CNN Fact Checker Daniel Dale Is a ‘Firehose’ Dousing Trump’s Incendiary Lies

·12 min read
CNN
CNN

Daniel Dale can talk at the speed of light—the light he tries to shed on the multiplying mendacities, prevarications and deceptions of Donald J. Trump.

On the final night of the Republican National Convention, CNN’s resident fact-checker barely stopped to breathe as he enumerated the falsehoods uttered by the 45th president in his 70-minute speech accepting his party’s nomination.

“Anderson, this president is a serial liar, and he serially lied tonight,” Dale told anchor Anderson Cooper, and then—over the course of three dizzying minutes—ticked off 21 instances of Trump assaulting the truth, everything from his erroneous claims that Joe Biden wants to take down the border wall and confiscate guns to his bogus boast that no president has done more for the African-American community.

During Dale’s lightning-round recitation, Cooper, on split screen, took a languid swig of an unidentified liquid from a paper cup, smiled wryly, and theatrically rested his chin on his palm.

“That’s it?” Cooper joked when Dale finished. “Wow,” he added, laughing.

“There’s more. How much time do you have?” Dale responded.

The day after, Cooper told The Daily Beast: “Daniel is always rigorous in his research, but his fact check immediately after President Trump’s convention speech? That was epic.”

Former Wall Street Journal and CNN correspondent Brooks Jackson—the co-founder of FactCheck.org and by most accounts the inventor of the journalistic genre specifically tasked with countering and correcting the misstatements of dishonest politicians—told The Daily Beast: “That was a virtuoso performance. It went by pretty fast, but I didn’t hear any mistakes. He was ready to roll. It was like a firehose.”

Yet Jackson’s FactCheck.org cofounder, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Elizabeth Ware Packard Professor of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, pointed out that “Dale’s rapidly spoken summary and correction of distortions in the Trump acceptance speech was more likely to leave viewers impressed with Dale than it was to help viewers remember the corrections.”

Still, “my guess is that the typical viewer concluded from that segment that there was a lot of deception in the speech,” Jamieson added.

Dale, 35, is the nation’s sole cable-news journalist whose full-time job is fact-checking Trump (and, to a smaller degree, the far less fact-averse Biden)—an occupation he began in earnest in 2016, when Dale, a Canadian citizen, was Washington bureau chief of The Toronto Star and the longtime reality TV personality, emcee of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, had just announced his unlikely candidacy.

“I think the handling of Trump’s lying by much of the so-called mainstream media has been broadly bad,” Dale told The Daily Beast, though he added that he’s noticed improvements in recent weeks—especially The New York Times’ recent lead story “focusing on all the dishonesty” at the GOP conclave and the razor-sharp interview of the president by Axios White House correspondent Jonathan Swan. “The things I’ve complained about are not only the sometimes soft-pedaling language, but sometimes the dishonesty is not mentioned at all,” Dale said.

Dale’s fact-checking labors have garnered him not only positive attention from fans—notably a name-check by Sigourney Weaver in April 2019 (“Daniel Dale is exhausted”) as part of a skit at Samantha Bee’s Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner—but also a barrage of sometimes threatening abuse from apparent acolytes of the president.

“A fair bit of it,” Dale acknowledged. “Of course on Twitter, there’s just so much vitriol. I’d like to emphasize that it’s outweighed by the positivity and compliments. But yeah, it’s a polarized country, and I’m doing work that challenges the credibility of core things the president is saying. So it’s not nice or pleasant, but it comes with the territory.”

In one instance, Dale received a death threat. “I got one death threat at CNN. I reported it, police looked into it, and because this person deleted a Facebook account, the police basically said they couldn’t trace this person. But I was never in serious fear,” said Dale, who lives with his non-journalist girlfriend, Kelsey Shamburger, and their beloved Pomeranian, Breezy. “I just thought as a matter of principle I should take precautions and let someone know.”

Dale added: “The White House has never attacked me, and the president has never attacked me or even mentioned me. But the Trump campaign has started going after me a little bit.”

On Friday, pricey sports-car collector Brad Parscale—Trump’s former re-election campaign manager who was recently fired and replaced by White House political director Bill Stepien—rage-tweeted at Dale and CNN for allegedly “letting Biden get away with a disgusting lie” that the president has never said anything negative about white supremacists.

“You’re just wrong here, Brad,” Dale shot back. “I said yesterday that Biden was wrong on this.”

Indeed, Dale had tweeted: “Biden is incorrect to suggest Trump hasn't said ‘one’ negative thing about white supremacists. He has made remarks soft on white supremacists (Charlottesville), and often ignored white supremacist violence, but he has condemned them on a few occasions.”

To which Parscale retorted: “It wasn’t ‘soft’ at all. Say it on @ AC360’s show tonight on @CNN accurately.”

Dale got the last word: “Respectfully: I don’t take orders from you - not ever, but especially after you’ve been caught lying about me and refused to acknowledge your error. Take care and all the best.”

Dale grew up in the Toronto suburbs, in a family of non-journalists, and earned his business degree before deciding, after writing for campus publications and pursuing newspaper internships, that he was less cut out for business than for life as a reporter. He was hired by his hometown paper in 2008, assigned to the City Hall beat, and spent four years reporting on Toronto’s notorious crack-smoking mayor, Rob Ford, and his equally deceitful brother, Ward 2 City Councillor Doug Ford.

“In some ways it was good preparation for the Trump era,” Dale recalled. “Like Trump, [Rob Ford] lied a lot, and he didn’t like to admit error.” Keeping track of the Ford brothers’ promiscuous duplicity was an exhausting occupation. “That was sort of the first time I’d done fact-checking so it prepared me in several ways, I think.”

