Not real news roundup: 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:
Kyle Rittenhouse did not sue LeBron James for defamation
CLAIM: Federal magistrate approved Kyle Rittenhouse’s $110 Million defamation suit against LeBron James.
THE FACTS: No such ruling was made. Rittenhouse has not filed a defamation suit against the Los Angeles Lakers star or anyone else, his spokesperson told The Associated Press.
After 18-year-old Rittenhouse was acquitted of homicide charges in connection with the shooting of three people at a protest in Wisconsin, posts emerged on social media suggesting that he had filed defamation suits against some high-profile celebrities, including James. However, the claims are “absolutely not true,” according to David Hancock, a spokesperson for Rittenhouse and his family. “No legal actions have been taken against any organization or person in particular,” Hancock told the AP. He added that Rittenhouse and his legal team are not currently discussing any plans to file any defamation lawsuits. The report appeared to have originated on a satire website.
Similar claims saying Rittenhouse had filed defamation suits have circulated on social media in recent days. On Sunday, the AP reported on false claims saying he had filed lawsuits against CNN, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar, both hosts of “The View.”
Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and injured another during protests that followed the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse, who faced charges, including first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree homicide, argued he acted in self-defense. A jury acquitted him on all charges on Nov. 19.
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.
Video of first lady’s book reading manipulated to add child’s comment
CLAIM: Video captures a child yelling an expletive at Jill Biden as she begins reading a story to a group of students.
THE FACTS: The video clip was manipulated to insert audio of a child yelling a disparaging comment. It emerged Monday after the first lady sat down with a group of second grade students from Maryland to host a story time at the White House as part of the annual unveiling of holiday decorations.
The altered video shows a child screaming, “Shut the f— up,” just as Biden introduces the picture book she wrote. But that comes from an unrelated video that has been shared online since at least 2019.
While some people commenting on the video acknowledged that it was altered, and linked to the source of the audio, others shared the falsified video as real. The inserted audio has spread online for years, and first emerged in a video that appeared to show a young child cursing during a school graduation ceremony as adults tried to quiet the situation. It is unclear where the video was taken, but it has since become a widely-shared sound effect and has been edited into other videos, often in a comedic way.
In the altered Biden video, the first lady began to introduce her 2012 book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” saying: “When my son was away, my granddaughter — just like you kids — really, really missed her daddy. So I wrote this book to tell other kids, ’cause there’s lots of kids who don’t know what it’s like —.” The sound of the yelling child was then inserted at that point to make it appear a student heckled Biden mid-sentence. A video of Biden’s full remarks shows she was not interrupted and finished her sentence.
— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.
Ghislaine Maxwell trial audio isn’t accessible by phone line
CLAIM: Members of the public can call the phone number 844-721-7237 and enter access code 9991787 to listen to live audio of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.
THE FACTS: The phone number is from a previous teleconference and the code is no longer active. Callers to this number who use the code will receive the message: “your access code was not recognized,” as verified through an attempt by The Associated Press.
Further, there is no such telephone line to listen to the trial audio, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. As Maxwell’s trial got underway on charges she groomed underage victims to have unwanted sex with the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, social media users circulated a number of false claims related to the trial, as well as incorrect explanations for why it is not being publicly broadcast online or on TV. Among the false claims that emerged this week was the assertion that a phone number and access code published by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in October would allow callers to listen in on the proceedings. Public telephone access to in-court criminal proceedings was previously provided in some cases “due to substantial restrictions on in-person attendance” during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement from the Office of the District Court Executive. The accommodation was discontinued in early November as in-person viewing was able to resume more regularly.
Members of the media are not banned from the trial, either, as other social media users have falsely suggested. Reporters and members of the public are still able to watch the trial live, both in the courtroom, as well as in overflow rooms where it will be streamed for those who don’t get a seat, Judge Alison Nathan wrote in a Nov. 24 ruling. There are no other live feeds except those within the courthouse. Federal courts typically do not allow cameras like some state courts do. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to her charges and denied wrongdoing.
— Sophia Tulp
Stores can’t write off customer donations made at checkout
CLAIM: When a customer elects to donate to charity at a store’s checkout counter, the store can write off that donation on its own end-of-year taxes.
