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Fact-checking Trump's State of the Union claims

CNN's Tom Foreman fact-checks several claims made by President Trump during his first State of the Union address.

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 10:43 AM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 10:43 AM

Is this typical President Trump hyperbole, exaggerating his ratings power to impress people? Or is it a straight-up lie?

On Thursday morning the president said the 45.6 million people who watched Tuesday's State of the Union was "the highest number in history."

That's not true. And it left observers wondering where he came up with such a claim.

The presidential misstatement immediately called to mind the inauguration crowd size controversy of 2017. The White House made faulty claims about inauguration attendance, triggering days of debate over basic facts. It's how the phrase "alternative facts" was born.

Related: White House press secretary attacks media for accurately reporting inauguration crowds

In this case, too, the president's defenders searched for some way to prove him right. Commenters on social media wondered if Tuesday's address ranked No. 1 with web live-streaming factored in.

But there is no data to back up his boast, and plenty of data to contradict him.

Here's the thing: The numbers Trump cited in his Thursday morning tweet are accurate. "45.6 million people watched," he said, which is precisely what the ratings company Nielsen announced on Wednesday.

But his interpretation was inaccurate. Several State of the Union addresses in the past were higher-rated, including Barack Obama's first address in 2010, which had 48 million viewers.

Trump's joint address to Congress last winter, while not officially a State of the Union address, also had almost 48 million viewers.

Nielsen's data counts Americans who watched at home via traditional TV, either live or on a DVR. There's no reliable data for live-streaming, but research indicates that the vast majority of people still watch big events on TV, not the web.

Trump's tweet about the ratings doubled as a promotional message for Fox News. He said Fox "beat every other Network, for the first time ever, with 11.7 million people tuning in."

That's accurate -- Fox ranked No. 1, likely reflecting its status as the favored network of Trump supporters.

Where did Trump hear the numbers? Maybe from a "Fox & Friends First" segment on Thursday morning that mentioned the 45.6 million total for all networks and the record 11.7 million total for Fox.

But the Fox segment did not suggest that Tuesday was the highest-rated State of the Union ever.

Trump has a long history of hyperbole about his ratings and other measures of popularity. He used to call his show "The Apprentice" No. 1 long after it had slipped out of the top ten.

Television executives and critics snickered about his salesman tactics and chalked it up to "Donald being Donald."

Presidential statements are a different matter. Fact-checkers pounced on Thursday's claim.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115407

Reported Deaths: 3566
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion21196765
Lake10493323
Elkhart6528110
St. Joseph6392106
Allen6178202
Hamilton4848109
Vanderburgh360930
Hendricks2715123
Monroe256036
Tippecanoe239113
Johnson2305123
Clark221457
Porter213647
Delaware194262
Cass19419
Vigo182526
Madison164375
LaPorte142340
Floyd135862
Howard130563
Warrick128038
Kosciusko121617
Bartholomew116457
Marshall100824
Dubois96919
Boone96846
Hancock92143
Grant91934
Noble90832
Henry79826
Wayne75414
Jackson7499
Morgan71638
Shelby67229
Daviess66328
Dearborn66028
LaGrange63411
Clinton59914
Harrison57624
Putnam56412
Knox5159
Gibson5114
Lawrence51129
Montgomery50821
White48514
DeKalb47611
Decatur45839
Miami4353
Greene42435
Fayette42113
Jasper3942
Steuben3807
Scott37311
Sullivan33712
Posey3240
Jennings31312
Franklin30725
Clay3005
Ripley2968
Orange28824
Carroll27413
Whitley2707
Washington2651
Wabash2648
Starke2637
Adams2613
Wells2614
Jefferson2483
Spencer2413
Fulton2382
Huntington2363
Tipton22622
Perry22113
Randolph2167
Jay1800
Newton17311
Owen1681
Martin1640
Rush1554
Pike1471
Vermillion1280
Fountain1232
Blackford1193
Pulaski1131
Crawford1050
Brown1043
Parke962
Benton880
Ohio787
Union780
Switzerland690
Warren391
Unassigned0226

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 148894

Reported Deaths: 4734
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin26704607
Cuyahoga17375656
Hamilton13036315
Montgomery7755162
Lucas7280364
Butler5933111
Summit5265252
Marion308847
Mahoning3053281
Warren302349
Stark2838175
Pickaway264344
Lorain230786
Delaware223120
Fairfield208753
Columbiana192980
Licking191063
Trumbull1883132
Wood184172
Clark179440
Clermont170723
Lake161951
Medina146039
Greene144432
Allen143069
Miami142851
Portage113266
Mercer111918
Erie93546
Tuscarawas93020
Wayne92767
Ross87924
Richland86119
Madison81512
Darke79942
Belmont71827
Geauga71349
Hancock69510
Athens6692
Ashtabula65748
Lawrence65322
Shelby62510
Auglaize5979
Putnam58523
Sandusky56320
Huron5427
Union5292
Scioto4986
Seneca47014
Ottawa46830
Preble43315
Muskingum4012
Holmes3859
Jefferson3364
Henry31213
Logan3093
Champaign3043
Perry2969
Clinton29413
Defiance28911
Brown2882
Knox28415
Washington26023
Morrow2572
Hardin25213
Jackson2506
Fulton2411
Ashland2374
Crawford2366
Coshocton23411
Fayette2306
Highland2273
Wyandot21012
Williams2073
Gallia18913
Pike1840
Meigs17410
Guernsey1698
Hocking1639
Carroll1527
Adams1294
Van Wert1173
Monroe11018
Paulding1080
Harrison633
Morgan470
Vinton473
Noble280
Unassigned00
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