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No, Gallup poll does not show Biden approval rating at 11%, that’s Pants on Fire

When it comes to issues such as unaccompanied children crossing the Mexico border, President Joe Biden has his problems with the American people: Only 24% approve of his handling of that situation, according to a poll released April 5.

But a tweet widely shared on social media is wildly wrong about Biden’s approval rating overall. 

It claimed:

“New poll indicates Biden approval at 11%. The LOWEST approval rating of ANY president in American history ~ Gallup via Daily Caller.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Biden’s approval rating is several times higher than that.

54% approval in latest Gallup poll

The April 6 Facebook post shares a March 29 tweet that makes the claim. The tweet did not include a link and it’s not clear what report from the Daily Caller, an online publication with a conservative lean, it might be referring to.

In January, the Daily Caller reported that a Gallup poll found that only 11% Americans were satisfied with the direction of the country. 

But that poll question did not ask about Biden, and the poll was taken Jan. 4 to 15, before his inauguration on Jan. 20. The question was: “In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?”

In the latest Gallup poll asking about Biden’s approval rating, taken March 1 to 15, his approval rating was 54%.

Gallup asked: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?” 

That was the third time Gallup asked the question during Biden’s presidency. The first time, in a poll taken Jan. 21 to Feb. 2, Biden’s approval rating was 57% overall and 11% among Republicans.

Gallup provides a comparison of polling for other presidents, dating back to Dwight Eisenhower in 1953, during March of their first year in office. The lowest rating was Donald Trump, at 40%, in March 2017.

FiveThirtyEight.com tracks approval rating polls, saying it takes into account each poll’s quality, recency, sample size and partisan lean. As of April 8, Biden’s approval rating, as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, was 53.2%

That includes polls taken since March 29, the date of the tweet, by Global Strategy Group, Morning Consult, AP-NORC, YouGov, Rasmussen, Ipsos and IBD-TIPP. Among that batch of polls, according to FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s lowest approval rating was 47% in a Rasmussen poll taken March 31 to April 4.

Our ruling

A Facebook post shared a tweet that claimed: “New poll indicates” Joe Biden’s “approval at 11%, the lowest approval rating of any president in American history — Gallup via Daily Caller.”

The latest Gallup poll shows Biden’s approval rating at 54%. A tally of approval-rating polls puts his approval rating at 53.2%. We found no reputable polls that put Biden’s approval rating at 11%.

The claim is false and ridiculous — Pants on Fire!

 

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In gun policy address, Joe Biden exaggerates about background checks at gun shows

In a Rose Garden event, President Joe Biden announced several actions his administration will take to address what he called an “epidemic” of gun violence.

Biden repeated his call for Congress to pass legislation to expand background checks. The House voted largely along party lines to pass a pair of background check bills this year, but they haven’t moved forward in the Senate.

“These bills, one, require background checks for anyone purchasing a gun at a gun show or an online sale,” Biden said at the April 8 event. “Most people don’t know it, you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want, and no background check.”

When it comes to background checks for gun purchases, what matters is who sells the guns, not where the guns are sold — and when a federally licensed seller is a vendor at a gun show, they have to run a background check just as they would if they were back at a bricks-and-mortar gun store.

The White House told PolitiFact that Biden wasn’t suggesting that every gun transaction at a gun show would take place without a background check. Instead, he meant that sales without background checks could occur in some cases. 

However, that’s not what he said.

What the laws say about sales at gun shows

Advocates for stricter gun control measures often talk about the “gun show loophole,” though some observers say the term is a misnomer. The phrase itself doesn’t explain who is and isn’t required to run background checks at gun shows. 

Federal law requires that people in the business of dealing in firearms be licensed by the federal government.

Specifically, the law says that a license is required if “a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.”

The law specifically rules out a required license if a person “makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms.”

This can sometimes be a fuzzy distinction, but it means many sellers of guns do need to have a license.

“Every federally licensed retailer, whether they are selling a gun at a brick and mortar store, a  gun show or the sale starts online,” must complete a signed background check form from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and get approval from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system, said Mark Oliva, a spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Gun shows can include either licensed dealers or private sellers. So at a gun show, the licensed sellers need to run a background check on buyers, and the non-licensed sellers don’t.

So Biden’s blanket statement that if you go to a gun show, you can avoid a background check, is wrong. It depends on who you buy from.

It’s also worth noting something that Biden’s statement ignores: A number of states have implemented additional background check requirements that cover at least some private sales. The states include some of the nation’s most populous, including California, New York and Illinois. 

These states’ specific laws vary, but at least in the states with the strictest additional requirements, you will have to pass a background check for any gun you buy at a gun show, contrary to what Biden said.

How common are licensed sellers at gun shows?

