The first head-to-head debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump race came down to a single word: fact-checking.
Politicians—perhaps by the very nature of being a politician—are not always truthful, but in no other presidential election year has honesty been as critical as in this one. Along the campaign trail, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has taken significant hits for a perceived lack of transparency regarding her health and emails. On the Republican side, Donald Trump has saturated his public remarks with enough half-truths and outright lies as to inspire entire news stories. In fact, just this week, The New York Times published “A Week of Whoppers from Donald Trump,” a laundry list of 31 of Trump’s public statements that were proven untrue.
The beauty of a televised debate, however, is supposed to be that viewers get a candidate’s message directly from the candidates themselves. Still, for the roughly 100 million viewers who tuned into Monday night’s U.S. presidential debate, it was at times challenging to find factoids amongst the sparring—sometimes obvious and other times subtle—between candidates.
NBC’s Lester Holt was on hand as moderator to help keep the conversation focused and moving, and Holt performed the task well by most accounts. He asked a series of prepared questions, watched the time and enforced the rules of the debate. He didn’t, however, call the candidates out for inconsistencies or inaccuracies. That was by design perhaps as the Trump campaign had made it clear in the weeks leading up to the debate that they didn’t want Holt to fact-check the candidate’s statements, a sentiment backed up curiously by Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
That leaves the work of separating fact from fiction in the first presidential debate to viewers at home and media outlets covering the campaign.
The team at Complex watched the first presidential debate in real time, reviewed the debate transcript, and combed through the social media stratosphere to set the record straight on the first debate. We assessed the veracity of each candidate’s claims and uncovered some untruths. Here's what we found.
On clean energy and the Chinese
Clinton has long been a supporter of clean energy and climate change and sees it as an economic driver. Clinton said, “Some country is going to be the clean- energy superpower of the 21st century. Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real.” Trump fired back, “I did not. I did not. I do not say that.” He did, though. In a 2012 tweet, he accused China of created the concept of global warming.
On the economy
To a question about jobs, Clinton answered broadly, “I want us to invest in you. I want us to invest in your future. That means jobs in infrastructure, in advanced manufacturing, innovation, and technology, clean, renewable energy, and small business..."
Trump's response was along his usual talking points. He said, “our jobs are fleeing the country. They're going to Mexico. They're going to many other countries. You look at what China is doing to our country in terms of making our product. They're devaluing their currency, and there's nobody in our government to fight them.”
There is no evidence, however, that China is devaluing its currency, the yuan. Moreover, Trump’s claims that the U.S. has become a “Third World country,” and that now “we lose on everything” in international negotiations are not true. The U.S. is the largest economy in the world, according to the IMF World Economic Outlook.
On the topic of the economy, Trump also said “Ford is leaving. You see that. Their small car division leaving. Thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio. They're all leaving.”
Not exactly. While Ford has shifted the production of its small cars to Mexico, a move representatives have said stated would not result in any job losses, it maintains other manufacturing in the U.S.
On international trade
Trump stated that the “NAFTA agreement is defective" and argued that the signing of the trade agreement led to the hemorrhaging of jobs to Mexico. “Your husband signed NAFTA, which was one of the worst things that ever happened to the manufacturing industry,” he added in a statement directly to Clinton. The reality, however, is that the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president, wasn't a complete disaster. Since 1993, the GDP for the U.S. has risen roughly 63% and Mexican GDP has grown 65 percent, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
At one point, Trump interrupted Holt to say he was, “against the war in Iraq. Just so you put it out.” He added that radio and TV personality Sean Hannity could back up his claim. In this case, it’s hard to tell whether it is true or false. Hannity says that Trump told him privately that he’s against the Iraq War, but there are no records of that in his on-air interviews. Record does exist, however, of a Sept. 11, 2002 interview with Howard Stern in which Stern asked Trump directly if he supported an Iraq invasion. “Yeah, I guess so,” the businessman responded. “I wish the first time it was done correctly.”
Trump claimed that Clinton has told the “enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you've been fighting—no wonder you've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life.” It's true that Clinton’s website posts an article that includes four key points on how the U.S. can tackle ISIS. She wasn't with the State Department in 2014, however, when what was known as the Islamic State—an Al Qaeda affiliate—split from Al Qaeda and renamed itself ISIS.
On Trump’s business beginnings
In response to Clinton’s claims that he started his business with money, “borrowed from his father,” Trump said his father gave him a "very small loan in 1975" and that he and I built that investment into a "company that's worth many, many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world." In some interviews, Trump has said the loan from his father was $1 million. Countless articles, including reports by The Wall Street Journal, place the loan at $14 million.
Finally, Clinton’s claimed during the debate that Trump verbally demeaned a contestant in one of his beauty pageants. “He called this woman 'Miss Piggy.' Then he called her 'Miss Housekeeping,' because she was Latina,” Clinton said, adding that the woman’s name is Alicia Machado. An investigation by Mother Jones suggests that Clinton's claim is true and details Machado's experience with Trump as a Miss Universe contestant.
“This was the nastiest televised debate between the two party’s nominees that I have ever seen, with more personal insults than any other presidential debate in modern political history,” Mark Feldstein, a professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and author of “Poisoning the Press” told Complex.
Feldstein said it’s hard to say who won and that debate. He believes that the event will likely just reinforce pre-existing opinions of the candidates. He thought, however, that Clinton performed well and came across as far more presidential that Trump.
"She was calm and collected, with a firm grasp of domestic and foreign policy issues and clear, crisp answers on a wide range of subject,” he said, while Trump appeared, “angry and thin-skinned, recycling his familiar talking points while providing only vague generalities to specific questions.”
Monday’s debate held at Hofstra University in Long Island was the first of three presidential debates to be held before the general election on Nov. 8. The candidates will have their second go at it on Oct. 9 at Washington University in St. Louis.