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The top 10 most viewed fact-checks of 2016

Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Oct. 19, 2016. (Josh Haner/The New York Times) Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Oct. 19, 2016. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Oct. 19, 2016. (Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu December 28, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s business record and Hillary Clinton’s email practices were some of the most contentious issues of the 2016 election — and some of PolitiFact’s most popular reports of the year.

In addition to our fact-checks, readers clicked on special reports and roundups. The perennial reader-favorite examining whether Ted Cruz being born in Canada had any bearing on his presidential eligibility fetched nearly a million views. Our guide to viral graphics contrasting Clinton and Bernie Sanders was a hit during the Democratic primary. And we drew tons of eyeballs for our live fact-checking and round-ups of the presidential debates.

Out of over 1,100 fact-checks related to this presidential cycle, here are the most clicked-on fact-checks of the past 12 months.

10. Hillary Clinton said ‘my predecessors did the same thing’ with email

Defending her controversial private email server at a Democratic primary debate, Clinton claimed that past secretaries of state also did "the same thing." We rated this claim Mostly False.

Only one of her predecessors, Colin Powell, regularly used email. Powell, like many other politicians, used a personal email address. But Clinton hosted her email on a private server located in her home, which Powell did not do.

9. Reince Priebus’ False claim that 80% of Clinton Foundation costs are overhead

The incoming White House chief of staff knocked the Clinton Foundation for doing nothing but "lining the pockets of Bill and Hillary Clinton," claiming that only 20 percent of donations to the charity is "actually getting to the place that it should."

That’s False. Tax documents show the foundation spends a small amount of its money on grants to other organizations, but 80 to 90 percent directly on program services. Only 10 to 20 percent is spent on "overhead" like personnel and fundraising expenses.

8. Donald Trump’s first TV ad shows migrants at the southern border

A Trump campaign ad used video footage of dozens of people swarming over "our southern border." But the footage isn’t depicting a crossing from Mexico to the United States. It’s actually of a border 5,000 miles away between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. We rated the claim Pants on Fire. (The Trump campaign later stated the use of the misleading footage was "1,000 percent on purpose.")

7. Barack Obama claims deficit has decreased by two-thirds since taking office

Obama boasted in his 2015 State of the Union address about slicing the deficits. In 2009, his first year in office, the deficit was $1.4 trillion. By the end 2014, it had been reduced by about 66 percent to $496 billion. But this ignores some critical context: The deficit was historically high in 2009, and federal spending is actually expected to balloon in the long run. We rated Obama’s claim Mostly True.

6. Pie chart of federal spending circulating on the internet is misleading

A viral pie chart claims that 57 percent of federal spending went to the "the military" with other categories from education to health ranging from 1 percent to 6 percent. But these cherry-picked numbers only account for discretionary spending, which represents just one-third of federal spending. Looking at the entire budget, most of the federal dollar goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while the defense spending actually accounts for 16 percent. We rated the chart False.

5. Did Hillary Clinton start the Obama birther movement?

Trump first accused Clinton of starting birtherism — the myth that Obama was not born in the United States — in a September 2015 tweet. Clinton supporters circulated the rumor in the last days of the 2008 Democratic primary, but there’s no evidence suggesting Clinton or 2008 campaign took part. We rated his claim False in 2015 and False in 2016 when he repeated it  (and then we examined the actual origins of birtherism).

4. No, Donald Trump is not beating Hillary Clinton in the popular vote

Googling "Final Election Count" in the days after the election may have brought you to this headline from a little known blog: "Final election 2016 numbers: Trump won both popular (62.9M-62.2M) and Electoral College Votes (306-232)." While Trump won the Electoral College, he was trailing Clinton by nearly 800,000 votes at the time of the blog’s publication on Nov. 12. The final vote count shows Clinton won over 2.8 million more votes. We rate the blog Pants on Fire!

3. Prior to Benghazi, were there 13 attacks on embassies and 60 deaths under President George W. Bush?

In 2014, House Republicans began the eighth investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, prompting many Democrats to complain that the probes were political witch hunts. For example, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., pointed to a number of attacks and deaths under the last Republican administration that were comparatively overlooked.

Garamendi’s figures are a bit low. We found 39 attacks or attempted attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets between January 2001 and January 2009. Twenty resulted in at least one fatality, with a total death toll of 97. Thirteen were direct attacks on embassy and consular property, with a death toll of 66. We rate his claim Mostly True.

2. Viral image claims Clintons stole $200k in furniture, china and artwork from White House

An old complaint about the Clintons resurfaced during Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. Circulated by a conservative Facebook page, a viral graphic claimed that Clinton was "forced" to return $200,000 worth of property she stole from the White House. There’s a grain of truth to this claim, but it mangles several points.

Presidents are allowed to keep gifts, but must disclose ones over a certain amount. At the end of his term, Bill Clinton reported roughly $190,000 in gifts. Scrutiny and political pressure led the Clintons to return $48,000 worth of furniture and pay $86,000 for items that were government property.

A Congressional probe into the fracas over the Clintons’ gifts concluded that some were undervalued and there was poor tracking of ownership overall. But it never accused the Clintons of theft or criminal wrongdoing. We rated the claim Mostly False.

1. Fact-checking claims about Donald Trump’s bankruptcies

Trump’s business record was the subject of criticism during the Republican primary and the General election, and also became PolitiFact’s most clicked on fact-check of 2016.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and 2016 contender Carly Fiorina said Trump was "forced to file for bankruptcy not once, not twice, four times" during a September 2015 Republican debate. Trump didn’t deny it and argued it was a smart business decision.

We rated Fiorina’s claim Mostly True, noting that it’s not entirely accurate to pin the blame solely on Trump. When Hillary Clinton repeated the claim during the general election, we looked at the records again and found two more bankruptcies for a total of six.

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The top 10 most viewed fact-checks of 2016