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Fact-Checking Trump’s Claims About the U.S. Death Rate in That Viral Axios Interview

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  • In a now-viral interview that was recorded last week, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is “under control, as much as you can control it.”
  • Despite that, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on the country’s increasing death rate, a fact which Trump denied.
  • At one point, Trump also seemed to insinuate that South Korea’s death count is much higher than the 301 deaths it has reported, but he provided no basis for that.
  • Below is a list of coronavirus-related claims stated by Trump in the interview and a breakdown of how true or false those claims are.

Trump’s Axios Interview Goes Viral

In a clip that has now been viewed more than 30 million times alone on Twitter, President Donald Trump denied the United States’ climbing coronavirus death rate and made a number of other false statements. 

That clip is part of a 38-minute Axios on HBO interview, which was recorded on July 28 and aired Monday evening. In that interview, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on a variety of topics including the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell and the recent death of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

However, Trump’s comments regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly captured the most attention.

The Rising U.S. Death Rate in States 

In his interview with Swan, Trump said his administration has done an “incredible” job handling the coronavirus pandemic. 

Immediately, Swan pushed back by pointing to last week’s death rate, which saw daily death totals climbing above 1,000. Nonetheless, Trump rejected those figures and asserted that the death toll was falling. 

“It’s going down in Arizona,” Trump said. “It’s going down in Florida. It’s going down in Texas.”

“It’s going down in Florida?’ Swan asked, bewildered, after pointing out that, nationally, daily deaths tolls were rising at the time of the interview. 

Regarding Florida, it’s possible that Trump was referring to a four-day dip in coronavirus deaths, but even so, four days is not a long enough period of time to accurately gauge whether or not deaths are beginning to decrease. That’s why many states have implemented reopening plans that only allow them to move into new phases after seeing a two week decline in cases.  

Source: The New York Times

On top of that, the day this interview was recorded, Florida experienced its highest death toll up to that point. That record was later topped each day for the next three days in a row. 

Over the last few days, Florida’s daily death toll has significantly dropped; however, it remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a genuine decrease in daily deaths or if the numbers, on average, will continue to rise.

By comparison, Trump’s claim that cases in Arizona are decreasing does seem to be somewhat accurate, and it’s a point Swan even backs up in the interview. Still, that much does not seem to be the case for Texas yet. 

Source: The New York Times
Source: The New York Times

The Death Rate Nationally

Trump accused media outlets of incorrectly reporting coronavirus-related statistics, but he declined to offer an explanation as to how. Instead, he asserted that his administration should receive credit for testing more vigorously than other countries.

“Because we do more tests, we have more cases,” Trump said. “In other words, we test more, we have more.”

For Swan, however, that was not the point. 

“If hospital rates were going down and death rates were going down, I’d say, ‘Terrific. You deserved to be praised for testing,’ Swan responded. “But they’re all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital. A thousand dying a day.” 

“If you watch the news or read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases,” Trump said.

“I’m talking about death,” Swan said. 

“Well, you look,” Trump said. “Death is way down from where it was.”

While Trump is technically correct here, his statement—as Swan noted—is misleading. Beginning in April and continuing through the beginning of May, daily death totals in the U.S. spiked. At one point, the country was recording daily death tolls reaching 2,700 people. 

As May continued, the death toll began to fall, so much so that the country was reporting less than 1,000 deaths a day by mid-June; however, that number started climbing again early last month, eventually climbing back over that 1,000 mark.

Source: The New York Times

“We’re Lower Than the World.”

“And if you look at death, here,” Trump said while pointing to a graph. “United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world.”

“Lower than the world?” Swan asked, bewildered.

“We’re lower than Europe.” Trump continued. 

“In what? In what?” Swan asked. 

“Take a look,” Trump said, still pointing to the graph. “Right here. Here’s case death.”

“Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population,” Swan said in what has now become the most viral moment of the interview. “That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”

“You can’t do that,” Trump said.