How common is it for licensed sellers to set up shop at gun shows? The available data is old and of uncertain accuracy, but what data we have shows that gun show vendors are often licensed sellers.

Professors at Northeastern and Harvard universities conducted a gun survey in 2015 and found that 22% of gun owners who reported obtaining their most recent firearm within the previous two years reported doing so without a background check. For firearms purchased privately, including sales between individuals in person, online or at gun shows, 50% were obtained without a background check.

Jay Corzine, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida who specializes in gun research, said that observations that he and his wife, fellow University of Central Florida sociologist Lin Huff-Corzine, have made in Florida in recent years suggest that licensed dealers have a “disproportionate amount of the stock” for sale at shows, accounting for roughly three-fourths of sales.

Our ruling

Biden said, “You go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want, and no background check.” 

This is overstated. If you go to a gun show and buy a firearm from a federally licensed seller, you will have to pass a background check, just as if you went to a bricks-and-mortar gun store. You would only escape a background check at a gun show if you bought from a seller who isn’t federally licensed.

While the data is incomplete, federally licensed sellers have been found to make up a substantial share, and perhaps a majority, of gun show vendors.

We rate Biden’s statement Mostly False.

RELATED: Support for universal background checks on gun buyers is near 90%

RELATED: Fact-checking Joy Behar on mass shootings and the assault weapons ban

RELATED: House passes gun background check bills supported by Biden

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Did George Floyd say he ‘ate too many drugs,’ as Derek Chauvin’s defense claimed?

The legal defense for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer on trial for murder in the death of George Floyd, tried unsuccessfully to get two witnesses to testify that Floyd said he “ate too many drugs” as he was pinned under Chauvin’s knee.

Defense attorney Eric Nelson did not come away with the answer he sought during the eighth day of Chauvin’s trial. But the brief clip he played in court fueled unproven claims that Floyd died from an overdose, despite two autopsy reports that ruled his death a homicide.

“Wow. Chauvin’s lawyer just played a short excerpt of George Floyd — while being held on the ground — screaming out, ‘Ahhh! I ate too many drugs!’” said one April 7 Instagram post, which showed a screenshot of a widespread tweet. “This trial shouldn’t be happening.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post is missing important context, as what Floyd said in the clip Nelson played in court was disputed during the trial. One witness said that he couldn’t make Floyd’s words out. The second witness said at first that Floyd appeared to say, “I ate too many drugs.” But under questioning from the prosecution, the same witness later said he believed Floyd was saying, “I ain’t take no drugs.”

Here’s what happened, in context.

The first witness Nelson asked about Floyd’s comments was Sgt. Jody Stiger of the Los Angeles Police Department, a use-of-force expert.

Nelson played for Stiger a four-second clip pulled from body camera footage. The clip showed Floyd speaking as Chauvin restrained him. What Floyd said in the short clip is not completely clear. His face is not visible, and other voices are heard speaking at the same time.

The rest of the exchange between Nelson and Stiger went like this:

Nelson: “Did you hear what he said?”

Stiger: “No. I couldn’t make it out.”

Nelson: “Does it sound like he says, ‘I ate too many drugs’? Listen again.”

Stiger: “I can’t make that out, no.”

Later in the trial, Nelson posed a similar line of questioning to witness James Reyerson, a senior special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Nelson started by asking Reyerson if he had ever heard Floyd say he ate too many drugs while reviewing footage of Floyd’s arrest from body cameras. Reyerson responded that he had not.

Then, Nelson played the same four-second clip for Reyerson. Their exchange went like this:

Nelson: “Did it appear that Mr. Floyd said, ‘I ate too many drugs’?” 

Reyerson: “Yes. It did.”

But Reyerson ultimately amended his statement under questioning from prosecutor Matthew Frank. In answers to a series of questions, Reyerson said that his response to Nelson was the first time he had been asked to assess what Floyd said in the four-second clip.

Frank later played a roughly 40-second clip from body camera footage that he said showed Floyd’s remarks in the context of what the officers were saying. Reyerson testified that prior to what was shown in the shorter clip Nelson played, the officers had been discussing drug use.

After the longer video finished playing, Reyerson had the following exchange with Frank:

Frank: “Having heard it in context, are you able to tell what Mr. Floyd is saying there?”

Reyerson: “Yes. I believe Mr. Floyd was saying, ‘I ain’t do no drugs.’”

Frank: “So that’s a little different than what you were asked about when you only saw a portion of the video, correct?”

Reyerson: “Yes, sir.”

Floyd’s drug use has become a fixture of the defense’s case to clear Chauvin of the murder and manslaughter charges against him. Two autopsy reports conducted after Floyd’s death found different causes of death, but both of them ruled the manner of his death a homicide.

The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report found higher-than-normal levels of fentanyl in Floyd’s system, but it said his death was caused by “cardiopulmonary arrest complicating law-enforcement subdual restraint, and neck compression.”

