The Fake Quote Problem and the Race for the White House

November 30th 2016

Mike Rothschild

While the gullibility of people who fall for fake news has been pointed out as one of the biggest reasons Donald Trump won the 2016 election, fake news has a cousin that's maybe even more pernicious: the fake quote.

Both candidates, particularly Trump, were given to saying things that were either partially or completely untrue, and many of those quotes ended up as memes. But the Internet also has plenty of quotes attributed to one of the candidates that they never uttered, muddying the waters while racking up countless shares on social media.

Clinton and Trump are far from the only presidential candidates to be saddled with fake quotes; they can be found for almost every president and major world leader, past and present. Most of these quotes have no origin other than someone made them up and put them in a meme. And any quote that seems to good to be true should be checked before sharing: just a drop a line into Google.

Figures on all sides in the 2016 election were both the subjects of and users of fake quotes, many spread without the slightest regard for whether they were true or not.

One quote that has followed Trump around for years is a fake line from a supposed interview with People magazine in 1998 about how if he ever ran for office, it would be as a Republican — because only that party would be dumb enough to nominate him.

Fake Trump Quote

Unfortunately for those who want to believe it, People Magazine never interviewed Trump in 1998, and no interview with this quote has ever been found from any year. And in 1998, Fox News was nowhere near the conservative juggernaut it is now, having not even been fully rolled out across the country.

Hillary Clinton has also been dogged by fake quotes, in particular this one said to be from her 1996 book It Takes a Village.

Fake Hillary Clinton Quote

The above line appears nowhere in Clinton's book. In fact, she argues the opposite: that parents "bear the first and primary responsibility" for raising their children.

But this election hasn't just ginned up fake quotes from the candidates. The likes of Alexander Hamilton have also had fake, supposedly prescient quotes attributed to them.

It's not prophetic, and Hamilton wasn't psychic — a search reveals no mention of "the Russian Tsar" or the Electoral College in Federalist 68, or any of the Federalist Papers. The quote is a mix of actual lines from Federalist 68 and lines that were just made up.

Another fake but famous quote from Thomas Jefferson has been quoted for years by Second Amendment advocates.

Thomas Jefferson Quote

Jefferson never said or wrote any variation of this. His Monticello estate tracked the quote down to 1914, and it wasn't attributed to Jefferson until decades later.

No less than President Barack Obama himself has fallen for the fake quote bug, using this one in reference to President Rutherford Hayes and his supposed dislike of the telephone:

Hayes Phone Quote

Hayes was actually a proponent of the new technology and had the first White House telephone installed. The phone number was "1." The origin of the quote is unknown.

Ohio Governor John Kasich also quoted this pithy, cutting remark from President Harry Truman about friendship and politics:

Truman Dog Quote

But Kasich got snared by a fake, misquoting Truman the day before the Ohio primary election. There's no evidence Truman ever said this; it's likely from the 1975 biographical play about Truman Give 'Em Hell Harry.

Another 2016 candidate who fell for a fake quote was Scott Walker, who shared a supposed saying of Jefferson:

Jefferson didn't say it best, Henry David Thoreau did — the line is from his essay, "Civil Disobedience."

Finally, Texas Senator Ted Cruz wasn't the user of a fake quote, but the subject of one: this meme about him supposedly quoting an incendiary 2015 speech:

Fake Ted Cruz Quote

The meme is laid out in a way that doesn't say it's a direct quote, but it certainly looks like it. But it's not: Cruz's speech in March 2015 declaring his presidential candidacy doesn't use any language even close to this.

No matter who a quote is said to be from, if it has no source attached, it's best to assume it's a fake, or at least worth checking. The only way to know for sure is to investigate — and that's easy.