Trump and Swan are citing two different stats here. Trump is referring to the percentage of people who die in the U.S. after having contracted the virus, known as the fatality rate. Swan is referring to the percentage of Americans who have died compared to the whole population, known as the mortality rate.

Both are relevant figures, but it is Trump’s denial of the second statistic’s importance that is concerning. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is the 10th-worst nation in terms of per capita coronavirus deaths: 47.50 per 100,000 people.

Among more information, mortality rate can be used to see what percentage of a country’s population has died compared to another country. Such a number is more accurate than simply following raw numbers, as most countries vary significantly in population from the U.S. It’s also less subject to variables than the fatality rate.

“It’s surely a relevant statistic to say if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea—” Swan said.

“No, you have to go by cases,” Trump responded.

“Well, look at South Korea, for example,” Swan said. “Fifty-one million population, 300 deaths. It’s like— it’s crazy.”

“You don’t know that,”  Trump said. You don’t know that.”

“I do, it’s on their—You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?” Swan asked. “An advanced country?”

“I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country, but you don’t know that,” Trump said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, South Korea has only officially recorded 301 deaths. It is possible that Trump said, “You don’t know that,” because there may be some variation in that statistic. Still, even if more or fewer people died than what is officially recorded, that figure is likely not substantially different from the recorded value.

Trump provided no additional context into the meaning of this claim, and there is no basis to suggest that South Korea has fabricated its death toll. 

The Outbreak Is “Under Control”

Near the beginning of the interview, Trump says that the outbreak in the U.S. is “under control, as much as you can control it.”

As of Tuesday, the U.S. undoubtedly leads the world in cases: 4.7 million out of 18.3 million. Similarly, it leads the world in deaths: nearly 156,000 of nearly 695,000.

Notably, it is true that despite massive raw numbers, the U.S. does not have the highest percentage of cases or deaths compared to every country; however, the situation in the U.S. is significantly worse than almost every other country in the world. Even regardless of comparisons, the situation on its own is more than concerning. 

Because of that, Swan immediately pushed back against the president, asking him if his administration has truly done everything in its power to fight the virus. From there, the president shifted blame to governors, though he did praise some.

As Swan also noted, Trump’s position as president carries weight, and despite being highly controversial throughout his term, many listen to his words and trust them.

“I’ve covered you for a long time,” Swan said. “I’ve gone to your rallies. I’ve talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They hang on your every word. They don’t listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we’re fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so when they hear you say, ‘Everything’s under control, don’t worry about wearing mask,’ I mean, decent people. Many of them are older people, Mr. President. It’s giving them a false sense of security.”

“Under the circumstances right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said. 

“How?” Swan asked. A thousand Americans are dying everyday.”

“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said. “And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can.” 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (MarketWatch) (The Washington Post)

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Trump Refuses to Denounce White Supremacy During Debate

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  • When asked in Tuesday’s presidential debate if he would agree to denounce white supremacist groups and tell them to stand down, President Trump said he would, but when asked to explicitly say the words, he addressed only the far-right group the Proud Boys, and told them to “stand back and stand by.” 
  • Many people criticized Trump for not condemning white supremacist groups, others also slammed him for seeming to issue a call to arms for the Proud Boys.
  • Organizations that track online extremism said the group embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan, and some members took to social media sites to praise Trump’s remarks.
  • Trump also attempted to shift the focus to unrest caused by left-wing groups and falsely claimed that they caused more violence than right-wing groups, a claim that is contrary to the evidence presented by high-level members of his own administration. 

Trump Asked to Denounce White Supremacist Groups

President Donald Trump refused to directly denounce white supremacist groups when asked to do so in the contentious first presidential debate Tuesday night, sparking condemnation from critics and cheers from members of certain white nationalist-tied groups.

“Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?” Fox News Sunday host and debate moderator Chris Wallace asked the president.

“Sure, I’m willing to do that,” Trump responded. “I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing not from the right wing […] I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.”