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What the HBO QAnon documentary series revealed about the identity of ‘Q’

An HBO documentary series about QAnon ended with a big revelation: the unmasking of “Q,” the anonymous internet poster who fueled the baseless conspiracy theory that gained a national following.

The finale episode of “Q Into the Storm” by filmmaker Cullen Hoback features an interview with Ron Watkins, the former  administrator of the fringe message forum 8chan (also known as its rebranded version 8kun). Alleged “Q drops” from the government insider found a home there after other sites banned the content.

Researchers, journalists and QAnon believers have guessed that Watkins was behind the Q persona and many of his cryptic and erroneous posts, but never had proof.

The docuseries offers more evidence than what has previously been reported, but it’s still circumstantial. Watkins doesn’t flat out admit he is Q, but he seemed to implicate himself in several slip-ups.

In one interview, Hoback asks Watkins how Q was able to post on 8kun during a stint when no other user could. Watkins’ response: “He tried really hard, I don’t know.” 

Here, we break down what the series revealed, and what experts think it means for QAnon going forward. 

Origins of ‘Q’

At the root of the QAnon movement is an unsubstantiated belief that an array of public figures are Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles and former President Donald Trump was in charge of a covert effort to arrest and expose them. 

QAnon emerged in October 2017 and is based on posts from Q, an anonymous person who claims to be a government insider with information on a “deep state” plot to work against Trump. Some adherents of the unfounded movement believe that Q is not just one person, but represents a group of people with high-level military intelligence. The term is a mashup of “Q” and “anon,” an abbreviation for “anonymous.” The letter Q is a reference to a high level of security clearance at the U.S. Energy Department.

Q began posting vague and false messages, known as “Q drops,” on the fringe internet forum 4chan before moving over to 8chan, which rebranded as 8kun in fall 2019 after manifestos related to three mass shootings were posted on the platform. One of Q’s earliest predictions was the imminent arrest of Hillary Clinton. That didn’t happen.

The FBI described QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat. It has been linked to multiple criminal acts over the past couple of years.

Who are Jim and Ron Watkins?

“Q Into the Storm” filmmaker Cullen Hoback spent three years following Jim and Ron Watkins in the Philippines, Japan and the U.S.

Ron Watkins is the son of Jim Watkins, the creator and owner of 8chan, a website known for amplifying Gamergate (an online harrassment campaign against women gamers) and hosting white supremacist hate speech. The younger Watkins served as the administrator of the forum from 2016 until he stepped down in November 2020. 

After Q moved from 4chan to an 8chan message board in late 2017, the duo became the only people who could have conceivably had behind-the-scenes contact with the anonymous poster, elevating them to a new level of QAnon infamy.

Jim Watkins is a former U.S. Army helicopter repairman who moved to the Philippines in 2001. He was subpoenaed in 2019 by the House Homeland Security Committee and traveled to Washington to testify before lawmakers after multiple acts of deadly white supremacist extremist violence were linked to 8chan. The site went offline around that time and later rebranded as 8kun.

The docuseries said the elder Watkins as living in Sacramento, Calif., after he moved from the Philippines when it deemed him an “undesirable alien.” We could not confirm Ron Watkins’ current residence, but the series reported that he was recently living in Sapporo, Japan.

What the documentary reveals 

The final episode shows Ron Watkins contradicting himself over various interviews. 

For example, at one point Q was able to post on 8kun when no other user could. When Hoback questioned Ron Watkins about this, he smiled and said, “He tried really hard, I don’t know.”

In another interview, the younger Watkins talked about a post Q had made about a prominent QAnon promoter. When Hoback brought the name up later Watkins said, “I don’t know who that is.”

In the pivotal scene that closes the series, Watkins spoke about his rise in popularity after repeatedly posting (on his actual social media accounts) baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump. 

Then he said: “It was basically three years of intelligence training, teaching normies how to do intelligence work. It was basically what I was doing anonymously before…but never as Q.”

Both he and Hoback started laughing in what looks like a mutual realization of what happened. Appearing flustered, Watkins smiled, looeds away and said, “Never as Q, I promise. I’m not Q.”

Watkins continues to deny he’s Q, messaging his 150,000 Telegram followers after the finale was released: “Friendly reminder: I am not Q. Have a good weekend.”

What this means for QAnon

Some QAnon researchers told us they do not believe the docuseries will change much about the movement. They also don’t believe “Q” is one person.

Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, told the Washington Post that she believes Q is a “collective ensemble of different interested parties” who have “different levels of knowledge and different access points to the infrastructure.”

Q’s anonymity helped fuel the conspiracy movement in its infancy, but experts say it has largely outgrown the shadowy internet persona. Social media influencers with QAnon outlooks have amassed huge audiences over the years and continually churn out fabricated stories and baseless conspiracy theories.

