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Story highlights

Professor George Lakoff: The media should use a new method of fact-checking Trump

The current fact checking approaches only "strengthen" Trump

(CNN) —  

An American academic said Sunday that though fact-checking President Donald Trump is essential, the media currently are getting it all wrong.

“You do need the facts but you need to know how to present those facts,” George Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley, told CNN’s Brian Stelter during “Reliable Sources.”

From the crowd size at his inauguration to national murder rates, journalists have tended to simply counter Trump’s claims by first repeating them – then reporting that they are false. But that’s not enough, Lakoff said. The central tenet of his theory when it comes to fact-checking Trump, Lakoff said, is that “if you just negate what he’s saying, you’re going to just strengthen him.”

In short, “the very fact of repeating a falsehood in proclaiming it as incorrect can actually have the opposite effect in terms of informing the public,” the professor said.

Trump seeks to ‘divert attention’

“If you repeat what Donald Trump says and negate it, and say no, and say it’s false, what you’re doing is strengthening that, because in your brain, the neurocircuits have to activate what you’re negating and that strengthens what you’re negating,” he said.

Trump understands the power of using a tweet or claim “to divert attention, ” and journalists can and should outsmart such tactics by giving as little airtime as possible to any false claims, Lakoff said.

A better tactic is for journalists to “frame” fact checking by immediately pointing out that “Trump is diverting attention from real issues … like his foreign policy, like his business connections and on and on.”

Journalists should “talk first about the truth, that he’s diverting attention from, the real issues,” Lakoff told Stelter. This approach results in “30 seconds” rather than “than all the time” spent on Trump, he said.