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


Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not advocate lowering the age of consent

CLAIM: The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted to lower the age of consent for sex to 12 years old.

THE FACTS: This bogus claim first emerged during Ginsburg’s 1993 confirmation hearings when official testimony misinterpreted a recommendation by Ginsburg in a 1977 report published by the United States Commission on Civil Rights. It has lingered in the public forum ever since. In the days after Ginsburg died of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, misinformation about her has circulated online, including the decades-old false claim about her views on the age of consent. “Why is everyone pretending to be sad that RBG died?” read a tweet that was later screen-captured and reposted on Instagram. “It was GOOD riddance by a long shot, she wanted to lower the age of consent for sex to 12. She is a pedophile sympathizer and deserves nothing less.” The Instagram post was viewed more than 54,000 times and received more than 4,000 likes. Similar claims were shared by Twitter and Facebook accounts associated with QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory that centers on the president fighting off satanic pedophiles and other enemies in the so-called deep state. The 1977 report, “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code,” was prepared by Ginsburg and attorney Brenda Feigen-Fasteau. It included a discussion of sex-based language in U.S. law to provide resources for lawmakers who wanted to make laws gender-neutral. It noted the language of a proposed 1973 bill as an example of a gender-neutral definition of rape: “A person is guilty of an offense if he engages in a sexual act with another person, not his spouse, and (1) compels the other person to participate: (A) by force or (B) by threatening or placing the other person in fear that any person will imminently be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping; (2) has substantially impaired the other person’s power to appraise or control the conduct by administering or employing a drug or intoxicant without the knowledge or against the will of such other person, or by other means; or (3) the other person is, in fact, less than 12 years old.” The USCCR report did not suggest implementing the bill, which never passed into law. It was simply included it as a model for defining rape without sex-based references.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson contributed this report.


Ginsburg did not author a tweet about Hillary Clinton

CLAIM: The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg tweeted on the day she died that she had information that would lead to the arrest of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

THE FACTS: The tweet was fabricated. Ginsburg did not have a personal Twitter account. The day after the 87-year-old Ginsburg died of complications from pancreatic cancer, an image of a tweet she allegedly sent on the day of her death began circulating on Instagram. “I have information that will lead to the arrest of Hillary Clinton,” read the tweet, allegedly sent by the account @RBGOfficial on Friday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. The image on Instagram was liked by more than 2,600 people and viewed more than 63,000 times. But the late justice did not maintain a personal Twitter account. The account @RBGofficial, created in 2013, now displays the name “jorge.” The profile photo is an image of a guitar and does not show Ginsburg.

— Ali Swenson


Biden did not bungle the Pledge of Allegiance at a campaign stop

CLAIM: Video shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden botching the Pledge of Allegiance saying, “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, under God, for real.”

THE FACTS: Biden was not reciting the full Pledge of Allegiance in the video taken during a campaign stop in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on Monday, he was discussing how he would govern as president. He also discussed coronavirus deaths in the U.S. surpassing 200,000 and details of his economic plan. “I don’t pledge allegiance to the red states of America or blue states of America. I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, under God, for real,” he said. “I’m running as a proud Democrat. But I’m not going to govern as a Democratic president, I’m going to govern as president.” C-SPAN captured the remarks. The video was shortened to remove the full context. The misleading video circulated widely on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube with claims Biden incorrectly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. A spokesperson with the Biden campaign also confirmed to the AP that Biden was referencing the pledge in his remarks, not reciting the pledge.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka contributed this report.


Biden was answering questions from a television monitor, not using teleprompter

CLAIM: Joe Biden “caught red-handed” using a teleprompter during an interview on Telemundo.

THE FACTS: Biden was answering questions from a monitor, not using a teleprompter, during a recent interview on Telemundo, a Spanish-language television network. @TelemundoNews confirmed on Twitter that Biden did not use the teleprompter: “Recent social media posts claiming @JoeBiden used a teleprompter during an interview with Noticias Telemundo and anchor @jdbalart are absolutely FALSE.” On Monday, a Twitter user shared a photo of the interview with the caption: “Biden just did an interview with Telemundo where he was asked questions, turned to the left and read the answers off a teleprompter.” Eric Trump, President Donald Trump’s son, tweeted the 26-second clip on Wednesday. “Unreal,” he wrote. Text over the video reads: “Biden caught red-handed using a teleprompter.” The post had more than 16,000 retweets. The false claim was also spreading on Facebook and Instagram. During the interview, several Telemundo viewers asked Biden questions through a monitor. A review of the interview shows that Biden was answering a question about the Obama administration’s record on mass deportation. An image of a woman appears on the screen. “How can you guarantee this will not continue happening in our communities,” she asks. While answering the question, Biden faces the monitor. “It took much too long to get it right,” Biden remarks. “There are going to be no deportations in the first 100 days of my campaign.” Telemundo anchor Jose Diaz-Balart then steps in to confirm the statement, “Let me get that right. You are going to freeze deportations?” “Freeze deportations for the first 100 days,” Biden clarifies. “And the only people who will be deported are people who committed a felony while here, that’s number one.” “OK I lost that line,” Biden says, looking toward the monitor. “That’s good. We could talk, you and I on that,” Diaz-Balart responds. The full interview was published to YouTube on Sept. 15.