“Having it anonymous allowed somebody to pretend to be a super secret agent in the government without there being clear evidence that they’re not,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist who specializes in the study of conspiracy theories at the University of Miami. 

He added: “But in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter anymore. We are focusing so much on ‘who is Q’ and all the different theories, but at the end of the day what we’re really talking about are people, and they’re still going to be the same people.” 

Uscinski likened it to a game of whack-a-mole. Discrediting singular theories isn’t going to change minds, he said, especially for those who have gotten to the point of believing QAnon. It’s the way adherents interact with information and society at large that needs to be addressed.

“QAnon isn’t just a conspiracy theory, it has developed a group identity,” Uscinski said. 

Q hasn’t posted anything since Dec. 8, as of this writing, so it’s hard to know how followers will take any clues if the posts return. 

The Watkins interview also doesn’t resolve the question of who first posted as Q on 4chan in 2017 before moving over to 8chan. Researchers found that the interview barely registered with QAnon believers and was mentioned little on QAnon channels and forums on Gab, Parler and Telegram.

One final point: Most Americans either have not heard of the QAnon conspiracy or don’t believe what they have heard about it. While QAnon thrives online, polls show only about 5% of Americans actually believe it. 

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Ask PolitiFact: Is the Biden administration pushing for no-knock raids to seize guns?

Louisville medical worker Breonna Taylor died in March 2020 after police officers raided her apartment and fired shots while executing what has become known as a no-knock warrant, now banned there.

A year after Taylor’s death, social media claims are suggesting that the Biden administration is advocating for no-knock raids for the purpose of confiscating guns.

“When the d—— you voted in wants to pass an executive order to allow no-knock raids to collect weapons after you just got done protesting for the past year over Breonna Taylor getting killed on a no knock warrant,” reads an image shared April 1 on Facebook. 

This is an exaggeration of Biden’s actions and words. While the Biden administration announced a series of executive actions they say will help stem gun violence, there’s no indication that any executive action under consideration or being implemented would allow the police to seize weapons in no-knock raids. Such raids are a police practice where officers, as part of a criminal investigation, force their way into homes without announcing their presence.

On April 8, Biden called for states to pass red-flag legislation: laws that allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court to bar an at-risk individual from accessing firearms. If the court grants the petition for an individual who already owned a firearm, police in some states could obtain search warrants to seize those firearms if he or she refused to surrender them. 

But “none of the red flag laws I’m aware of have any sort of authorization for (no-knock) raids,” said Jacob Charles, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke Law School. Charles did say that whether law enforcement can use a no-knock procedure is dependent on the particular policies of that department and on state law. 

The Facebook claim, posted a week before Biden announced his push for stronger red-flag laws, prompted readers to ask us what might have given rise to the suggestion that the new president is supportive of no-knock raids.

The answer lies in a court case known as Caniglia v. Strom, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Mar. 24. As a part of that case, the Biden Justice Department and attorneys general from nine states filed briefs in support of the argument that police could enter homes without warrants to confiscate weapons “when a serious threat to lives or health justifies immediate intervention.” 

With a lot of misinformation about this very complex case swirling on social media, we’ll lay out facts about Caniglia v. Strom and the potential impact a Supreme Court ruling could have on police powers and the right to privacy. 

The facts of Caniglia v. Strom

On Aug. 20, 2015, married couple Edward and Kim Caniglia began to argue in their home in Cranston, Rhode Island. As the argument grew heated, according to court documents, Edward Caniglia retrieved an unloaded handgun from the bedroom and placed it on the dining room table in front of his wife. “Shoot me now and get it over with,” he said. Caniglia later called this a “dramatic gesture,” even though his wife believed that he was serious.

Kim Caniglia returned the handgun to the bedroom and hid the ammunition. The next morning, she called the house from a motel room where she’d spent the night and couldn’t get her husband on the phone. Worried that he had hurt himself, she contacted police.  

Police spoke with Edward Caniglia at his home, determined that he posed a risk to himself and convinced Caniglia to visit a psychiatric hospital for evaluation. Caniglia has claimed that he agreed to visit the hospital only because police had promised not to confiscate his weapons. 

Law enforcement later searched the Caniglia residence and seized two handguns and ammunition.

After Edward Caniglia was released from the hospital, police failed to return the weapons and ammunition they’d seized until Caniglia’s attorney sent them a formal letter. Caniglia eventually sued the city of Cranston, arguing that the police had violated both his Fourth and Second Amendment rights. Both a U.S. District Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals have sided against him. The case now sits in the Supreme Court. 

Case is based on Fourth Amendment arguments

The ongoing court case revolves primarily around Caniglia’s claim that the police violated his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. 