“Well, then do it, sir,” Wallace implored.

What do you want to call them?” Trump asked. “Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn,” 

“White supremacist and right-wing militia, proud boys,” Wallace responded, singling out the all-male white supremacist-tied group that has been known for engaging in and promoting violence.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” the president responded. “But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right wing problem this is a left wing.”

Response

That moment and the response from the president has been described as one of the most significant moments of the night because while Trump said “sure” when asked if he would condemn white supremacist groups, when asked actually do so, he refused.

Even in telling the Proud Boys to stand down, he also told them to “stand by,” a refrain that alarmed many people who believed it sounded as though the president was signaling to members of the group to be ready for something.

“When Trump says: ‘Proud Boys – stand back and stand by’ – he is signalling that he considers them a private army waiting for his command to take to the streets if the result is not to his liking. That is very frightening,” writer Katy Brand tweeted.

“I still can’t get over the fact that Trump was told to condemn violent white supremacists, and all he could eek out was to tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand by’— effectively a call to arms,” political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen also wrote on twitter.

Many others also took aim more specifically at the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacists.

“He was given the opportunity multiple times to condemn white supremacy and he gave a wink and a nod to a racist nazi muerderous organization that is now celebrating online, that is now saying we have a go ahead,” attorney and commentator Van Jones told CNN.

However, in a separate interview with CNN, former Senator Rick Santorum seemed to defend Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacist groups.

“He was asking the president to do something he knows the president doesn’t like to do, which is say something bad about people who support him,” he said, though in a later appearance on another CNN program, he said Trump made a huge mistake by not condemning white supremacy.

As far as the official response from Trump’s team, when White House communications director Alyssa Farah was asked to clarify the president’s comments on Fox News, she said she did not think there was anything to clarify.

“He’s told them to stand back,” she said. “This president has surged federal resources when violent crime warrants it in cities. He’s leading.” 

Proud Boys Respond

According to SITE Intel Group, which tracks online extremism, the Proud Boys embraced the “stand back and stand by” quote as a slogan. Some also took to social media sites like Parler, which is known for its large pro-Trump user base, to celebrate Trump’s words.

“Trump basically said to go fuck [protesters] up! this makes me so happy,” one prominent ally wrote on the platform, seemingly in regards to Trump’s remarks about antifa.

While Trump’s comments about antifa took up less focus, it is important to note that his attempts to deflect questions about right-wing groups contained multiple falsehoods that have been contradicted by people within his own administration and the intelligence community.

Despite the president’s claims that almost all the violence he sees is from the left, earlier this month, his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, said that “racially motivated violent extremism,” most of which has come from white supremacists, composes the majority of domestic terrorism threats. 

Separately, just days after that, Acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kenneth Cuccinelli said that “when white supremacists act as terrorists, more people per incident are killed.”

Additionally, DHS also pointed to white extremism as a primary threat in a domestic terrorism assessment published last year. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Business Insider)

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Trump and Biden Spar Over Voting Security at First Debate

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  • In the final round of Tuesday’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden addressed concerns over election security and voter fraud.
  • As Biden correctly noted, top officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have said that there is no evidence of widespread mail-in voter fraud.
  • Trump later claimed that mailmen in West Virginia are selling ballots. According to state officials, this is not true.
  • While Biden promised that he would not declare victory on election night, Trump did not make any such promises when asked by moderator Chris Wallace.

Election Security Concerns 

During the final leg of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden sparred over the topic of election security in the face of widespread mail-in voting. 

Here are some fact-checked claims made by both candidates.

Biden: No Evidence That Mail-In Voting Leads to Cheating

At the start of the sixth and final round of the debate, Biden said of Trump: “His own Homeland Security director, and as well as the FBI director, says that there is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”

“They said that. The fact is that there are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots like he does, by the way.” 

While Biden does seem to confuse “homeland security director” with the DHS cybersecurity director, the gist of this claim is mostly true.

