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PolitiFact’s top 10 fact-checks of politicians and pundits in 2023

A Pants on Fire claim from former Fox News host Tucker Carlson was PolitiFact's most popular fact-check involving a politician or pundit in 2023. (AP) A Pants on Fire claim from former Fox News host Tucker Carlson was PolitiFact's most popular fact-check involving a politician or pundit in 2023. (AP)

A Pants on Fire claim from former Fox News host Tucker Carlson was PolitiFact's most popular fact-check involving a politician or pundit in 2023. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman December 20, 2023

Before we turn the calendar to 2024, we want to reflect.

From its beginnings, PolitiFact has focused on examining politicians’ statements and rating them for accuracy. We soon started evaluating claims made by pundits, columnists, commentators and other influential members of the media.

As 2023 ends, we wanted to take a look back at which pundit and politician fact-checks most captured readers’ attention during the year.  

Our data shows that readers came to PolitiFact for fact-checks on politicians’ statements about the U.S.-Mexico border, the country’s debt and energy independence, and former president Donald Trump's indictments. Interest in pundit claims included the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, the COVID-19 vaccines and LGBTQ+ issues.

Most of the top 10 fact-checks fell on the false side of our Truth-O-Meter. Three were rated Half True and two others, Mostly True.

Here’s the list.

10. Matt Walsh: "Tuck-friendly" bathing suits at Target "are available in kids’ sizes."

Our ruling: False

As part of its LGBTQ+ Pride collection, Target sold adult swimwear with "tuck-friendly construction" that had extra crotch coverage to "tuck" private parts. 

But misleading posts about the swimwear quickly spread online, with conservative commentators, such as Matt Walsh, and social media accounts, such as Libs of TikTok and Gays Against Groomers, claiming that the retailer was selling the bathing suits for children.

The swimwear was available only in adult sizes, a Target spokesperson told PolitiFact. The retailer's website labeled the swimsuit seen in the video we fact-checked as a "Pride Adult One Piece Colorblock Swimsuit." 

9. Donald Trump: "They are trying to make it illegal to question the results of a bad election."

Our ruling: False 

In August, former President Donald Trump framed the special counsel’s federal indictment against him as an attempt to criminalize raising questions over election results. But the Aug. 1 indictment over Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 presidential election results said he "had a right, like every American, to speak publicly about the election" and make false claims. It said Trump also was entitled to challenge the results lawfully through recounts, audits or lawsuits. 

Trump was indicted for his actions, not for questioning the election. The indictment says he "pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election results," amounting to criminal conspiracies.

8. Scott Adams: People not vaccinated against COVID-19 "came out the best."

Our ruling: False 

In January, cartoonist Scott Adams, who created the "Dilbert" comic strip, claimed in a YouTube livestream that people unvaccinated against COVID-19 are better off than those who are.

But data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts has consistently shown that unvaccinated people are at greater risk than vaccinated people of getting infected by COVID-19 and dying from it. COVID-19 vaccines have a strong safety record and infection alone provides only limited protection.

Usually, vaccine side effects are minor and emerge within days, not years later. Some people who get infected with COVID-19 experience "long COVID" — physical effects and disorders that can last for years.

7. Laura Ingraham: Video clip shows that protesters in Tennessee "made their way onto the state Capitol floor."

Our ruling: False 

A video of a protest at the Tennessee Capitol in March over gun violence didn’t show unauthorized protesters on the House floor, as Fox News host Laura Ingraham claimed.

Protesters marched on the state Capitol days after three adults and three children were killed in a deadly mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. The video Ingraham shared showed three Democratic legislators who took over the lectern and led chants echoed by protesters who had gathered in the viewing galleries, which were open to the public. 

6. Gavin Newsom: "Per capita, more Floridians move to California than Californians moving to Florida."

Our ruling: Mostly True 

We found that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was on track when he told Fox News host Sean Hannity in June that, per capita, more Floridians have moved to California than the other way around. U.S. Census Bureau data from 2021, the latest available, backs that up. 

This has been a slight trend for decades, experts said. But the difference between the rate of Floridians moving to California and vice versa is tiny and based on estimates, and there’s debate on whether the difference is statistically significant.

5. Donald Trump: The Trump administration "built nearly 500 miles of border wall."

Our ruling: Half True 

Trump’s administration built 52 miles of new primary border barriers — the first impediment people encounter if they’re trying to cross the southern border with Mexico — where there were none before.

The administration built 458 miles of primary and secondary border barriers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data showed. The majority were replacements of smaller, dilapidated barriers. Replacement barriers and secondary barriers that are behind primary barriers don’t add miles to the southern border’s total coverage.

4. Donald Trump: "The same people that raided Israel are pouring into our once beautiful USA, through our TOTALLY OPEN SOUTHERN BORDER, at Record Numbers."

Our ruling: Pants on Fire! 

Trump made this claim on his Truth Social platform days after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. But terrorism experts told PolitiFact that there’s no proof that Hamas’ militants have been "pouring" across the U.S. southern border, and the Department of Homeland Security said there's no intelligence to back up the claim.

People aren’t crossing the southern border to conduct terrorist attacks or take over parts of the United States, immigration experts said. A small percentage may commit crimes, such as selling drugs, but most come for jobs and political freedom. 

3. Gavin Newsom: "We are more energy independent today" under President Joe Biden.

Our ruling: Half True 

In a conversation with Hannity after the second Republican presidential debate in September, Newsom said the U.S. was more energy independent under President Joe Biden. His statement came in response to a claim by then-candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence during the debate that the country achieved energy independence during his tenure when Trump was president.

In several measurable ways, the U.S. has moved toward energy independence in recent years. Experts said, though, that this hasn’t meant genuine energy independence. The U.S. still depends on international crude oil for key elements of its energy needs, making it sensitive to overseas developments in energy, trade and foreign policy. 

Energy independence gains under Trump’s leadership have strengthened under Biden, data shows.

2. Joe Biden: "One quarter" of today’s $31.4 trillion federal debt "was accumulated in the four years of my predecessor," Donald Trump.

Our ruling: Half True 

Biden’s number is accurate — about one-fourth of the total debt incurred as of January 2023 came during Trump’s presidency. 

However, assigning debt to a particular president is tricky, because so much of the spending was approved by decades-old, bipartisan legislation that set the parameters for Social Security and Medicare. A different calculation shows more debt stemming from former President Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as vice president. 

1. Tucker Carlson: Capitol Police officers "helped" QAnon Shaman Jacob Chansley and "acted as his tour guides."

Our ruling: Pants on Fire! 

In the top spot is former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who claimed in March that Capitol Police officers acted as "tour guides" for "QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. 

But available evidence rebuts this. Officers repeatedly asked Chansley to leave the building. This is corroborated by the plea agreement Chansley signed and a Capitol Police officer’s account of the events. 

Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger called Carlson’s claim "outrageous and false" in an internal department memo. He wrote that officers used de-escalation tactics to try to persuade rioters to get one another to leave the Capitol.

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PolitiFact’s top 10 fact-checks of politicians and pundits in 2023