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:
VP Harris’ book not included in welcome kits for migrant children
CLAIM: A copy of Vice President Kamala Harris’ book is being given to every migrant child in a Long Beach facility housing unaccompanied minors who recently arrived at the border.
THE FACTS: After the New York Post published a story that falsely claimed that migrant children were each receiving welcome kits with copies of Harris’ children’s book, “Superheroes Are Everywhere,” the misinformation was picked up by other media outlets and spread quickly on social media. “White House Denies Knowing Anything about Kamala Harris’ Book Ending Up in Welcome Bags For Illegal Migrant Children in California,” reads the headline of an article by DJHJ Media that was shared on Facebook. A video echoing the false claim shared thousands of times on Facebook includes the caption, “IS KAMALA CASHING IN ON BOOKS AT THE BORDER?” In fact, Kevin Lee, chief public affairs officer for the City of Long Beach, told the AP a sole copy of Harris’ book was donated to the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, which opened last week as an emergency influx facility for children who arrive at the border without their parents. At an April 22 media tour, a Reuters photographer snapped a photo of Harris’ book resting on a cot next to a black backpack, a purple blanket, and a set of toiletries. “The City of Long Beach, in partnership with the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, has a citywide book and toy drive that is ongoing to support the migrant children who are temporarily staying in Long Beach at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shelter,” Lee said in a statement. “The single book you reference is one of hundreds of various books that have already been donated. The book was not purchased by HHS or the City.” Lee also clarified that the children “do not receive a welcome kit.” Nor do they receive books. They do get hygiene items and clothes, and can read books and play with toys that are part of the donated inventory, according to Lee. Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary to the vice president, told the AP: “The Office of the Vice President was not aware that her children’s book was donated.” On Tuesday, the New York Post updated two stories to reflect that there was only one donated copy of Harris’ book. The reporter who wrote the original article, Laura Italiano, resigned. In a tweet, Italiano referred to the article as “an incorrect story that I was ordered to write and which I failed to push back hard enough against.”
— Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.
Results have not been released in Arizona election audit
CLAIM: A recount of ballots from Arizona’s Maricopa County in the November 2020 election discovered a quarter of a million illegal votes by Monday.
THE FACTS: No results from the audit, which was ordered by Republicans in Arizona’s state Senate, have been released at this time. Legislators initiated the audit of 2.1 million ballots cast in the state’s most populous county during the November election even though multiple lawsuits and audits found no widespread irregularities, the AP reported. On Friday, Cyber Ninjas, a cyber security firm contracted by the Senate, began the audit. Cyber Ninjas is run by a supporter of former President Donald Trump who has shared unfounded claims that Biden’s presidential win was illegitimate. The audit is expected to take about three weeks to complete, and the company has reserved the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the state fairgrounds through May 14 to conduct the recount. On Monday, claims began circulating on social media falsely suggesting the results of the audit were known. One popular social media post with over 1,500 shares says, “A QUARTER OF A MILLION ILLEGAL VOTES FOUND IN ARIZONA AUDIT...SO FAR!” But the results of the audit, which began Friday, have not been released. Ken Bennet, a former Arizona secretary of state acting as the Senate’s liaison to the recount, confirmed to the AP the claim is false. When asked Monday if auditors had found 250,000 illegal votes, Bennett responded in a text message, “No.” The Senate audit can’t overturn the results of the election, but Republicans who control the state Senate say it is needed to restore voter confidence and help them craft changes to state election laws, the AP reported. Senate Democrats call the audit an effort to perpetuate false claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election. Experts on election administration and security have expressed alarm at the Senate’s audit, which they say isn’t following standard procedures to transparently and accurately count votes. Biden won Arizona by nearly 10,500 votes and won Maricopa County by just over 45,100 votes.
— Terrence Fraser
Biden climate plans don’t include red meat restrictions
CLAIM: President Joe Biden’s plan to combat climate change will require Americans to reduce their meat consumption by 90%, to just 4 pounds of red meat annually or one hamburger per month.
