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NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

May 8, 2020 GMT
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FILE - In this Jan. 6, 1993, file photo, Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird meets with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington. This image has circulated widely on social media in early May 2020 with false claims that it shows Democratic presidential candidate Biden posing with Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer who alleges he assaulted her 27 years earlier. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)
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FILE - In this Jan. 6, 1993, file photo, Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird meets with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington. This image has circulated widely on social media in early May 2020 with false claims that it shows Democratic presidential candidate Biden posing with Tara Reade, a former Senate staffer who alleges he assaulted her 27 years earlier. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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CLAIM: Photo shows Joe Biden posing with former Senate staffer Tara Reade, who has accused him of sexually assaulting her in the early 1990s.

THE FACTS: The 1993 image, taken by an Associated Press photographer, shows Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, with U.S. Attorney General nominee Zoe Baird. The image has circulated widely on social media in recent days with false claims that it shows the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee posing with Reade, a former Senate staffer who alleges he assaulted her 27 years ago. “Joe Biden says he can’t remember Tara Reade. Perhaps this will help to refresh his memory,” a May 1 tweet with the photo says, falsely suggesting that Reade is in the photo. The tweet had over 14,000 retweets. The photo, by then-AP photographer Ron Edmonds, can be found in AP’s image archive with a caption that states: “Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird meets with Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 6, 1993. Biden will chair the committee during Baird’s confirmation hearings.” Reade has accused Biden of sexually assaulting her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in 1993. Biden has denied the allegations. Reade said she filed a partial report with a congressional personnel office outlining broad details of her concerns with Biden that she believes could offer proof of some of her allegations. But she said in an interview with The Associated Press that she did not use the words “sexual harassment” or “sexual assault” in her complaint, but rather described an incident she said amounted to sexual harassment and the retaliation she faced afterward.

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CLAIM: Vice President Mike Pence delivered empty boxes of personal protective equipment to a nursing home for a publicity stunt.

THE FACTS: The claim went viral on social media after the show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” aired a selectively edited clip of Pence joking about carrying empty boxes “for the camera.” The full clip obtained by The Associated Press confirms that Pence did not actually deliver empty boxes. On Thursday, Pence helped deliver personal protective equipment, typically referred to as PPE, to the Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Alexandria, Virginia. The full C-SPAN video shows Pence delivering boxes of the equipment and then returning to a van containing more boxes. A microphone captures Pence talking with a person supervising. “Those are empty, sir. We’re good to go,” the person supervising says. Pence responds, “Can I carry the empty ones, just for the camera?” The person replies, “Absolutely.” Pence then begins laughing and shuts the van doors. He does not take any of the empty boxes. After showing the edited version of the C-SPAN clip on his show, Kimmel said, “Mike Pence pretending to carry a big box of PPEs into a hospital is the perfect metaphor for who he is and what he’s doing: a big box of nothing, delivering another box of nothing.” The show posted the edited clip on its Twitter account on Friday with the caption “A big box of nothing, delivering another box of nothing.” The tweet has been deleted. Multiple media outlets picked up the false claim and published it. Social media accounts also pushed the misleading edit. “Mike Pence caught on hot mic delivering empty boxes of PPE for a PR stunt,” a Twitter user stated in a tweet viewed more than 5 million times. Jimmy Kimmel apologized Friday on Twitter, clarifying that the video did not show the full incident: “It would appear that @VP was joking about carrying empty boxes for a staged publicity stunt. The full video reveals that he was carrying full boxes for a staged publicity stunt. My apologies. I know how dearly this administration values truth,” Kimmel said. Jon Thompson, a campaign spokesperson for Pence, called out Kimmel on Twitter for putting out the misleading clip. “This is absolute garbage spread by @JimmyKimmel. Pence is clearly joking about empty boxes & if Kimmel showed the full clip from CSPAN, not the one he selectively edited, you see and hear it.”

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CLAIM: Video shows bees circulating en masse in New York City driven by Asian giant hornets.

THE FACTS: The bees were simply swarming, experts said. Only two Asian giant hornets have been reported in the U.S., and those were in Washington State, not New York. A video showing hundreds of bees flying outside a CTown supermarket in the Bronx, a borough in New York City, was falsely captioned on social media to suggest the bees were fleeing Asian giant hornets, which have been dubbed “murder hornets” for their tendency to kill bees. One Facebook post sharing the video said that “Murder Hornets” had bees “Running Away.” Fausto Ureña, a resident of the Bronx, told The Associated Press he recorded the video about 3 p.m. on May 5, on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx. He said the bees began gathering around 2 p.m. and circulated in the area for a long time. “I think it was a change of hive because there is an abandoned building nearby,” Ureña said. Alistair Christie, a beekeeper for 18 years, told the AP in an email that bees naturally act this way in the spring. “The honeybees in the video are simply swarming,” Christie said. “This is something that they naturally do in the spring to spread their species.” In April, Washington State warned of Asian giant hornet sightings. Chris Looney, an entomologist with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told the AP in an email that there have been no sightings of Asian giant hornets outside of Washington. There were two confirmed reports there in late 2019.

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CLAIM: A woman who claimed to be in a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a “Dr. Phil” episode in 2019 is Tara Reade, the former Senate staffer who has accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her.

