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CNN fact-checked the presidential debate. It was almost all about Trump’s lies.

“We had an avalanche of lying from President Trump.”

President Donald Trump at the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election, there wasn’t much in the way of coherent discussion. But a CNN fact-check found that much of what was said — particularly by President Donald Trump — was false or misleading.

“We had an avalanche of lying from President Trump,” CNN reporter Daniel Dale said. “[Former Vice President Joe] Biden, conversely, made at least a couple false or misleading claims. But honestly, he was largely accurate.”

He added, “There was times during this debate, Wolf [Blitzer], where President Trump’s every line — specifically on mail voting — almost every single thing he said during that concluding section of the debate was inaccurate. And the other thing that stood out to me, Wolf, was that these were largely false claims the president has made before.”

Here are some of the highlights from Dale’s fact-checking, pulled from his CNN appearance and Twitter feed:

  • On Trump’s claim that he banned travel from China and Europe in response to Covid-19: “Trump didn’t ‘ban’ travel from China or Europe. He imposed travel restrictions with numerous exemptions — for US citizens, green card holders, many of their family members — and the Europe restrictions exempted entire countries.”
  • On Trump’s claim that Biden wants to abolish private health insurance: “That claim is simply not true. You may recall the Democratic primary, in which a leading candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, proposed a Medicare-for-all plan … a single-payer plan that would indeed have eliminated most private insurance — about 100 million people with private plans. Biden rejected that approach.”
  • On Trump’s claim that he’s bringing down drug prices: “Can’t fact-check the future, but there is very much no evidence Trump’s executive order will reduce drug prices 80 percent or 90 percent.”
  • On Trump’s claim that Biden supports another lockdown: “Biden has not proposed a shutdown or put forward a shutdown plan. He said in an August interview that he’d shut things down *if scientists said that was necessary in a virus crisis.* He later walked that back, saying ‘there is going to be no need’ for a ‘whole economy’ shutdown.”
  • On Trump’s claim that he brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs: “From the beginning of Trump’s presidency through August, it’s a net loss of 237,000 jobs. We have lost manufacturing jobs under Trump.”
  • On Biden’s claim that the US trade deficit with China has grown: “Biden is wrong that the trade deficit with China is now bigger than it was before. That would’ve been true in 2018, but it isn’t anymore; last year’s figure was slightly lower than the 2016 figure.”

After the debate ended, Dale summarized his takeaway on Twitter: “Biden has gotten at least a small number of things at least a little wrong; Trump has told big lie after big lie.”

In a sense, the debate was a microcosm of Trump’s presidency — lying and misleading aren’t new for him. According to the Washington Post, Trump has now made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims in public since he assumed office.

The problem is not just that Trump lied a lot during the debate, or that he lies a lot in his public statements. It’s that Trump doesn’t seem to care at all for the truth. What he says is only meant to make him look good.

And when the president repeats the sorts of lies he told Tuesday night, they begin to calcify, lingering despite fact-checks — making it perpetually difficult to say if he’s telling the truth or merely reciting self-serving bullshit.