THE FACTS: Stores can’t write off a customer’s point-of-sale donations, because they don’t count as company income, according to tax policy experts. Stores are only allowed to write off their own donations, such as when a store donates a certain portion of all its proceeds to charity.
A widely circulating meme, shared thousands of times this week on Facebook and Instagram, claimed that retailers ask customers to add a little more for charity when checking out in order to fund their own tax write-offs. That’s misguided, according to Renu Zaretsky, a writer at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “The only way a company can write off money is if it’s income,” Zaretsky said. “And this is not counted as income.” Rather than receiving a customer’s donation as income, the company serves as a holding agent for that money, Zaretsky said. Customers may tally up their cash register donations for their own tax returns, but stores are not allowed to claim those. However, if a company gives to a charity on its own, not through prompting a customer to give, it can write off that money, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation. Checkout charity campaigns bring in millions of dollars for charitable organizations each year, but customers should know they aren’t obligated to give when prompted, according to Zaretsky. They should also know, though, that a donation option at the cash register isn’t a sign of a money-hungry organization looking to lower its tax bill.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed the report.
The World Economic Forum did not write about the omicron variant in July
CLAIM: The World Economic Forum published a story about the new coronavirus variant, now named omicron, in July 2021, months before South Africa first reported it to the World Health Organization this week.
THE FACTS: The WEF first published an article about detecting variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 in July, but archived versions of the story show it did not mention omicron at that time. The article was updated in November after the WHO’s announcement, the archives show.
Scientists in South Africa identified and reported the new variant, B.1.1.529, on Nov. 24, saying it was behind a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. By Nov. 26, the WHO had declared it a “variant of concern” and given it the name “omicron.” The next day, Twitter users circulated posts linking to the WEF article, suggesting that it showed the variant was not new at all. “They’re starting to make mistakes. WHO just said that ‘Omicron’ was first reported by South Africa on 11/24/21. However, WEF reported this EXACT same ‘variant’—B.1.1.529, out of South Africa—way back in July. Oops,” reads one post that was retweeted over 3,000 times. But previous versions of the WEF article stored by the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, show that it did not mention the new variant until recently, although the forum failed to note that the article had been updated until later. An archive of the page from July 12, when the story was first published, contains no mention of the new variant. Another version archived on Sept. 22 shows the article unchanged. A version from Nov. 26, after omicron was announced, shows the article had then been updated to say “South African scientists have discovered a new COVID-19 variant” and that it is called “B.1.1.529.” The article, however, still did not note that it had been updated — retaining the July 12 timestamp — as the false claims began circulating on social media, an archived version shows. A note was added later in the day saying: “This article was last updated on 26 November 2021.”
— Associated Press reporter Karena Phan in Sacramento, Calif., contributed this report.
Photos of London Olympics don’t show prior knowledge of pandemic
CLAIM: Photos of the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012 prove that the COVID-19 pandemic has been planned for a long time.
THE FACTS: The opening ceremony didn’t predict the COVID-19 pandemic, nor did its imagery relate in any way to the virus that would emerge and shut down the world eight years later, as a widely circulating Facebook post falsely claimed.
The post shared images from the ceremony, from a scene featuring hospital beds, women in dresses and a giant, skeletal figure in a black robe with a white wand towering overhead, to falsely claim they prove the COVID-19 pandemic was premeditated.
“Remember the London Olympics 2012 opening ceremony, with the giant death figure holding a needle, the dancing nurses and all of the children in hospital beds?” the post read. “It’s starting to make a lot more sense now. They have had this planned for a long time.” However, the costumes and figures in the ceremony had no relationship to the COVID-19 pandemic, and predated it by years.
Instead, they paid tribute to Britain’s National Health Service and to iconic British children’s literature, including the “Harry Potter” franchise and its robed villain, Voldemort. “To the strains of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, a scene of children in hospital beds was overrun by literary villains including Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, the Queen of Hearts and Voldemort, before a group of flying nannies – reminiscent of Mary Poppins – arrived from the skies to banish the nightmarish characters,” the Olympics website explains. Patients and hospital staff from a London hospital were among the performers in the spectacle, according to local press reports.
— Ali Swenson