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Question: "I do not understand why you grade the charge that Trump called the coronavirus a hoax as false. It seems the quote from a rally, ‘And this is their new hoax’ is straightforward."
We heard from many readers questioning our fact-checking of Kamala Harris during the vice presidential debate when she said this:
"Can you imagine if you knew on Jan. 28, as opposed to March 13, what they knew, what you might’ve done to prepare? They knew, and they covered it up. The president said it was a hoax. They minimized the seriousness of it."
We called her statement false, pointing to our rating of a similar statement from Joe Biden in March. Because so many of you have wondered, we thought we’d go into a bit more detail on our analysis in this case.
The basis for the claim is a comment President Donald Trump made at a rally in South Carolina on Feb. 28, when he was complaining about Democrats’ attacks on him and his administration.
Here’s what Trump said:
"Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus, you know that right? Coronavirus, they’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. They can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
"One of my people came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia.’ That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was not a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax."
Our reading of these comments is that Trump is saying Democratic criticism of him is a hoax, not that the coronavirus doesn’t exist or wasn’t real. We’ve been unable to find other comments of Trump suggesting that.
When asked about his comments the next day, Trump specifically said he was talking about Democrats’ reaction: "Hoax, referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job," Trump said.
Other fact-checkers have agreed with our reading of Trump’s comments. Here’s what they have to say.
Factcheck.org: "Trump did use the word ‘hoax’ but his full comments, and subsequent explanation, make clear he was talking about Democratic attacks on his administration’s handling of the outbreak, not the virus itself."
The Washington Post Fact Checker: "The context of the full quote shows Trump criticized Democratic talking points and media’s coverage of his response to the coronavirus, but does not call the virus itself a hoax."
Snopes: "Despite creating some confusion with his remarks, Trump did not call the coronavirus a hoax."
AP Fact Check: "The accusation is misleading. So is the selective video editing that made it appear Trump was calling the coronavirus a ‘new hoax.’"