In theory, the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement from searching and seizing private property without a warrant or the consent of the owner under any circumstances. However, the courts have carved out some exceptions to this principle, including a doctrine called “community caretaking.” The police and city of Cranston are arguing that the search of Caniglia’s home and the seizure of his guns fell within the scope of this exception. 

The community caretaking doctrine, established in a 1973 Supreme Court case, essentially holds that police can search a space without a warrant in the interest of public safety as long as the search doesn’t pertain to a criminal investigation. For example, under the community caretaking doctrine, the government has argued, a police officer wouldn’t need a warrant or consent to enter an elderly or severely sick person’s home if a concerned relative asked law enforcement to check on their welfare.

In that 1973 case, however, the space that was searched was a car, and the Supreme Court hasn’t yet established whether the doctrine extends beyond vehicles.

Arguably the central question of Caniglia v. Strom is whether the community caretaking doctrine also applies to private residences. The Cranston police and the city are arguing that the doctrine extends into the home, which would justify the warrantless seizure of Caniglia’s weapons. 

There are two other exceptions to the Fourth Amendment. One allows police to bypass the warrant requirement for search and seizure if a serious crime, such as an armed robbery or murder, is occurring in a home. The second allows police to do so if they have an “objectively reasonable” basis to believe that a person is suffering imminent or ongoing harm inside a home.

The community caretaking doctrine differs from these two in that the threat doesn’t need to be immediate or ongoing but a potential harm that could happen at some point in the future. 

What is the Biden administration arguing?

The Justice Department isn’t a party to the case, but an amicus curiae — a group with a strong interest in the issue that urges the court towards a particular decision.

In its brief, the Justice Department narrowly focused its argument to assert that the community caretaking doctrine should allow government officials to conduct warrantless search and seizure on someone who is “potentially mentally unstable” in order to facilitate medical evaluation and remove firearms from a residence “to forestall potential harm to him or others.”

The government’s claim is “more or less” that police should be able to enter a home in a “non-investigatory context” if there are “objectively reasonable grounds to believe that life is in danger,” said Assistant Solicitor General Morgan L. Ratner, the Justice Department’s representative in oral argument.

This conflicts with the claim that the Biden administration is arguing for “no-knock” raids for the purpose of seizing guns. Even parties opposed to expanding the community caretaking doctrine told us that this interpretation of the case is off base. 

“Legally there are still parameters in place,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project and co-author of a brief in support of Caniglia. “It would not mean, at least doctrinally, that the police could just enter peoples’ homes whenever they wanted. There would have to be other factors, some sort of hazard that had materialized that threatens community safety. Owning guns wouldn’t be enough.”

Edwards and the plaintiff’s attorneys argue that expanding the community caretaking exception would give law enforcement too much leeway to decide what constitutes sufficient reason to bypass the Fourth Amendment. 

The ACLU, along with conservative organizations such as the Cato Institute, noted in a filing supportive of Caniglia that law enforcement agencies have sometimes cited “loud music,” suspected underage drinking and “plumbing issues” as justifications to intrude upon the home. 

“This wide array of tasks shows there is no limit in the Constitution, or the community caretaking doctrine itself, to what the state can cite as “community caretaking,” the organizations wrote. 

The court could set a precedent that a warrantless search and seizure is constitutionally permissible if a law enforcement officer has a reasonable belief that he or she must enter a home to prevent harm, as the Biden administration argued. It could also side with Caniglia, upholding a distinction between vehicles and homes and forbidding that form of warrantless home entry. ​

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COVID-19 is caused by a virus and autopsies do not violate WHO policies, as posts claim

More than a year after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, posts circulating on social media continue to purport that the public’s understanding of the illness — and of the virus that causes it — is deeply flawed.

One Instagram post shares a headline that says COVID-19 is not actually caused by a virus at all. 

“Russia is the first country in the world to dissect Covid-19 corpses, and after a thorough investigation, it was determined that Covid does NOT exist AS A VIRUS,” reads the screenshot of a story headline. 

The photo caption goes on to say that the Russian doctors the article refers to are “violating” a World Health Organization “law that does not allow autopsies of people” who have died of COVID-19. 

The post also claims a bacteria, rather than a virus, causes the disease.

“After a period of scientific discovery, it cannot be assumed that it is a virus, but rather bacteria that cause death,” the post says, before reiterating, “the patient dies because of these bacteria.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

This post is wrong in a number of ways. 

First, the claim that COVID-19 is caused by bacteria is false. It is caused by a virus. 

COVID-19 is the World Health Organization’s official name for the disease caused by the virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (or SARS-CoV-2). 

False claims about COVID-19 being caused by bacteria have been circulating for months. PolitiFact, other fact-checking organizations, and even the WHO have repeatedly debunked those claims.

Although bacteria and viruses can cause people to experience similar symptoms, the two are different biologically.

