become a central element of presidential coverage.

To track the truthfulness of presidential statements,...

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