WaPo Fact Checker Admits Trump Is Right On Border Arrest Data, Issues Pinocchio Anyway

(PHOTO: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Washington Post in a meandering fact check Tuesday gave President Donald Trump a one-Pinocchio rating for the making the true claim that border arrests have declined by 64 percent under his watch.

The claim has some merit, WaPo said, but the president deserves criticism anyway because it’s “unclear what role Trump’s immigration actions as president” have had on the declining number of border arrests.

Reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee picked out two statistics in her analysis that Trump frequently cites. First, there were 64 percent fewer border arrests in March 2017 than in March 2016. Second, border arrests have dropped by 61 percent from January 2017 through the end of March.

She conceded, three paragraphs into the story, that both assertions are correct, but that they require “some caveats.”

After running through more than 1,000 words of context in which Ye He Lee concluded that Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration has likely had a deterrent effect on potential migrants, she settled on one possible point of contention: Trump citing the 61 percent reduction in Southwest border apprehensions from January 2017 to March 2017.

That figure is undeniably true — federal authorities arrested 31,577 illegal border crossers in January and 12,193 in March. Where the president is off base, she wrote, is that he is not taking into account the fact that he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, meaning that most of the data for that month didn’t apply to his administration.

Therefore, asserting a 61 percent reduction in border arrests over the three month period is a “shading of the facts” or perhaps a “selective telling of the truth,” as WaPo’s Pinocchio rating system explains.

No attempt was made to debunk the 64 percent figure, which was included in the headline of the WaPo story. Instead, the fact checker assured readers that a year-over-year comparison is too small a sample size to know “whether this is the new normal, or a temporary change.” In any case, “it’s too early for Trump to declare he kept his promise,” Ye He Lee wrote.

A better measure of Trump’s policies on illegal immigration would be to compare the number of border arrests in February and March of 2016 with number in same months of this year, according to WaPo. That method shows a decrease of 52.4 percent, lower than the figures Trump has cited.

Still, the paper decided that Trump’s claims about reducing the flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border are “mostly true,” so the one-Pinocchio rating is unlikely to damage the president’s credibility on the issue.

According to a non-scientific user poll included in the story, 36 percent of people who read the fact check story disagreed with its conclusion and thought Trump’s statements were true.

Just 19 percent thought Trump deserved four Pinocchios for telling “whoppers.”

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