In December 2013, Dale actually commenced libel proceedings against Mayor Ford for telling a television interviewer, disgraced Canadian press lord Conrad Black, a convicted fraudster who’d served 42 months in a U.S. prison, that Dale had been caught the previous year peeping over his fence to take creepy photos of Ford’s small children.

“I honestly wrestled with it,” Dale said about his decision to sue—a highly unusual action by a journalist against a public official. “The Star leadership, at least some of them, thought I should, just because it was such an egregious accusation. Ford went after our work all the time, saying it was fictional or we were making it up, and of course I never filed an action about that. But this was the mayor of a city of three million people essentially calling me a pedophile on TV. At first I wasn’t going to, but then he went on a radio show in Washington, D.C., and essentially repeated the story, and I just decided you know what? If I don’t take action to force him to stop, he’s just never going to stop.”

Dale ultimately dropped the lawsuit against Ford (who died in March 2016 at age 46), and against the Canadian television outlet that twice aired his fake accusation, after the mayor issued an abject, point-by-point public apology for his lie.

“When I talk about fact-checking, that was kind of a formative moment for me, because it was the first time I accused a politician of lying in print,” Dale said. “The Star let me write a column headlined ‘Rob Ford is lying about me and it’s vile,’ and I started thinking after that, if I can say ‘lie’ about something concerning me, why can’t I say that about other lies? That was a big moment.”

Veteran fact-checkers like Brooks Jackson and Glenn Kessler—who for nearly a decade has helmed The Washington Post’s Pinocchio-awarding “Fact Checker” team that, nearly four years into the current administration, has counted up more than 20,000 false or misleading presidential claims—prefer not to use word “lie” when it comes to Trump’s prolific misrepresentations and smears.

“‘Lie’ assumes the falsehood is intentional, and you don’t know that unless you’re a mind reader,” said Jackson, who was CNN’s resident fact-checker from 1991 till 2003, when new management discontinued the position. “The other reason I would avoid it, even now, is that to me, using the word ‘lie’ rather than ‘falsehood’ implies a moral judgment, a judgment on somebody’s character. You’re calling somebody a liar—which is to say, you’re calling them a bad person.”

Yet Dale told The Daily Beast: “It wasn’t hard to use ‘lie’ with Trump for two reasons: One, because I’d used it with the Fords. And two—crucially—because I’d used it with the Fords, we had had that conversation at my paper way before American reporters and their editors and publishers had to have it about Trump. So, with Trump, I knew I’d have institutional support to use it—which is key, right?”

But that was at The Toronto Star. Before taking the job at CNN, “I had discussions with senior people there and said it’s important to me, as a matter of principle, to be able to say the word ‘lie’ when warranted, but not all the time, not for every false claim,” Dale said, adding that it’s especially appropriate when Trump is repeatedly and publicly corrected yet persists in spreading whoppers. “It’s something I’ve taken a stand on, and I can’t just stop now. It would make me look bad and make CNN look bad for appearing to muzzle me.”

At both the Star and CNN, Dale has counted up more than 8,600 false Trump claims—many of them classified as lies. “It’s not an exact science and we’re all doing our best,” he said by way of accounting for his far more conservative number than Kessler’s, noting that The Post includes possibly misleading statements on which Dale said he gives Trump “the benefit of the doubt.”

But has Dale been frustrated as a fact-checker when CNN regularly cedes valuable airtime to Trump staffers and surrogates—such as paid contributor and lobbyist Rick Santorum and recently resigned presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway—who aggressively spin and dispense “alternative facts” instead of the plain truth?

“I don’t want to weigh in on that. It’s not my call,” Dale predictably replied.

A sought-after cable news guest during the campaign and the first three years of the Trump presidency, Dale said he consulted his friend, The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning reporter David Fahrenthold, about how he might earn some extra bucks as a paid on-air contributor. Fahrenthold, a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, steered him to his agent, CAA’s Rachel Adler, who negotiated his full-time CNN gig in June 2019.

Unlike Fahrenthold—whose revealing reporting on the president’s self-enriching activities courtesy of American taxpayers earned him a threat from Trump White House spokesman Judd Deere—Dale said he has “no reason to think” that the White House is assembling a dossier on him. “But I have no idea what’s going on there,” he added.

“Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others [sic] stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people,” Deere—leaving little to the imagination—actually said in a statement to The Post.

Yet Dale said he has engaged in civil online exchanges with Trump supporters who let him know that they appreciated his attempts to be accurate and informative about their champion. There was a man in rural Pennsylvania, a loyal Fox News viewer and Rush Limbaugh fan, who messaged Dale about his list of Trump’s falsehoods.

“I braced for him to say I’d tricked him by sounding friendly, that I, too, was fake news,” Dale wrote in The Washington Post. “Instead, he wrote: ‘Wow… I kind of knew he wasn’t truthful much of the time, but not to the degree of hundreds of lies in such a short period of time. Thanks for opening my eyes.’”

Dale told The Daily Beast: “That’s a story I used to end my speeches with when I would do public speaking at colleges or wherever, and it was kind of like my happy, optimistic ending. I don’t think I’d had other experiences like that where a hard-core Trump supporter said, ‘I think Hillary Clinton should be shot or imprisoned, but, man, your fact-checks impress me.’”

Yet, in this case, “it turned out that it actually had a less optimistic ending.”

As it happened, Dale initially hadn’t realized that this rural Pennsylvania Trump fan—apparently open-minded and willing to face facts—was the same person Dale had been compelled to block for spreading noxious conspiracy theories on his 952,000-follower Twitter feed.

“He then got back in touch with me and was basically railing against the left and so on,” Dale recalled. “So I hadn’t converted this person to be anti-Trump—but that’s not my job.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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