The most prominent piece of evidence that could have proved Donald Trump right instead appears to be as empty as the substance of his claims.
MTV News released footage that conservative bloggers have credited to prove Trump’s claim that “thousands and thousands” of people in New Jersey were cheering after the 9/11 terror attacks. And for the most part, the video settles the score, backing up what numerous media outlets and fact-checkers have already concluded: At most, there are rumors and unconfirmed reports that about a dozen young teens were seen celebrating in south Paterson, New Jersey. But they were nowhere to the scale of Trump’s assertions.
MTV News first aired a documentary called “Fight For Your Rights: Aftermath of Terror” on Nov. 17, 2001. The broadcast, in part, focused on rumors that the New Jersey city with a dense Arab population, located just 20 miles outside of Manhattan, hosted cheering and dancing crowds in the wake of the attacks. Radio hosts said listeners were calling in saying they saw the same. But when news crews combed the streets of Paterson to interview witnesses, they couldn’t find a single person. The documentary also aired footage of Paterson’s mayor at the time swatting down the rumors in clear terms.
In that same broadcast, MTV News interviewed Emily Acevedo, a high schooler in Paterson, who said she saw “a lot of people” chanting and raving in front of the local library. Later on she clarified,” “Everyone that was out there, they were only 13 or 14 at most. They were kids. They didn’t know what they were doing.”
Trump, who first said on Saturday that the New Jersey celebrations numbered in the thousands, has since doubled-down on his claims. He pointed to a Washington Post article from 2001 that noted unconfirmed reports of festivities and said many of his Twitter followers proved him right.
A number of his supporters have pointed to sources in conspiracy circles, notably anti-Muslim commentator Debbie Schlussel, who penned a column that said the MTV News documentary depicted the accusations of jubilant Arabs.
With the release of the MTV broadcast, those assertions are now proven false. But it shows the distinct difficulty in fact-checking some of the most outrageous aspects of a presidential candidate’s claims — it’s nearly impossible to definitively prove that an event didn’t happen rather than to simply prove a person is wrong.
“But whether you call it ignorance, stubborn delusion or an outright lie, there’s no avoiding the truth: Donald Trump is wrong,” MTV News wrote this week.