The post is also inaccurate in its claims that there is a WHO “law” that prohibits doctors from conducting autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19.

The WHO does not prohibit autopsies on COVID-19 patients. 

In September 2020, the organization released guidelines for how medical professionals can safely perform autopsies on those who died because of COVID-19. The guidelines include recommendations regarding personal protective equipment and performing autopsies in rooms with adequate ventilation.

The first full autopsy of a COVID-19 patient was published in a Chinese medical journal in February 2020, according to a study of COVID-19 autopsies

Doctors and researchers in the U.S. have been conducting autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19 for months. The Washington Post reported that “the first large batch” of autopsy reports were published in May and June 2020.

Autopsy findings have “shaped our understanding of what COVID-19 does to the body and how we might combat it,” ABC News reported, noting that different treatments have been considered based on autopsy results.

Our ruling

A post claims that bacteria causes COVID-19 and that “Covid-does NOT exist AS A VIRUS.” It also says that Russian doctors who performed autopsies on deceased COVID-19 patients violated a World Health Organization law.

COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not by bacteria. The WHO does not prohibit autopsies on people who have died of COVID-19. The organization actually provided guidelines for how to safely perform autopsies on COVID-19 patients.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

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Katie Pavlich falsely claims Biden administration is ‘engaging in,’ ‘enabling’ human trafficking

As new migrant arrivals continue to strain U.S. immigration facilities, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich falsely accused President Joe Biden’s administration of abetting human traffickers.

Speaking on “The Five” about a video that officials said showed smugglers dropping two young children over a fence at the U.S. border with Mexico, Pavlich said April 1:

“Unfortunately, those little girls getting dropped over the fence is probably the least horrific thing that happened to them when they were being smuggled. And the Biden administration is engaging in human trafficking because they are enabling this to happen. And then they are taking these kids and delivering them to unvetted ‘sponsors’ in the United States. And when that happened under Obama, we found out a lot of those people were actually sex offenders themselves. So, they are enabling, and they are part of this third leg of this human trafficking process from Central America.”

Pavlich made similar claims in a March 19 op-ed, writing that the Biden administration’s policy of not expelling unaccompanied children means that the U.S. is “finalizing thousands of criminal transactions and completing human trafficking missions” for smugglers across the border.

But experts in immigration and human trafficking said Pavlich’s statement was inaccurate. 

The Biden administration is not engaging or enabling human trafficking, they agreed. And the video of the two young children showed migrant smuggling, not human trafficking.

“The statement is totally false,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor with the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Human trafficking is different from migrant smuggling

The biggest problem with Pavlich’s claim about human trafficking is that “she’s alleging human trafficking when she’s talking about migrant smuggling,” Correa-Cabrera said.

The terms are different and not interchangeable. Human trafficking centers on exploitation, while smuggling centers on transportation, according to federal authorities.

Under U.S. law and international protocols, human trafficking is defined according to the act, means and purpose of the crime. It involves the compulsion of a person into any form of labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion, and for the purpose of exploitation, Correa-Cabrera said. Transporting people over a border is not in and of itself an element of human trafficking.

Nothing the Biden administration has done amounts to human trafficking, experts said.

“Using international definitions and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which is what legislates and defines trafficking in the U.S., we have nothing close to that,” Correa-Cabrera said. “The government is not recruiting, transporting, transferring or harboring people for the purpose of exploiting them in any form — sexual exploitation, forced labor or anything else — and they are not using force, fraud or coercion to make that exploitation possible.” 

Migrant smuggling occurs when smugglers transport migrants across borders for a fee and both parties consent, experts said. Smugglers can put migrants in danger, but it is not the same as trafficking.

“It is self-evident that this is not trafficking, as they (the Biden administration) are releasing the children to be reunited with their families,” said David Kyle, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis. “So this is a very sensational and inaccurate framing of what we are looking at.”

In a statement to PolitiFact, the Department of Homeland Security said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has “repeatedly warned” about abuses by smugglers.

The Biden administration

Experts also rejected Pavlich’s claim that the Biden administration is enabling human trafficking by delivering unaccompanied minors to “unvetted” sponsors rather than swiftly expelling them.

The Biden administration’s decision to take in minors despite the coronavirus pandemic is a change from the Trump administration and a reason for the crowding at the border. But not expelling minors has “nothing” to do with human trafficking, Correa-Cabrera said. She and other experts said such children could be escaping trafficking in their home countries.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor and the director of the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, said that the Biden administration’s process for finding safe guardians for unaccompanied children is on par with past administrations.

“This system has not changed since the last administration, so whatever is being done now was done then as well,” she said. “All sponsors are very well vetted, but no system is perfect.”

(In 2014, multiple migrant children were passed off to a human trafficking ring in an incident that spawned a congressional report and a criminal indictment, Snopes reported.)