THE FACTS: The woman who appeared on the “Dr. Phil” show was not Reade. After reports surfaced of Reade’s accusation against Biden, social media posts began falsely claiming Reade was Jennifer, a woman who appeared on the “Dr. Phil” show in 2019 and said she was romantically involved with Putin even though she had never met him. Social media users have shared clips of the “Dr. Phil” episode along with side-by-side photos of Jennifer and Reade in an effort to make a connection based on a supposed resemblance between the two. (In the episode, Jennifer was identified by only her first name.) “All guests are fully vetted and that is not Reade,” a spokesperson for the show said in an email to the AP. Douglas Wigdor, who represents Reade, also told the AP that the woman on the “Dr. Phil” show was not his client. On the “Dr. Phil” show, Jennifer’s children express concern over their mother’s mental health. “My mother thinks she is in a relationship with Vladimir Putin to the extent that she has become homeless, living in and out of motels,” Jennifer’s daughter says in the episode. “My mother says Putin is going to make her the queen of Russia to help run his country.” Posts online that are critical of Reade have included clips from the “Dr. Phil” episode in an effort to cast doubt on her credibility.

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CLAIM: There is plenty of room in Chicago’s jail after the city’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who threatened to arrest people for violating stay-at-home orders, released rapists from it.

THE FACTS: The mayor doesn’t have the power to release anyone from jail or prison, including the Cook County Jail in Chicago, which is run by county officials. On May 2, after Chicago police broke up several crowded gatherings across the city, Lightfoot did say the city would take action against people who flout stay-at-home orders by hosting house parties. “Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and you refuse to do what is necessary to save lives in this city in the middle of a pandemic, we will take you to jail, period,” the mayor said. But inaccurate posts circulating online claim there’s plenty of room in the jail for those rule breakers because Lightfoot has been releasing rapists from detainment during the coronavirus pandemic. The posts appear to conflate claims and criticism about inmates who have been released from the state’s prison system. Roughly 36,000 people are incarcerated in state facilities. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed an order in April allowing furloughs for elderly inmates because of COVID-19. Since then, the state’s prison population has declined by about 1,300 inmates. The state has not released details about how decisions were made on who was released as a result of the pandemic, drawing ire from Republicans who have asked for more information. In Chicago, the Cook County Jail, one of the nation’s largest, has become a hot spot for the coronavirus. A correctional officer who worked in the jail and six detainees have died after testing positive. To slow the spread of the virus in the jail, a Cook County judge in March ordered bail reduction hearings to bring down the population by releasing detainees not considered a threat. As a result, since March the jail’s population has dropped by roughly 1,600 to just over 4,000 detainees as of May 5, according to data available on the Cook County Sheriff’s website.

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CLAIM: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its website to reduce the coronavirus death count from 64,283 to 37,308.

THE FACTS: Social media users are highlighting numbers on the CDC website to suggest the nation’s health protection agency inflated the number of coronavirus deaths to make the virus appear worse than it is. But the numbers being used are incomplete. They come from a page on the agency’s website that provides provisional death count numbers for the coronavirus. The page clearly states that the National Vital Statistics Systems data shown may be incomplete and explains that death counts are delayed and may be different from other sources. “COVID-19 death counts shown here may differ from other published sources, as data currently are lagged by an average of 1–2 weeks,” the page states. The posts were shared widely on Twitter and Facebook early in the week. “Updated CDC website May 1: drops total US COVID19 death rate from 64,283 to 37,308,” another post on Facebook said. “28,295 died of something else.” Figures on the CDC website on Thursday put the total number of deaths from COVID-19 at 73,297. The provisional numbers shared by social media users had showed the death count between Feb. 1 and April 25 and relied on death counts based on death certificate data, which can take longer to process. The CDC includes a wide variety of statistics around the coronavirus on its website, which also include disclaimers on how the data was obtained.

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CLAIM: Bill Gates’ former doctor says the vaccine advocate refused to vaccinate his own children.

THE FACTS: The Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist has had all his children fully vaccinated. Social media users have revived a false claim that suggests Gates has an ulterior motive for promoting vaccines. “This Vaccine Pusher doesn’t vaccinate. Bill Gates’ former doctor says billionaire ‘refused to vaccinate his own children,’” states a Facebook post illustrated with a picture of the family. The post goes on to quote an unnamed physician, “I don’t know if he had them vaccinated as adults but I can tell you, he point blank refused to vaccinate them as children.” Gates’ wife, Melinda Gates, debunked the false claim when it circulated in April 2019. “All three of my children are fully vaccinated,” she said in a Facebook post addressing World Immunization Week. “Vaccines work. And when fewer people decide to get them, we all become more vulnerable to disease.” The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has long been dedicated to promoting access to vaccines around the world, is now working to fund research into coronavirus treatments and vaccines. The work has led to renewed attacks by those opposed to vaccines and the circulation of conspiracy theories on social media. The false claim about Gates’ children circulated widely in 2018 following an article by the online publication YourNewsWire, which now goes by NewsPunch. Websites are now recirculating the YourNewsWire article suggesting to have inside information from Bill Gates’ supposed doctor. Sean Adl-Tabatabai, the editor-in-chief of the publication, told the AP in an email that YourNewsWire no longer stands by the story. “Our editorial standards have changed significantly since we moved to NewsPunch.com in late 2018,” he said.

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Rafael Cabrera and Abril Mulato in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

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Find all AP Fact Checks here: https://apnews.com/APFactCheck

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Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

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