A few weeks ago, that director, Christopher Krebs, told CBS News that mail-in voting systems are resilient and secure because they create paper trails that can be audited.

Biden also referenced testimony given by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who last week, said that the U.S. has never experienced a large-scale mail-in voter fraud effort. Wray added that any such fraud would be a “major challenge” for foreign countries to pull off. 

Trump: Ballots Found in Wastepaper Baskets

Trump opened the round by saying that he is fine with solicited ballots but that his problem lies with states automatically sending ballots to all registered voters. He then went on to assert a number of claims. 

“They’re sending millions of ballots all over the country,” Trump said. “There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket.” 

Trump repeated that claim several more times, saying at one point, “They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name military ballots. There were military. They all had the name Trump on them.” 

The president is referring to a situation in Pennsylvania where nine mailed-in military ballots were found “discarded” by a local election office. Seven of those ballots are known to have been cast for Trump, while two remain sealed. 

It is fully possible that those nine ballots could have been improperly discarded, and it is also possible that the move was intentional; however, an ongoing investigation has yet to make that determination.

As The Washington Post reports, military absentee ballots also look like absentee ballot requests, so it is possible they were opened accidentally. 

It’s also possible that the ballots could have been what’s known as “naked ballots,” meaning each voters’ candidate choices would have been revealed after opening the envelope. If that is the case, those ballots would have had to have been thrown out because of a recent ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. 

Still, as of the debate, it is unproven that this incident is fraud, as Trump claimed.

Trump: Mail Carriers Are Selling Ballots

Following that, Trump claimed that mail carriers in West Virginia are selling ballots.

“Did you see what’s going on?” Trump said. “Take a look at West Virginia, mailman selling the ballots. They’re being sold.”

Plain and simple, this is not true. 

In fact, the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office has since said that it doesn’t know of any instances in which ballots were sold in the state.

The closest comparison to Trump’s remarks stem from an incident that occurred earlier this year where a mailman pleaded guilty to election fraud after changing several absentee request forms from Democrat to Republican. 

As many have noted, this instance of fraud was quickly caught. Additionally, the mailman’s actions never resulted in any altered ballots. 

Wallace: Will You Pledge Not to Declare Immediate Victory?

Debate moderator Chris Wallace ended Tuesday’s debate by asking both candidates if they would urge their supporters to stay calm and not engage in civil unrest in the days following the election. 

That’s because, as Wallace pointed out, the results of the election likely won’t be known for days or even maybe weeks after Nov. 3rd, due to the high volume of mail-in ballots.

“And will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?” Wallace asked.

“I’m urging my supporters to go in to the polls and watch very carefully, because that’s what has to happen,” Trump responded. “I am urging them to do it.

“If it’s a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that. And I’ll tell you why—”

What does that mean, not go along?” Wallace asked. “Does that mean you’re going to tell your people — to take to the streets?”

“I’ll tell you what it means,” Trump said. “It means you have a fraudulent election. You’re sending out 80 million ballots… These people are not equipped to handle it.” 

Biden, however, responded with a much more concrete answer to Wallace’s question.

“Yes,” Biden said. “And here’s the deal. We count the ballots, as you pointed out. Some of these ballots in some states can’t even be opened until election day. And if there’s thousands of ballots, it’s going to take time to do it.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (ABC News) (The Washington Post)

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Cambridge Analytica Passed Voter Suppression Information Over to the 2016 Trump Campaign, New Report Claims

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  • A new report claims Donald Trump’s campaign disproportionately targeted Black voters in the 2016 presidential election in an attempt to dissuade them from voting.
  • According to Channel 4, Cambridge Analytica compiled that information and passed it to the Trump campaign as part of a “Deterrence” category.
  • While this practice is legal, through the use of Facebook ads, it also potentially targeted 3.5 million Black voters in many states that were ultimately decided in tight races. 
  • Trump’s re-election campaign has denied these reports, but according to Channel 4, the 2016 campaign’s chief scientist explicitly said the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Cambridge Analytica Database

A new report claims Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign received and used data that disproportionately targeted Black voters in an attempt to discourage them from voting in the last presidential election.

