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Fact Checks

PolitiFact: All the Presidents’ Peeps

This is the second of a three-part series using PolitiFact truth ratings (with permission) to score the credibility of politicians and pundits. Part one found voters preferred the more truthful candidate in Senate races. Part three scores the veracity of well-known political people.

PolitiFact is well-known for scrutinizing presidential proclamations. The four most PolitiFact-checked people either are or tried to be a POTUS: Donald Trump (848 checks), Barack Obama (602), Hillary Clinton (300), and Mitt Romney (206).

PolitiFact started rating statements in 2007, midway into George W. Bush’s second term. Since then, they’ve reviewed more than 2,500 statements by presidents and their staffs. I combined those truth ratings of the executive branch members (with four or more checked statements — enough to establish a truth/lie trend) to calculate a score between 0 and 1 (see methodology), based on the veracity of their claims:

  • 1.00 means all the statements were True.
  • 0.00 means all the statements were False.

PolitiFact scores of POTUS administrations

Person(s)StaffChecksScore
Barack Obama6020.57
George W. Bush40.56
Obama admin201,2350.55
Bush admin123770.41
Trump admin191,2560.28
Donald Trump8480.22
POTUS scores (with total fact-checks) and combined average scores of POTUS plus staff (with 4+ checks).

You can judge a person by the company s/he keeps, especially when those companions work at the White House. Truthiness doesn’t appear job related. The campaign, cabinet, and communication staffs include both honest executives and habitual liars. Here’s a breakdown of the last three presidents’ people.

PolitiFact scores of POTUS staff

PersonPOTUSPositionChecksScore
Robert GibbsObamaPress Secretary70.71
Julián CastroObamaSecretary of HUD190.70
Matthew DowdBushChief Political Strategist80.69
David PlouffeObamaSenior Adviser40.69
Michelle ObamaObamaFLOTUS110.68
Rob PortmanBushDirector of the OMB480.65
Elizabeth WarrenObamaConsumer Financial Protection340.63
David AxelrodObamaSenior Advisor180.60
Stephanie CutterObamaCampaign Manager50.60
Hillary ClintonObamaSecretary of State3000.58
Van JonesObamaSpecial Advisor for Green Jobs60.58
Kathleen SebeliusObamaSecretary of HHS80.58
Richard CordrayObamaConsumer Financial Protection70.57
Barack ObamaObamaPOTUS6020.57
George W. BushBushPOTUS40.56
Austan GoolsbeeObamaCouncil of Economic Advisers40.56
Thomas PerezObamaSecretary of Labor70.54
Tom PriceTrumpSecretary of HHS190.54
John KerryObamaSecretary of State130.52
Chris ChristieTrumpTransition Team130.50
Joe BidenObamaVPOTUS1600.47
Karl RoveBushDeputy Chief of Staff170.44
Nikki HaleyTrumpAmbassador to the UN90.43
Ivanka TrumpTrumpAssistant to the President90.42
Ed GillespieBushCounselor to the President120.41
Dick CheneyBushVPOTUS170.39
Rahm EmanuelObamaChief of Staff130.39
Rudy GiulianiTrumpPresident’s Lawyer510.39
Arne DuncanObamaSecretary of Education60.38
Roger WilliamsBushRepub. National Finance Comm.120.38
Mike PenceTrumpVPOTUS580.37
Jay CarneyObamaPress Secretary70.36
Kayleigh McEnanyTrumpSpokesperson40.35
Janet NapolitanoObamaSecretary of Homeland Security40.35
Jeff SessionsTrumpAttorney General230.35
Tommy ThompsonBushSecretary of HHS270.33
Ted CruzBushAssoc. Dep. Attorney General1420.31
Sean SpicerTrumpCommunications Director110.29
Mick MulvaneyTrumpActing Chief of Staff80.28
Reince PriebusTrumpChief of Staff300.27
Donald TrumpTrumpPOTUS8610.22
Corey LewandowskiTrumpCampaign Manager50.20
Ben CarsonTrumpSecretary of HUD300.18
Kellyanne ConwayTrumpCounseler to the President110.18
Sarah Huckabee SandersTrumpPress Secretary60.11
Paul ManafortTrumpCampaign Chairman40.10
Donald Trump Jr.TrumpCampaign Staff100.07
William BarrTrumpAttorney General50.03
Mitch DanielsBushDirector of the OMB4-0.03
Presidents and their staff, 2007—2020, with 4+ checks. A negative score for Pants On Fire! ratings makes below-zero scores possible.

Each day, PolitiFact journalists look for statements to fact-check. We read transcripts, speeches, news stories, press releases, and campaign brochures. We watch TV and scan social media. Readers send us suggestions via email to truthometer@politifact.com; we often fact-check statements submitted by readers. Because we can’t feasibly check all claims, we select the most newsworthy and significant ones.

PolitiFact’s methodology for independent fact-checking

Methodology

The above results are from PolitiFact data gathered at the end of September 2020. I used only data for those with four or more checks (enough truth ratings to show a pattern). This subset of PolitiFact data has 709 people or organizations with a total of 13,442 rulings (public spreadsheet, filter to view: POTUS staff).

Each person’s score is calculated by assigning a number value to each rating level, listed in the table below, then averaging all their PolitiFact ratings.

SPolitiFact ratings as scores
RatingPolitiFact descriptionScore
TrueThe statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.1.00
Mostly TrueThe statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.0.75
Half TrueThe statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.0.50
Mostly FalseThe statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.0.25
FalseThe statement is not accurate.0.00
Pants on FireThe statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.-0.10
The negative “Pants” number makes below-zero scores possible.

POTUS administration group scores are the average of the scores of all the people in the group (not the average of all the individual ratings of each person in the group).

Finally, I chose PolitiFact because their checks are thorough, nonpartisan, and among the best in the business. If you want to keep politics and facts together, please support PolitiFact (a project of the nonprofit Poynter Institute) with a tax-deductible contribution or membership.

Thanks to Josef Verbanac and Claire Golding for editing, and to Aaron Sharockman for Politifact permission. The top image is from a William Jennings Bryan campaign poster, “Shall the People Rule?” (circa 1900), at the Library of Congress.

Update 2020-10-23: Several members of the Trump admin were misidentified as with Obama — which would likely upset both groups. Fixed. Changes increased the average scores of both the Trump admin (up 0.01) and Obama admin (up .03).