Web Video: Do accuracy and truth still matter on the campaign trail?

Dec. 01, 2015 AT 11:23 a.m. EST

Some of the presidential candidates have been playing with the truth on the campaign trail. Political director Lisa Desjardins takes a look at some questionable comments, while Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR join Gwen Ifill to examine why candidates are emboldened to defy fact-checkers, plus a Gov. Chris Christie endorsement and the Planned Parenthood shooting.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

GWEN IFILL: But, first, separating truth from fiction in the race for the White House.

Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

LISA DESJARDINS: A candidate’s words count. Or, at least, they’re supposed to. But as the presidential campaign grinds on, that rule is being severely tested.

Example: what Republican Donald Trump said about a month ago on President Obama’s plan to resettle Syrian refugees on U.S. soil.

DONALD TRUMP, Republican Presidential Candidate: And now I hear we want to take in 200,000 Syrians.

LISA DESJARDINS: In fact, the actual number is just 10,000. In another incident last week, Trump appeared to mock New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski and his physical disability during a campaign rally.

DONALD TRUMP: You got to see this guy. Oh, I don’t know what I said. Ah, I don’t remember.

LISA DESJARDINS: Asked about it afterward, the candidate said, “I certainly do not remember him.”

In fact, Kovaleski says they once knew each other on a first-name basis.

Rivals, including Ohio Governor John Kasich, point to Trump’s words as a sure sign he’s unelectable.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, Republican Presidential Candidate: Calling names of women, and Muslims, and Hispanics and mocking reporters, then saying, I didn’t do it, but he did do it, it’s just not going to happen.

LISA DESJARDINS: Another Republican, Ben Carson, raised eyebrows this weekend after touring Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.

He offered this assessment on ABC:

BEN CARSON, Republican Presidential Candidate: We’re hearing that they all want to come here to the United States up. And that’s not what they want. They want to go back home.

LISA DESJARDINS: And this from Ted Cruz. He said Sunday that it’s too early to link anti-abortion rhetoric to the accused Planned Parenthood shooter in Colorado.

SEN. TED CRUZ, Republican Presidential Candidate: It’s also reported that he was registered as an independent and as a woman and a transgender leftist activist, if that’s what he is.

LISA DESJARDINS: In politics, accuracy and truth can be casualties. And now pressure for candidates to stand out and for voters to scrutinize will only increase. The opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire are just two months away.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.

GWEN IFILL: And it’s time for politics Monday.

So, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR are here to sort it all out.

OK, Tamara, you get the short straw this week, because I have to ask you just straight out whether it feels like there is an epidemic of untruthfulness under way in this campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: I think that there is a backlash against fact-checking that has — that started in 2012 and has really taken hold.

And I think that you can attribute this to a couple of things. One, I think the public generally believes politicians are going to lie on some level, and so truth is a fuzzy thing in campaign politics.

And, two, the public doesn’t really believe the media. Something like 60 percent of people polled say that they don’t trust the news media to accurately and fairly report the news.

Well, if people don’t trust us to accurately and fairly report the news, then fact-checking — then the candidates have very little to fear.

GWEN IFILL: Here is what puzzles me. People have access to information unfiltered by the media more so than ever before, and, yet, somehow, when you confront somebody — like, today, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, said that Donald Trump’s claims that there were Muslims celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11 were not true, that it didn’t happen.

And Donald Trump’s response is, yes, it did.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Right. So how are going to you refute that?

And you say, well, as we have seen journalists do, show us the proof of it. Well, I know it’s proof because I have heard people tell me that it was the truth. Where’s the documentation?

GWEN IFILL: Because I told them.

AMY WALTER: Because I told them.

It goes back to something that Tamara said too. It’s not only that people don’t trust that the media is telling them the truth. It’s that everybody has their own definition of what the media is and what truth is. And if you live in a silo, which more and more Americans now are living in these siloed sort of realities of they get their news from sources that agree with them.

They listen to people who agree with them. They unfriend people on Facebook who disagree with them. Then all you’re doing most of your day is getting your world view just told back to you and you’re never challenged on it. So, of course it’s — how can you tell me that my truth isn’t my truth?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, and you take the Trump 9/11 rumor. Well, if you go search on the Internet — you want to be unfiltered, go search on the Internet, you can find lots of Web sites that for years have been spreading that Internet rumor.

GWEN IFILL: OK, so this interesting, because we have always known that people think that the media might not be telling the truth or that politicians are not telling the truth.