— Arijeta Lajka


Trump tweet about Obama’s Supreme Court pick is fake

CLAIM: In April 2016, before he was elected president, Donald Trump tweeted that President Barack Obama “should wait until he leaves office” to pick a Supreme Court justice. The tweet also said if Obama didn’t wait, “he should be fired.”

THE FACTS: This tweet is fabricated. It does not appear in the Trump Twitter Archive, which tracks every tweet Trump sends, nor does it appear in an archive of deleted Trump tweets assembled by the nonprofit news outlet ProPublica. An image made to look like a 2016 tweet from President Donald Trump circulated online this week amid calls to delay filling the opening left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until the next president can make the nomination. In 2016, Republicans refused to vote on Obama’s choice to to fill the opening left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia because it was an election year. The fake Trump tweet dated April 3, 2016, stated “Obama should wait until he leaves office to pick another Justice! If he doesn’t, he should be fired!” The timing of the tweet doesn’t make sense. Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the high court in March 2016, according to reporting by The Associated Press. By April, when this fake tweet was allegedly sent, it was already up to the Senate to decide whether to consider Obama’s nominee. Trump has said he will announce his nominee to replace Ginsburg on Saturday, Sept. 26.

— Ali Swenson


Kamala Harris’ family did not come from India to Jamaica to exploit Black slaves

CLAIM: “My family came to Jamaica from India to exploit the black African slaves we bought like cattle. Now I pretend to be African American to exploit them for votes,” says a caption with a 2017 photo of Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

THE FACTS: Harris did not make that statement, and there is no evidence anyone in her family went from India to Jamaica to benefit from the slave trade, as social media posts falsely suggest. Her father, Donald Harris, is Jamaican, and they both identify as Black. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was born and raised in India. Harris’ parents met at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1960s as graduate students. In 2018, Donald Harris, a Stanford University emeritus professor of economics, detailed his family’s history in Jamaica in an essay in Jamaica Global Online. In the essay, which has been updated since first published, there is no mention of having Indian ancestry, and he makes clear his family has been in Jamaica for generations. The elder Harris did write that his paternal grandmother descended from a slave owner. That part of his essay has been distorted repeatedly in recent months to fuel misleading claims on social media about the Harris family’s connections to slavery in Jamaica. One of the most recent false claims has a photo of Kamala Harris with text falsely asserting that Harris said her family moved to Jamaica from India to engage in the slave trade. There is no evidence to support this or that Harris said it. The photo in the meme was taken by the AP during a June 2017 Senate hearing when Harris was questioning former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The post, which has circulated on Facebook since 2019, received tens of thousands of likes on Twitter, where it was being shared this week. In Donald Harris’ 2018 essay, he wrote, “My roots go back, within my lifetime, to my paternal grandmother Miss Chrishy (née Christiana Brown, descendant of Hamilton Brown who is on record as plantation and slave owner and founder of Brown’s Town).” The AP was not able to independently confirm Donald Harris’ connection to Hamilton Brown, who was born in Ireland. Caitlin Rosenthal, a University of California, Berkeley history professor, told the AP in an email that while it is clear that Hamilton Brown was a major slave owner, “what is much less clear is how he fits into Kamala Harris’s family tree.” Rosenthal added, “What is most likely is that she is descended from both enslaved people and from slave owners, just like most African Americans today.” Sasha Turner, a Jamaican professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP it is not surprising for Black Jamaicans to find out someone in their bloodline was a white slave holder, since “rape was part of the everyday experience of slavery.” But social media posts in recent months have tried to use Donald Harris’ essay to undermine Kamala Harris’ Black identity and allege without evidence that she is a beneficiary of slavery. “This is really just a matter of twisting the facts,” Turner said. “It’s very disconcerting and quite disappointing that a history of such brutality, of such terror, is also being used in this way to terrorize.”

— Associated Press reporters Jude Joffe-Block and Beatrice Dupuy contributed this report.


COVID-19 nasal tests are designed to reach where the virus lives

CLAIM: “Why such an invasive test for COVID-19 if it is so easily transmitted through droplets? A mouth swab would suffice if this was as deadly as they claim it to be. Someone is lying again.”

THE FACTS: As the U.S. coronavirus death toll surpasses 200,000, posts online are questioning the invasiveness of nasal tests. The answer is simple: Nasal swabs allow for a sample to be taken where the respiratory virus lives. Saliva tests for the virus have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are also available. How the virus spreads and fatality rates is not what drives testing methods. Dr. Steven Woloshin, co-director of the Center for Medicine and Media at The Dartmouth Institute, told The Associated Press that the tests are designed to tell whether a person is carrying the virus. Nasal swabs are also used for respiratory infections like the flu, noted Neysa Ernst, nurse manager in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital. They are used to collect cells from an area in the back of the nose and throat known as the nasopharynx, where respiratory viruses live. “For years we have done respiratory specimens from the nasal swab so that was always considered to have the highest sensitivity,” Ernst said. The FDA has given emergency use authorization for several saliva tests, an alternative to nasal swabs tests, which are prone to shortages. Doctors said saliva tests also help break down barriers to testing. “If you can find ways to make it more convenient, less invasive and less painful people are more likely to do it,” Woloshin said.

— Beatrice Dupuy


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