Currently, unaccompanied minors are transferred in the U.S. from Border Patrol to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Roe-Sepowitz said. They are then brought to shelters run by nonprofits, where trained staff work with them to determine who in the U.S. can take custody of them.

“The staff at the shelter spends many, many hours doing criminal checks on possible guardians (usually relatives) to make sure they are not sex offenders or sex traffickers,” she said.

It’s possible that the Biden administration’s reception of migrants at the border could lead to more smuggling, experts said. But human trafficking remains a separate issue, and experts noted that a lot of human trafficking in the U.S. involves only U.S. citizens.

The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that combats human trafficking, said it’s seen no indication that the border situation has increased calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

A judge’s critique of the Obama administration 

In her op-ed, Pavlich referenced a 2011 court ruling from a federal judge in Texas as evidence in support of her claim. 

In the order, Judge Andrew Hanen criticized the Obama administration over a case in which a mother living illegally in Virginia hired a woman to smuggle her daughter into the U.S.

According to Hanen, Homeland Security officials delivered the daughter to her mother after arresting the smuggler. Hanen wrote that doing so amounted to “completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy,” and he described the smuggler several times as a human trafficker.

Pavlich argued that the Biden administration has been doing the same thing by refusing to immediately expel unaccompanied children from the country. 

But neither the Hanen order nor the video of young children at the border fence prove that the Biden administration is “engaging in” or “enabling” human trafficking.

“Are Biden policies unintentionally encouraging smuggling or protecting children by placing them with families?” said Kyle, from the University of California, Davis. “Perhaps all of the above, with several caveats, but definitely not abetting ‘trafficking.’”

Our ruling

Pavlich said, “The Biden administration is engaging in human trafficking because they are enabling this to happen.”

The Biden administration is not engaged in human trafficking, and experts rejected the idea that its policies for handling unaccompanied migrant children are enabling it to take place.

Experts said Pavlich was confusing human trafficking — a practice that has a specific definition centered around exploitation — with migrant smuggling, which involves initial consent and crossing an international border. 

The video Pavlich was responding to on “The Five” showed migrant smuggling, not trafficking.

We rate this statement False.

For help related to a case of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is available at 1-888-373-7888 or by email at [email protected]. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s suspicious activity tip line is 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

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More children held at the border under Biden than Trump, but not 4 times as many

Is the number of children crossing the Mexico border more than four times higher under President Joe Biden than it was at its peak under President Donald Trump?

“Funny how all of a sudden there’s no more photo ops, no more nonstop media coverage, and no more crisis at the border now that the numbers are at all time highs and a DEMOCRAT administration is in control,” said a post widely shared on Facebook. “Oh, and you’re a racist if you point that out. See how it works?”

The claim is made in an image shared with the post. The image, which includes a bar graph with red for Trump and blue for Biden, said: “Kids at the border: 2,600 highest number Trump, 12,000 currently under Biden.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The corresponding number is higher under Biden, but nowhere near 12,000.

Numbers of children in custody rapidly rising

The post was by Brandon Tatum, a conservative commentator and former police officer in Tucson, Ariz. who has 315,000 followers on Facebook and 1.49 million subscribers on YouTube. He made national news in 2016, the year before he left policing, after attending a Trump rally in Tucson as a civilian and then posting a video in which he said he feared there was going to be a riot at the event because of the behavior of anti-Trump protesters.

Tatum did not reply to our requests for information to back up his statement. 

When Texas Gov. Greg Abott claimed on March 30 that “twice as many children are in Border Patrol custody under Biden than” the peak number under Trump in 2019, our rating was True.

We found that 2019 was the last year border authorities recorded a surge in migrant children and family crossings. In 2020, the Trump administration stopped taking minors into custody after it implemented a policy that immediately expelled all people crossing the border, including children, citing COVID-19 precautions. The Biden administration suspended that policy for children in January, and now allows children who cross the border alone to remain in the U.S. while they await immigration court proceedings. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to us that the 2,600 unaccompanied minors in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody in June 2019 was the highest such figure under Trump. 

The number was 5,160, essentially twice as many as at the peak under Trump, when Abbott made his claim.

So, as of April 5, the date of Tatum’s Facebook post, had that figure more than doubled to 12,000? 

No.

According to the latest unaccompanied children daily reports provided to us by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the figure dropped. It was 4,231 on April 5 and 4,228 on April 6. 

Those figures count children housed temporarily by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Federal policy is to move those children into more permanent facilities run by Department of Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.

As of April 6, there were 16,045 children in HHS facilities.

According to HHS, its more than 100 shelters in 17 states, run by state-certified nonprofit agencies, provide services on “par with facilities in the child welfare system that house American children.”

