Golden Goose

Trump’s Lies Boost PolitiFact’s Fundraising Big-League

The fact-checking site has spun Trump’s lies into gold.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

PolitiFact has just seen an unexpectedly large surge of fundraising—and it largely has President Donald J. Trump to thank for it.

On the week of Trump’s inauguration, the popular, Pulitzer Prize-winning news fact-checking website operated by the Tampa Bay Times, launched a new membership and crowdfunding program dubbed the “Truth Squad.” The aim was to raise $100,000 in 2017.

The team behind the fundraising push was hoping to hit, if they were lucky, 20 percent of that target by the end of a month of crowdfunding. It took them 16 days to surpass $100,000, The Daily Beast has learned, and employees are widely viewing this as an unintended consequence of Trump’s rise to power.

“We wanted to launch this program, we had never done stuff like this before,” Emily Wilkinson, the site’s business development director who helped devise the crowdfunding strategy, said. She noted that PolitiFact had done “one-off” Kickstarter pushes before, in 2014 and 2015. The latter was to pay for an immigration reporter during the 2016 presidential race.

“We decided [that] could be a more reliable long-term source of financial stability if we did something in-house, so we launched the Truth Squad,” she continued.

Wilkinson said she “was surprised” by how quickly they managed to reach their year-long goal, and that they received roughly 1,000 individual donations in those initial 16 days. According to Wilkinson, the average one-time payment was $55, and the average month-to-month contribution was $15. The largest single donation they received was $600, she says.

“The contributions are still rolling in,” Wilkinson adds.

Other outlets and organizations have seen recent spikes in subscribers and donations as a direct result of the fear that Trump’s policies bring. The ACLU announced that it had racked up $24.1 million in the same weekend that the civil-liberties group and its allies successfully challenged in court parts of Trump’s immigration and refugee ban. (The ACLU typically raises about $4 million in online donations in a whole year.)

National publications that have drawn Trump’s ire (including The New York Times, which Trump dissed as supposedly “failing”) have seen record increases in subscriptions. Planned Parenthood saw a significant spike in donations, as did environmental nonprofits.

These were viewed across the board as mostly small-money donors and average citizens rushing to open their wallets to activists and journalists who could hopefully act as an effective check on the excesses of a Trump administration.

PolitiFact, which partners with The Daily Beast through PunditFact, has of course been busy fact-checking Trump and the other 2016 candidates. Now, the site’s reporters and editors (like virtually everyone else in news media) have their work cut out for them as they confront the new administration that has an intentionally slippery grasp on the truth, and utter disdain for any fact-checker or journalist who is anything but subservient.

When asked if she thought PolitiFact’s recent fundraising uptick was a result of anti-Trump sentiment among donors, Wilkinson gently deflected.

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“Our reputation relies on us being unbiased as humans can possibly be,” she said. “We didn’t want it [to be interpreted] as an attack against Trump.” She added that the fundraising push wasn’t about only keeping President Trump accountable, but also Congress, the opposition, and so forth.

However, reporters working for PolitiFact know exactly what’s behind the fundraising surge.

“Of course it’s because of Trump,” a journalist who works for PolitiFact who asked not to be named told The Daily Beast, right before messaging a champagne emoji, and then a money-bag emoji.

“People know the work we do, and there is… no one in need of fact-checking more than Donald Trump,” another reporter said. “We won’t be going out of business any time soon with Trump as president, is one thing that is clear.”

Donald Trump’s file over at PolitiFact is predictably rife with lies, with his “scorecard” showing 19 percent of statements as mostly false, 33 percent as straight-up false, and 17 percent in the severe “Pants on Fire” classification. Trump was also awarded the website’s 2015 Lie of the Year award for his various “campaign misstatements.”

But as we now know, all the fact-checking in the world, at PolitiFact and elsewhere, didn’t help sink Trump. After the long, brutal campaign of lies and controversy and outrages, Trump is still leader of the free world.

Still, it’s not as if all the aggressive reporting had no effect on Trump. After all, he enters his first term as a historically unpopular president. And now that Trump’s habit of mangling the truth has made it rain for PolitiFact, the team has even more resources to gear up for the remainder of the Age of Trump—an era of American politics that is shaping up to look willfully post-truth.

“Sometimes a blatant disregard of facts is something PolitiFact can combat,” Wilkinson said. “And our readers respond well to that.”