Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trump again tries using hyperbole without a license

President Donald Trump said nobody had heard of "Juneteenth," the name given to a day many use to commemorate the end of U.S. slavery, until he popularized it. So PolitiFact fact-checked whether it was true that nobody had heard of it.




The result was a "Pants on Fire" rating. PolitiFact said millions of people knew about Juneteenth before Trump scheduled a campaign rally for that day.

PolitiFact cited the Wall Street Journal for its quotation of Trump. Here's how PolitiFact presented it to readers:

President Donald Trump took credit for boosting awareness of Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery in America.

"I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous," Mr. Trump said, in a Wall Street Journal interview. "It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it."

PolitiFact claims in its statement of principles it recognizes the literary technique of hyperbole (bold emphasis added):

In deciding which statements to check, we consider these questions:

• Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.

Hyperbole involves the use of exaggeration to make a particular point. Hyperbole works as hyperbole when the audience understands that the exaggeration was not meant literally.

It's as though PolitiFact has caught Mr. Trump red-handed, trying to use hyperbole without a license.

We think Trump's statement certainly bears the obvious signs of hyperbole. If literally nobody had heard of Juneteenth before Trump scheduled his campaign rally, then Trump did not merely make Juneteenth very famous. He helped create it by inspiring others. But Trump's words, in fact, suggest that Juneteenth existed as "an important event, an important time" before that. Those words from Trump cue the average reader that "nobody had ever heard of it" was not meant literally but instead meant that Juneteenth was not well known.

Vice President Joe Biden illustrated what Trump likely meant. A (user-created) video clip from C-SPAN shows Biden on June 11, 2020 apparently expressing the belief that "Juneteenth" was the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The massacre happened on June 1, 1921. Trump's rally was originally scheduled on "Juneteenth,"--June 19, 2020--but was moved back one day to June 20, 2020. The rally took place in Tulsa, which of course was the location of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

If Biden did not know about it then perhaps others did not know about it as well.

Maybe the problem is that PolitiFact does not set partisanship aside when it issues hyperbole licenses.


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