With 'Bottomless Pinocchio', 'The Washington Post Launches A New Frontier In Fact-Checking

Stephen Silver

It often appears these days as though fact-checkers and hoax-debunkers are fighting a losing battle. But the likes of Politifact, Snopes, and The Washington Post have continued the daily grind of trying to disprove public false statements, whether they originate in the fever swamps of the Internet or from the podium in the White House briefing room.

The Washington Post's Fact Checker column, written by Glenn Kessler, has launched a new tool in the war on fake news: The Bottomless Pinocchio.

It might sound like a fancy drink, but the Bottomless Pinocchio is actually a new designation the column will now use for "politicians who repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation."

The Fact Checker has long used "Pinocchios" as a measure of exactly how big a lie is, with "Four Pinocchios" previously the biggest lie possible. How will a lie earn the not-so-coveted "Bottomless Pinocchio" designation? Doing so will require clearing a high bar: "The claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from The Fact Checker, and they must have been repeated at least 20 times," Kessler writes.

The example that spurred the decision was President Trump's claim that "we've started building our wall," which the president has said 86 times as of this week, despite it not being true. In fact, at the time of the Bottomless Pinocchio launch, the president has made 14 statements that meet its criteria. These include the notion that the Democrats colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, and that the United States pays most of NATO's costs.

But it's also clear that Trump has been caught in more lies, at least by the Fact Checker, than any other politician by a wide margin. The column reported earlier this year that Trump had made more than 4,000 false statements in his first 558 days as president. The previous champion was probably former Minnesota Congresswoman and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, who Kessler described as "a fact checker's dream" when she announced her retirement from Congress in 2013.

Trump has frequently feuded with the Washington Post throughout his candidacy and presidency, often doing so while threatening to retaliate against Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, owns the Washington Post while operating it independently from Amazon.