NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
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:
Pfizer CEO received his company’s vaccine — he didn’t refuse it
CLAIM: The CEO of Pfizer refuses to get the COVID vaccine.
THE FACTS: A video on social media is trying to spread doubt about COVID-19 vaccines by falsely claiming Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of Pfizer, “refuses” to get the vaccine his company created. In fact, he has already received two shots. “Albert Bourla received his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on March 10, 2021,” Pfizer spokesperson Faith Salamon told The Associated Press in an email. Bourla tweeted a photo of him receiving his second shot on March 10. “Excited to receive my 2nd dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech#COVID19 vaccine,” his post reads. “There’s nothing I want more than for my loved ones and people around the world to have the same opportunity.” A popular video that includes the false banner, “PFEIZER CEO REFUSES VACCINE,” has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. The name of the company is misspelled and some of the letters in the word “vaccine” have been replaced with an image of a coronavirus particle and a syringe. The video includes a clip of an interview Bourla did with CNBC on Dec. 14, but the video does not note the date. In that interview, host Meg Tirrell asked when Bourla planned to get the shot. In his response, Bourla never refused to get the vaccine -- he simply noted that, at the time, it wasn’t yet his turn. “As soon as I can, I will. The only sensitivity here, Meg, is that I don’t want to have an example that I’m cutting the line,” Bourla said, according to the CNBC transcript. He went on to say he was 59, in good health, and not a frontline worker. “My type is not recommended to get vaccination right now,” Bourla said.
— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix contributed this report.
U.S. vice presidents are not required to salute service members
CLAIM: Vice President Kamala Harris disrespected the military when she failed to salute the military escorts when boarding Air Force Two on March 19 in Georgia.
THE FACTS: After Harris wrapped up her trip to Georgia to meet with grieving members of the Asian American community following a mass shooting, social media users began sharing a video of her boarding Air Force Two claiming she had failed to salute the troops at the base of the stairs. The video, viewed more than 900,000 times on Twitter, was shared widely by conservative social media accounts in an attempt to paint the vice president as unpatriotic and disrespectful to service members. “DISGRACEFUL:@VP Kamala Harris refuses to salute the honor guard at the steps of the aircraft. It is a clear demonstration of her dislike for those in uniform, both law-enforcement and military,” tweeted Bernard Kerik, former New York City police commissioner. While Harris did not salute the troops, she is not required to. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement that there is no instruction or regulation requiring the president or the vice president to return a hand salute to members of the Armed Forces. “Vice President Harris has made very clear her respect and admiration for the men and women of the military, as well as their families,” Kirby said. According to Army regulation, the president as the commander-in-chief is required to receive a salute, but there is no requirement that the vice president receive a salute. “Some are trying to suggest the Vice President lacks respect for our military – this could not be further from the truth,” Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary to the vice president, said in a statement. In addition, Harris has no responsibility to salute the troops. “She has no authority over them according to the Constitution,” Richard Waterman, University of Kentucky presidential historian, said in an email. “Her constitutional function is to serve as President of the Senate. Saluting the troops would be an act of courtesy, but this is another example of politics as usual in Washington.” It’s not the first time a member of the White House has been criticized over saluting service members. Former President Barack Obama made headlines not once, but twice, while in office. In 2013, Obama walked by a service member as he boarded Marine One without a salute, returning a few moments later to shake the guard’s hand. A year later, he again made headlines when he saluted troops with a coffee cup in his hand as he departed Marine One. Before Obama, critics were also not happy with former President George W. Bush holding his dog, Barney, as he attempted to salute in 2001. According to historians, Ronald Reagan was the first president to regularly salute troops.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
Judge did not rule Dominion machines were designed for fraud
CLAIM: “Finally, a judge has ruled Dominion Voting Machines were designed to create fraud.”