But now we seemed to have reached another level. So, today, we saw kind of another spectacle in the lobby of the Trump Tower, where Donald Trump met with black clergy, some of whom had already supported him, but many of who hadn’t, and the Trump folks had said it was going to be an endorsement. It kind of wasn’t. What was it?

AMY WALTER: Well, he said it was — I don’t — like most of this campaign, I don’t think we really know what this was.


AMY WALTER: What it started out was, was as an attempt for Donald Trump to talk about something else, which is he’s very good at doing, which is, as soon as he gets criticism, let’s go and change the subject.

In this case, I think the subject being he’s racist, he’s making statements about people that are over the top. OK, I will show you, says Donald Trump. I’m going to bring together all these black clergy who are going to endorse me, until it turns out that they said, well, actually, we’re not here to endorse you. We thought we were invited to just talk to you.

Then Donald Trump changes his tune and says, well, maybe it’s just a meeting.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let’s talking about a real endorsement that did happen.

Chris Christie, who has been struggling in this campaign, but he got the endorsement of The New Hampshire Union Leader, the state’s largest newspaper.

TAMARA KEITH: He did. And this has proven helpful for other candidates in the past. They have gotten a boost in their poll numbers.

GWEN IFILL: You mean President Gingrich?


TAMARA KEITH: Yes, exactly. Now, Gingrich was the one that — it hasn’t been a great predictor of the next nominee or the next president of the United States.

But here’s Chris Christie. He’s basically taken up residence in New Hampshire. He’s betting his whole game on winning in New Hampshire and then having something to propel him forward. When you’re at 5 percent, you will take whatever you can get. It’s not a negative.


AMY WALTER: Yes. I mean, New Hampshire is notorious for doing a couple of things, one, for being the counterweight to Iowa.

So, what Iowa does, they sort of pick the opposite of that, and witting until the last minute. More than half of the voters in the 2008, 2012 campaign decided in the last week of the election who they were voting for.

For Chris Christie, look, this gives him a good talking point to say, it matters that I have stayed here. I have put residence basically down in the state, even though I’m supposed to be governor of New Jersey.

But it also shows how wide open the so-called establishment side of the equation is.


AMY WALTER: This is the key for this campaign. We know that there is the Donald Trump factor, and he has consolidated his support. He has about 25 percent. The problem is, there is no anti-Trump that’s consolidated on the other side.

GWEN IFILL: Now, as unpredictable as this election has been, one of the predictable things that Ben Carson did this weekend was, what happens when you don’t have any international experience? You go — you take a foreign trip, and he went to Jordan.

TAMARA KEITH: He did. And he met with Syrian refugees in refugee camps in Jordan.

He came out of it, I think, with the same conclusion that he went into it with, was that — which was that there are other ways to deal with refugees from Syria than to bring them to America. He said that they don’t want to come to America, they want to go back to Syria.

And I’m sure many people will say, I want to go home. I want to be able to go home. So he went in, he went to Jordan. He did what many past presidential candidates have done with mixed records. I don’t know that it changed anything.

AMY WALTER: Well, I don’t — I still think the questions were raised in his Sunday talk show interviews about, well, OK, what is your strategy then for the war in Syria, for the war against ISIS?

And it still was as vague as it has always been, so it’s not as if he brought with him any more specifics. And this is still his biggest problem.

GWEN IFILL: And, finally, we of course heard — every now and then, life or news interferes in the campaign.

And in this case, the issues of guns and abortion, both hot-button issues in a Republican primary especially, but also on the Democratic side, came together in the Planned Parenthood shootings in Colorado.

We didn’t hear from Republicans for a while. We heard from Democrats right away linking the two. What did they — how did they handle that?

AMY WALTER: Well, it’s become almost so predictable.

If you have guns and abortion or any other cultural issue, it hits the media, it hits Twitter, it hits Facebook, and, instantly, each side goes into its camp, and they make assumptions about what happened, they make accusations, and everybody just sort of gets in their camp on this side, gets in their camp on that side. We retain our silos through the end.

TAMARA KEITH: Yes. Watching this play out on Twitter, it was, like, ah, we’re in America and America is deeply, deeply, deeply divided.

GWEN IFILL: And until there is actually a court appearance or something else, and we still don’t know — we end up where we started. Who knows what truth is, right?


GWEN IFILL: There used to be rules.

Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, Tamara Keith of NPR, thank you both very.

TAMARA KEITH: You’re welcome.


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