Donald Trump’s social media posts in the aftermath of the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol got him suspended from Facebook and Twitter amid concerns that his false claims about a stolen election would provoke more violence.
But he hasn’t been silent.
Since his exit from the White House, Trump has headlined political conferences, hosted rallies, held a press conference, given media interviews, made appearances with political allies, and issued written statements (often several a day).
More than that, these outlets have afforded him the same privilege that he once enjoyed on Twitter and Facebook: the ability to spread falsehoods without much pushback or restraint. Trump has exploited these opportunities to advance false and misleading claims about, among other things, the 2020 election and Jan. 6, when his supporters stormed the Capitol to block Congress’ constitutional certification of the election results showing he lost to Joe Biden.
In recent weeks, for example, Trump has joined a chorus of Republican lawmakers seeking to downplay the events of Jan. 6 and portray the riot as more or less a peaceful protest, even though demonstrators broke windows and attacked law enforcement officers with weapons.
Interview with Maria Bartiromo
Trump claimed that “we had a corrupt election. We had a rigged election. We had a stolen election.” None of that is true. No legitimate evidence has emerged to prove widespread fraud or stolen votes that would change the outcome of the election.
At one point, Bartiromo said that according to a conservative website, The Federalist, “new evidence indicates enough illegal votes in Georgia to tip the 2020 results.” That disregards the fact that Georgia’s top elections official, a Republican, has stood by the state’s election procedures and dismissed claims about fraud.
At Bartiromo’s nudging, Trump claimed that “there were no guns whatsoever” during the riot at the Capitol. That’s false. Some people brought guns onto Capitol grounds, according to charging documents for crimes related to the insurrection. Many people used other weapons, such as clubs and flagpoles.
Trump described Jan. 6 as “a lovefest between the police, the Capitol Police, and the people that walked down to the Capitol.” That’s contradicted by the facts, including a bipartisan Senate report, video evidence and acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, who said nearly 150 law enforcement officers were injured. Police fatally shot one woman who was with a group of rioters near the entrance to the House chamber in the Capitol.
News coverage of Trump post-presidency
During his first campaign and his time in office, cable networks routinely aired Trump’s daily movements and speeches live, misinformation and all. Some have since limited their coverage of Trump.
“They are paying attention to the news value, if there is one,” said Aly Colón, a media ethics professor at Washington and Lee University and a former Poynter faculty member. “If there is not a news value, they see no reason to be a megaphone for someone who may not be advancing anything or advancing things that are not accurate, possibly untrue.”
That has opened them up to charges of biased coverage or censorship of a major political leader.
That’s why media outlets have to do a better job of explaining to the public how they determine newsworthiness and why certain events are or are not covered, said Laura Castañeda, a professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
“That could help mitigate charges of bias from the public,” she said. “Transparency is key.”
Other networks, like Newsmax and One America News Network, cater to an audience of Trump supporters, and they remain all in on Trump news.
By airing Trump’s events in full and live, they give their viewers what they want, experts said.
“Trump’s hardcore supporters will turn to the outlet that carries what they want,” said Jane E. Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. “And at the moment, that is all Trump, all the time,”
After Trump’s first post-presidency rally, Newsmax said that his “super-charged return to the political stage over the weekend was a ratings smash for Newsmax, which trounced Fox News in key ratings.”
Experts said news networks and journalists do a disservice to the public by not treating such events and one-on-one interviews with more scrutiny.
“Being complicit in lies is not the proper role of the news media, and journalists should push back against falsehoods and unsubstantiated statements,” Kirtley said.
It’s also journalists’ responsibility to bring context and additional information that will help the public understand what is going on, Colón said.
“While the former president has sought to use every communication outlet that he can, it doesn’t mean that every outlet has to be either a recording or repetition or megaphone for whatever it is that he is asserting,” Colón said.
Where the pro-Trump networks have been more cautious in recent months is in countering claims from Trump and his allies about manipulation of voting machines used in the 2020 election — claims that are the subject of ongoing litigation.
Fox News Network is facing a $1.6 billion defamation suit filed in March by Dominion Voting Systems, alleging that it “endorsed, repeated and broadcast a series of verifiably false yet devastating lies about Dominion.”
Fox News is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
But on July 11, as it aired live coverage of Trump’s speech at a conservative conference in Dallas, Fox News had an on-screen caption that said: “The voting system companies have denied the various allegations made by President Trump and his counsel regarding the 2020 election.” According to a tweet by Oliver Darcy, a senior media reporter at CNN, the disclaimer appeared on screen for about 40 seconds.
Fox News and Newsmax also made on-air clarifications in December to disavow unsubstantiated claims that were aired on their shows, in response to complaints from Smartmatic, an elections technology and software company.
Smartmatic in February filed a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News, some of its on-air hosts and its parent company. They have also sought to dismiss Smartmatic’s lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
Trump’s post-presidency claims about the election and Jan. 6
In addition to the claim about guns at the Capitol, PolitiFact has evaluated several statements Trump has made in TV interviews, speeches and statements about the election and the riot since he left office:
- In a July 7 press conference to announce that he was filing a lawsuit against several social media platforms: “The person that shot Ashli Babbitt — boom — right through the head — just boom — there was no reason for that.” False.
- In a June 27 statement: “Facts have now come out to show conclusively” that the 2020 presidential election wasn’t legitimate. Pants on Fire!
- In a video statement shown June 26 to Wisconsin Republican Party convention delegates: “In 2020 we won (Wisconsin).” Pants on Fire!
- In a June 25 statement: Claimed that Republican leaders “are working hard to cover up election corruption in Wisconsin.” Pants on Fire!
- In a June 22 statement: Claims that Georgia didn’t update its voter rolls prior to the 2020 presidential election; “this means we (you!) won the presidential election in Georgia.” Pants on Fire!
- In a June 5 speech to the North Carolina Republican Convention: “Republican state senators” who started an audit of 2020 election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County are “exposing this fraud.” False.
- In a May 15 statement: “The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!” False.
- In a Feb. 28 interview with Fox News host Steve Hilton: Claimed he requested “10,000 National Guardsmen” for his Jan. 6 rally, but Nancy Pelosi “rejected it.” False.
Questionable claims go beyond election
Trump has also made questionable claims about his own administration’s record and the Biden administration:
- In an April 19 Fox News interview: “Human trafficking and drugs” at the Mexico border have “doubled, tripled and quadrupled” since Joe Biden became president. False.
- In a March 29 statement: Claimed that Deborah Birx “traveled a great distance to see her family for Thanksgiving, only to have them call the police and turn her in. She then … resigned.” Half True.
- In a March 21 statement: “We proudly handed the Biden administration the most secure border in history. All they had to do was keep this smooth-running system on autopilot.” Mostly False.
- In a Feb. 28 speech at a political conference: Claimed that the voting-rights bill H.R. 1 “automatically registers every welfare recipient to vote.” Mostly False.
- In a Feb. 28 speech at a political conference: Claimed that Joe Biden “has effectively ordered a shutdown of ICE, halting virtually all deportations, everyone, murderers, everybody, no more.” False.
This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.