The report, published by U.K. outlet Channel 4 News, alleges that the Trump campaign received a database on 200 million American voters from the now-defunct firm Cambridge Analytica. That firm attracted international scrutiny after it was found to have harvested millions of Facebook users’ personal data without their consent. 

In 2016, the Trump Campaign pumped $5.9 million into Cambridge Analytica. 

As The Washington Post puts it, this database “could add detail to allegations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the campaign, particularly in efforts to harness Facebook’s powerful ad technologies to dissuade Black voters from supporting Hillary Clinton.”

According to Channel 4, which claims to have obtained the database made by Cambridge Analytica, the list of voters covers 16 key battleground states. Among those states, voters were then separated into eight different categories.

For example, likely Democratic voters were listed as either “Core Clinton,” “Disengaged Clinton,” or “Deterrence.” Channel 4 quoted the chief data scientist of Trump’s 2016 campaign as explicitly saying the “Deterrence” category contained people that the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.”

Notably, more than half the people listed in that category were either Black, Asian, or Latino.

On top of that, while Black voters only make up about 5.4% of the voting population in Wisconsin, the database marked 17% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.” 

Likewise, in Michigan, Black voters accounted for 15% of the voting population in 2016; however, the database marked 33% of Black voters in the state for “Deterrence.”

Both races were extremely tight. In fact, Trump won Michigan by just 11,000 votes. At the same time, Black voter turnout in the state dropped by more than 12%.

Ties to the Trump Campaign

Channel 4 has not revealed how it obtained this database, but it does claim that Cambridge Analytica worked “hand in glove with a team from the Republican National Committee.”

Following the report, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for Trump’s reelection campaign, dismissed it as “fake news,” saying that Trump’s record gave him a “relationship of trust with African American voters.”

Paris Dennard, the RNC’s senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, affirmed that the data obtained by Channel 4 “is not our data.”

Matt Braynard, the Trump data director for the 2016 campaign, said his team didn’t use those categorizations. Instead, he said they relied on material from the party and another firm, L2 political. 

“Deterrence doesn’t mean suppression and it doesn’t mean deterrence from voting,” Braynard specified. “It just means deterrence from voting for Hillary Clinton.”

Many of the testimonies seem to conflict with one another. While Murtaugh has claimed the story is “fake news,” Braynard has seemingly admitted that this data is at least real. In addition to that, Braynard said the category wasn’t meant to be a full deterrence from voting, but Channel 4’s quote from the Trump data scientist indicates the direct opposite.

According to The Washington Post, Brittany Kaiser, Cambridge Analytica’s former director of business development, said Channel 4’s report is consistent with “her understanding of how Cambridge Analytica and Republicans targeted Black voters in 2016.”

Kaiser then provided The Post with an internal company document from 2016 which described a similar classification strategy for Democrats, including a category labelled “Deterrent.” 

Was This Legal?

The tactics described in the Channel 4 report are legal.

David Carroll, a professor at the Parsons School of Design in New York, called the database “a diabolically effective campaign tactic,” but added in a statement to The Post, “They’re just using free speech, even if it is misleading.”

Despite the tactic by Cambridge Analytica being legal, Channel 4 criticized Facebook for its role in airing ads potentially aimed at dissuading voters. Of particular note, during the 2016 Election, Facebook also employed “dark posts,” or ads that vanish from feeds after a campaign stops paying for them. 

Those ads make it difficult to go back and track how campaigns targeted specific groups, and that has become a major point of contention because the Trump Campaign pumped $44 million in such types of ads in 2016. 

Channel 4 was also critical of Facebook because it was seemingly the original source of information used to help create this database; however, Facebook has maintained that its information was improperly obtained and that Cambridge Analytica was in violation of its policies.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (USA Today)

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