THE FACTS: Biden isn’t coming for your Fourth of July barbecue, despite a flurry of posts suggesting as much on social media. Over the weekend, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called the president the “Hamburglar,” while Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert warned Biden to “stay out of my kitchen,” and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote that meat restrictions were “not gonna happen in Texas!” However, Biden’s climate plans have never included those metrics, nor has the president announced any policy restricting meat in American diets. The falsehoods began April 22, when Biden opened a virtual climate summit by announcing his goal to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2030. Biden briefly hinted at some initiatives to help reach that ambitious goal, but did not mention red meat. The same day, the British tabloid The Daily Mail published a speculative story that suggested “Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.” As evidence, the outlet cited a January 2020 University of Michigan study unrelated to Biden that looked at various U.S. diet scenarios and their environmental impact. Fox News falsely linked the study to Biden’s climate policies, stating in on-air discussions that achieving Biden’s climate goals would require Americans to cut red meat by 90% and eat just “one burger per month.” The University of Michigan study did not mention Biden, nor did it reference any forthcoming government policies restricting meat consumption. Instead, it explored various hypothetical reductions in animal-based foods in the U.S. diet and concluded that they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fox News anchor John Roberts clarified the network’s reporting on Monday, saying the data from the University of Michigan study was accurate, “but a graphic and the script incorrectly implied it was part of Biden’s plan for dealing with climate change. That is not the case.” The Britain-based Daily Mail defended its reporting, arguing its story was an attempt to fill a gap in details on how Biden planned to achieve such an ambitious emission reduction target.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Seattle contributed this report.
No, COVID-19 vaccines do not ‘shed’
CLAIM: The COVID-19 vaccine is “shedding” from person to person. As a result, unvaccinated people who are in close proximity to vaccinated people are having changes in their period or miscarriages.
THE FACTS: A false conspiracy theory circulated on social media suggesting that people who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 can experience changes in their cycle or miscarriages, solely by being physically close to a person who received the vaccine. On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported on a private school in Miami that warned teachers and staff against taking the COVID-19 vaccine, citing the baseless theory. One false Instagram post accused vaccinated people of “negatively impacting women’s menstrual cycles” and falsely claimed that miscarriages were “up 400%.” Multiple social media posts referred to the baseless theory as a form of “shedding,” including an Instagram post that inaccurately blamed “extended or extremely heavy cycles” on “being around people who are recently vaccinated and shedding.” Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist and author, told the AP in a call that the vaccine cannot be shed, nor is it infectious. “It is not biologically possible for the vaccine to do that,” Gunter said. The false posts weaved together multiple debunked theories, such as period syncing, Gunter noted. Period syncing is a popular belief that women who are in close proximity to one another can have their periods align. “I think this represents a gross misunderstanding of the menstrual cycle. This ties into the myth of period syncing, which is not a thing,” Gunter said. “We don’t give off auras that affect other people’s menstrual cycles.” Some women have reported a fluctuation in their menstrual cycle after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but so far the reports have been anecdotal. Experts are still determining whether those fluctuations may be linked to stress or immune reactions people have after getting a vaccine. “When you mount a very robust immune response, that can release hormones that change your menstrual cycle,” said Dr. Andrea L. Cox, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, noting that the change shouldn’t be long-term. Either way, irregular periods can’t be spread from person to person. COVID-19 vaccines do not affect fertility or cause miscarriages, data shows. “Not only do they not cause miscarriages in the people who are near vaccinated people, they do not even cause miscarriages in the people who got them during pregnancy,” Cox said. Last week, new data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bolstering evidence COVID-19 vaccines are safe and do not cause miscarriages. The results are based on reports from over 35,000 U.S. women who received either the Moderna or Pfizer shots while pregnant. The rates of miscarriages or premature births were comparable to rates reported before the pandemic.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
Video misrepresents Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial protocol
CLAIM: Pfizer warns people not to have unprotected sex after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose for up to 28 days because of the risk of “birth defects due to genetic manipulation.”
