Fact-checking a chaotic 1st presidential debate

Dylan Stableford
·Senior Writer
·1 min read

The first presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle quickly descended into chaos in Cleveland on Tuesday night, with President Trump repeatedly talking over former Vice President Joe Biden and the moderator, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, while unleashing a torrent of insults and falsehoods. Amid the shouting and interruptions onstage, Yahoo News and other news media outlets including the Associated Press, NBC News and USA Today provided a live fact check of both candidates, highlighting select false, misleading or dubious claims in real time. Scroll down for a complete recap.

Live Updates
  • Dylan Stableford

    Recapping the first debate

    • President Trump kicked off a heated and increasingly nasty presidential debate in Cleveland on Tuesday night by repeatedly interrupting former Vice President Joe Biden and moderator Chris Wallace while unleashing a torrent of insults and falsehoods, with Biden eventually telling Trump to "shut up, man."

    • Wallace became impatient with both candidates as they continued to talk over each other. "Gentlemen, I hate to raise my voice, but why shouldn't I be different than the two of you," Wallace exclaimed. Later, Wallace told Trump: "If you want to switch seats, we can do that."

    • As Biden and Trump sparred over the president's tax returns and the U.S. tax code, Biden called Trump "the worst president America has ever had."

    • Biden sought to discredit Trump with his infamous suggestion that bleach could kill the coronavirus inside the human body, which medical authorities say is both false and potentially fatal. “Maybe you can inject some bleach into your arm,” Biden quipped.

    • At one point, Trump declined to condemn white supremacist groups even when pressed to do so. “Proud Boys?" Trump said. "Stand back and stand by.”

    • Wallace concluded the debate by asking the candidates if they would pledge to not declare victory "until the election has been independently certified." Trump did not give a direct answer, saying: "I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully." Biden's response to the question was "yes."

  • Rebecca Corey

    Claim: Biden says violent crime fell under Obama, rose under Trump

    Fact check: On Tuesday night, Biden said, “Violent crime went down 17 percent, 15 percent in our administration. It's gone up on his watch.”

    Biden's attack is half-true. Asked about this claim, the Biden campaign pointed to a FactCheck.org review of FBI violent crime data during the Obama administration that found that the violent crime rate fell nearly 16 percent when adjusted for population. While that number appears to check out, his attack on Trump is unfounded: While homicide has been on the rise, violent crime has remained largely flat under the Trump administration.

    NBC News

  • Rebecca Corey

    Claim: Biden says Kellyanne Conway said that riots and chaos 'help [Trump’s] cause'

    Fact check: During the debate, Trump disputed a broadside from Biden that Kellyanne Conway, Trump's own former campaign manager and top White House aide, said that riots and chaos “help [Trump’s] cause.” But Conway did make comments along those lines in late August.

    “His own former spokesperson said, 'You know riots, chaos and violence help us and violence helps his cause.' That's what this is all about,” Biden said.

    After Trump questioned whom Biden was quoting, the former vice president responded “Kellyanne Conway.”

    Trump replied: “I don’t think she said that.”

    Here’s the exact quote, via video of Conway’s appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Aug. 27, 2020: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

    Conway announced on Aug. 23 that she would be leaving the White House at the end of the month.

    — NBC News

    (Getty Images)

  • Dylan Stableford

    Claim: Trump says he has the support of 'almost every law enforcement group' in the U.S., including the sheriff of Portland, Oregon

    Fact check: There is no "sheriff" of Portland. But there is one in Multnomah County, Mike Reese, who quickly responded in a tweet.

    — Dylan Stableford

  • Rebecca Corey

    Claim: Trump says Fauci 'said very strongly, masks are not good. Then he changed his mind'

    Fact check: Trump is skirting crucial context. The president is telling the story in a way that leaves out key lessons learned as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, raising doubts about the credibility of public health advice.

    Early on in the outbreak, a number of public health officials urged people not to use masks, fearing a run on already short supplies of personal protective equipment needed by doctors and nurses in hospitals.

    But that changed as the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus became clear, as well as the fact that it can be spread by tiny droplets breathed into the air by people who may not display any symptoms. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, along with Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Steven Hahn of the Food and Drug Administration and Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force, all agree on the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Redfield has repeatedly said it could be as effective as a vaccine if people took that advice to heart.

    — Associated Press


  • Dylan Stableford

    Claim: Biden says violent crime went down 15-17 percent under the Obama administration

    Fact-check: That’s overstating it. Overall, the number of violent crimes fell roughly 10% from 2008, the year before Biden took office as vice president, to 2016, his last full year in the office, according to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

    But the number of violent crimes was spiking again during Obama and Biden’s final two years in office, increasing by 8% from 2014 to 2016.

    More people were slain across the U.S. in 2016, for example, than at any other point under the Obama administration.

    — Associated Press

  • Dylan Stableford

    Claim: Trump suggests unsolicited mail-in voting will lead to a 'fraudulent election'

    Fact-check: Trump has frequently alluded to what he describes as massive voting-fraud conspiracies affecting millions of votes, but there is no evidence to support these claims. He did so again Tuesday night.

    Mail-in voting, also known as absentee voting, does present challenges to election security that are not present with in person voting. But states that conduct their elections entirely or mostly by mail — there are now seven states that do this — have best practices for preventing double voting, fake ballots or other forms of cheating. These measures include bar-code tracking of ballots, matching a voter’s signature on the ballot to the one in state files, and chain of custody protocols. States adapting higher levels of mail-in voting than in previous years due to COVID-19 are using those states as examples.

    Trump has also cited reports of problems distributing and processing mail-in ballots in local elections, seizing on a recent incident that resulted in less than 10 military ballots to be erroneously discarded in Pennsylvania. Experts say such instances are rare and would not result in the kind of widespread voter fraud of the kind the president is suggesting.

    Trump himself has voted absentee by mail from the White House, as have a number of his staffers.

    — Jon Ward and Dylan Stableford