THE FACTS: No judge has made such a ruling. In December, a judge handling a Michigan lawsuit allowed the release of a report that contained false claims about a human error in Antrim County and about Dominion Voting Systems election technology, including the unsubstantiated assertion that the company’s machines were designed to create fraud. The release of that report, which has since been debunked, did not amount to the judge endorsing its claims. Social media users spreading the false claim based their arguments on a December article, which covered Michigan 13th Circuit Court Judge Kevin Elsenheimer’s decision at the time to allow the release of a flawed report contained in a lawsuit seeking to challenge Antrim County’s election results. Elsenheimer did not make a ruling supporting the report’s contents. The 23-page report — signed by a former Republican congressional candidate with a history of spreading misinformation about Michigan’s election — claimed Dominion was “intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.” It claimed the results of the election in Antrim County, Michigan, should not have been certified because a forensic analysis of voting machines found a “machine error built into the voting software designed to create error.” But that analysis is “critically flawed, filled with dramatic conclusions without any evidence to support them,” according to a joint statement from the Michigan Department of State and the Michigan attorney general’s office in December. Antrim County officials concurred in a press release, saying, “An analysis which should have been data and fact based is instead riddled with false and unsupported claims, baseless attacks, and incorrect use of technical terms.” Dominion has presented evidence to show that its technology did not err in Antrim County during the 2020 election. Officials have thoroughly explained the human mistake that caused the small, Republican-leaning county to temporarily report unofficial results that reflected a landslide win for Joe Biden. Former President Donald Trump ultimately won the county with 61% of the vote. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced in early March that the state had completed more than 250 election audits, all of which “confirmed the integrity and accuracy of the 2020 election.” In her statement, Benson specifically mentioned the Antrim County audit, saying it found that “the Dominion machines used there accurately counted ballots throughout the county.” There’s also no evidence the election technology firm Dominion Voting Systems switched or deleted votes, used algorithms to unevenly weigh vote tallies, colluded with Democrats, or used foreign servers — despite repeated efforts by Trump and his supporters to claim it did.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Seattle contributed this report.
CNN banner did not say Boulder shooting suspect was ‘morally white’
CLAIM: CNN displayed a banner during coverage of the mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, stating the gunman was “factually Arab, but morally white.”
THE FACTS: The network didn’t display such text, according to a CNN representative and a recording of the broadcast. A manipulated screenshot of a CNN broadcast was shared thousands of times on Facebook this week, fooling social media users who did not realize it was initially shared as satire. The fabricated image showed CNN host Brooke Baldwin and correspondent Lucy Kafanov in a split-screen display, with Kafanov reporting from Boulder at “1:01 p.m. MT.” A banner below the journalists read, “DEVELOPING STORY: INVESTIGATION: SHOOTER WAS FACTUALLY ARAB, BUT MORALLY WHITE.” However, a recording of the same moment on Tuesday in an online TV news archive shows the text on the screen actually read, “COLORADO SHOOTING SUSPECT BOOKED INTO JAIL TODAY.” Further investigation of the fabricated image shows it originated on the Christian satire website The Babylon Bee. Emily Kuhn, senior director of communications at CNN Digital Worldwide, confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that the banner was fabricated and didn’t match the network’s font. Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, the 21-year-old suspect in a Boulder supermarket shooting that killed 10 people on Monday, appeared in court Thursday for the first time, and his attorney asked for a health assessment “to address his mental illness.” According to two law enforcement officials, Alissa was born in Syria in 1999, emigrated to the U.S. as a toddler and later became a U.S. citizen. He would need to be a citizen to buy a gun. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
— Ali Swenson
Supposed Taco Bell, Walmart offers on Facebook are fake
CLAIM: Taco Bell is offering $60 and Walmart is offering $75 to customers who share and comment on their posts.
THE FACTS: These offers are not real and were posted by accounts impersonating Taco Bell and Walmart, but thousands of Facebook users have shared posts with the claims this week. “Taco Bell is going to celebrate its 60th anniversary on March 24th and In order to help our loyal customers, Every single person who has shared & commented before 5PM Wednesday will be sent one of these boxes containing a $60 Taco Bell gift-card plus surprises that will make your heart flutter!” reads a post from a Facebook page impersonating Taco Bell. “To celebrate the great news of Walmart becoming plastic bags free by the end of 2021, we are giving one of these Walmart gift-bags to everyone who has shared & commented before 9pm March 24th. Each person who does this will receive one gift bag full of goodies and a $75 Walmart voucher,” reads a post from a Facebook page posing as Walmart. The posts come from Facebook accounts that at first glance appear to match the name and branding of each company, but actually claim to represent an “unofficial community page.” Representatives from both companies confirmed the posts are not real. “We can confirm that webpage is impersonating Taco Bell and does not represent the brand,” Taco Bell’s public relations team told the AP in an emailed statement. “The brand is not giving out $60 to everyone who interacts with the post. Taco Bell’s 60th birthday is actually in 2022.” Casey Staheli, senior manager of national media relations at Walmart, said, “This page is not affiliated with or endorsed by Walmart. We take any fraud impacting our customers seriously and continue to implement and improve upon measures designed to help guard against various consumer scams.”
— Ali Swenson
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