THE FACTS: A TikTok video that claims the Pfizer vaccine can cause birth defects resurfaced this week after a large study was published last week and provided further evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are safe for pregnant women. The false claim began circulating in December. “Page 132 of Pfizer vaccine..basically says no unprotected sex up to 28 days after 2nd dose due to reproductive safety risk..this is for males and females..births defects due to genetic manipulation,” text in the video falsely states. The AP has debunked posts claiming the COVID-19 vaccine can alter DNA. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in December. Before that, the vaccine was tested in clinical trials that excluded pregnant women. Page 132 of a Pfizer protocol document instructs clinical trial participants to take measures to avoid becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant “for a minimum of 28 days after the last dose of study intervention.” Pfizer began testing the COVID-19 vaccine on pregnant women in February. Medications and vaccines are typically tested first in young, healthy people who are not pregnant or at risk of getting pregnant, said Dr. Andrea L. Cox, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Once proven to be safe among healthy adults who are not pregnant, drugs and vaccines can be tested on pregnant people, children and more vulnerable populations. “Whenever clinical trials are run and usually, again, no matter what you’re testing, there is a higher safety bar set for pregnant people because it’s key that we know something before we put a developing, potentially a developing fetus at risk as well as the pregnant woman,” Cox said. Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said there was nothing unusual about Pfizer’s instructions to clinical trial participants. “I think the wording on contraception is pretty typical of an early study when you are being cautious,” Monto said.
— Arijeta Lajka
Chicago Police Department did not tweet in support of Chauvin
CLAIM: The Chicago Police Department tweeted, “We are all Derek Chauvin.”
THE FACTS: Social media users shared a fabricated screenshot last weekend that purported to show the Chicago Police Department openly taking a stand on Twitter in support of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted for the murder of George Floyd. The fake tweet included a photo of Chauvin taken during his trial and was quickly shared online as if it was real. Social media users circulated a screenshot of the fabricated tweet that said, “That’s what we have been saying this whole time.” The Twitter account behind the retweet has a bio that reads, “If I tweet it, second guess it.” The Chicago Police Department knocked down the false post on their official account and said they reported the incident to the social media platform. On Monday, the department said the manipulated image went against their values. “Not only does this synthetic and manipulated image, which is antithetical to our values, reflect the very worst of disinformation on social media, it also puts our officers & communities at risk by widening the gap in trust that we are working so hard to build, bridge & restore,” reads a tweet from the department. Floyd’s death sparked international outrage and nationwide protests against police brutality after a video circulated showing Chauvin pinning Floyd to the pavement with a knee to his neck. Chauvin was convicted in Floyd’s death on April 20.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
The Washington Post hasn’t stopped fact-checking Biden
CLAIM: The Washington Post has ended fact-checking for President Joe Biden for the remainder of his presidency.
THE FACTS: A post circulating widely on Facebook this week featured a picture of Biden overlaid with the inaccurate text, “WASHINGTON POST ENDS FACT CHECKING FOR BIDEN FOR THE REMAINDER OF HIS PRESIDENCY.” But Biden won’t be escaping the Post’s dreaded Pinocchios. These claims misrepresent Kessler’s Monday announcement that the Post will stop maintaining its presidential fact-checking database after Biden’s first 100 days because of the labor and hours it requires. The database is a list of fact checks of presidential statements that can be filtered by topic or source. The Post reports it has analyzed “every speech, interview, tweet or public statement made by the president” in Biden’s first 100 days. Every claim that “would receive two or more Pinocchios on the Fact Checker scale” — or that included “significant omissions and/or exaggerations” at minimum — was included in the database. “Maintaining the Trump database over four years required about 400 additional 8-hour days over four years beyond our regular jobs for three people,” Kessler wrote on Twitter. “Biden is off to a relatively slow start but who knows what will happen. We will keep doing fact checks, just not a database.” Shani George, vice president of communications for the Washington Post, sent The Associated Press a statement echoing Kessler’s point. “We took on the task of maintaining a database during the previous presidency in response to unique circumstances. That database started as a 100-day project, and we created a companion project for the current president so a comparison could be made,” the statement read. “We are continuing our practice of rigorous, routine fact-checking, which has already identified dozens of false and misleading statements by Biden, and will continue to hold the president accountable for his words.” To that end, on Wednesday, the team released a fact check of Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress.
— Ali Swenson
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