Besides getting the numbers on the border wrong, T the framing of the post comparing Trump and Biden is missing context. 

Much of the uproar over Trump’s confinement of migrant children was because his policy was to separate families after they crossed the border — adults went to one place to await criminal charges, while their children were sent to another facility. That zero-tolerance policy for all undocumented border crossings was in place from April to June of 2018; it is not in place now. 

Our ruling

Tatum claimed: “Kids at the border: 2,600 highest number Trump, 12,000 currently under Biden.”

Under Trump, the number of migrant children temporarily housed near the Mexico border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection peaked at 2,600, in June 2019.

Under Biden, the figure as of April 5, the date of Tatum’s post, was 4,231.

We rate the post Half True.

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Instagram post ignores full Floyd video to falsely claim officer’s knee was not on Floyd’s neck

Supporters of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin have rallied around the claim that he did not have his knee on George Floyd’s neck. A post on Instagram showed footage from Chauvin’s trial and declared, “Lying media exposed.”

“Knee not on neck of George Floyd,” the April 8 post said.

The video clip was built around new footage from Police Officer Alex Keung’s body camera. Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, asked Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo about the new footage.

“Would you say that from the perspective Mr. Kueng’s body camera, Officer Chauvin’s knee was more on Mr. Floyd’s shoulder blade?” Nelson asked April 5.

“Yes,” Arrandondo said.

But the post ignores when the events in the footage took place.

They occurred as the medics arrived and rolled Floyd’s limp body onto a stretcher — in other words, only in the last seconds of the approximately eight minutes that Chauvin had restrained Floyd.

In the rest of the police chief’s testimony, prosecutor Steve Schleicher drilled down on that point.

Schleicher: “You testified that the particular moment in time that you were viewing officer Keung’s body worn camera it appeared, at that moment in time, that the knee of the defendant was more towards the shoulder blade. Is that right?”

Arrandondo: “That is correct.”

Schleicher: “That is at a time where the ambulance had already arrived?”

Arrandondo: “Yes.”

Schleicher: “Very shortly before they loaded Mr. Floyd onto the gurney?”

Arrandondo: “Yes. That is correct.”

Schleicher: “And in your view of the body-worn camera footage, everything you reviewed prior to testifying today, did you see the defendant’s knee anywhere but the neck of Mr. Floyd up until that time?”

Arrandondo: “That is correct.”

Schleicher: “And so, the knee of the defendant was on Mr. Floyd’s neck up until the time you just pointed out?”

Arrandondo: “Yes. When I viewed that video portion, that is the first time that I had seen the knee of the defendant on the shoulder blade area.”

Another prosecution witness, Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant, who viewed the footage, testified that Chauvin applied pressure continuously to Floyd’s neck or neck area. 

Several prosecution witnesses testified that Floyd died from a lack of oxygen, not drugs, as the defense has argued.

Our ruling

An Instagram post said video proved that Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s shoulder, not his neck.

The video was taken only in the last seconds of Chauvin restraining Floyd, and does not show what occurred before. All testimony based on the full video showed that pressure was applied continuously on or near Floyd’s neck. Medical experts say that pressure in that area blocks the flow of oxygen and blood.

We rate this claim False.

 

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Fact-checking Michigan GOP’s ‘report card’ criticizing Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 response

A viral Facebook post from Republican legislators in Michigan criticizes Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s response to the coronavirus pandemic amid the latest COVID-19 surge in the state.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republicans have characterized Whitmer’s approach as draconian, and now they claim that her response “has failed Michigan.” 

In a “COVID-19 response report card,” the state House Republicans tick off various metrics and give Whitmer a failing grade on the state’s economic and health outcomes.

Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said the post contains inaccurate information. “It’s unfortunate that Michigan Republicans continue to amplify false information at a time when we need to work together to get things done,” Leddy wrote in an email to PolitiFact Michigan.

We took a look at the claims Republicans made to arrive at their grade on Whitmer and found that some are supported by the available data, while others are subjective or misleading.

“Top 10 Most Executive Orders in the Country”

This is true. The Council of State Governments has tracked executive orders issued in each state during the pandemic, from orders related to the allocation of protective equipment to rolling out vaccines. According to the tracker, the Whitmer administration has issued 175 executive orders. That’s second only to Colorado, where Democratic Gov. Jared Polis issued 356 executive orders.

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesperson for state House Speaker Jason Wentworth, pointed to the high number of executive orders issued as “a sign of the governor going it alone and trying to manage this crisis all on her own.”

Leddy blame Republican lawmakers for the breakdown in the relationship between the executive and legislative branches. “Rather than working with us to protect Michiganders, Republican lawmakers actively denied science, turned down federal aid, and refused to ask residents to wear masks — putting Michiganders’ lives at much greater risk.”

“Top 10 Most Days Shut Down”

This is hard to pin down. The patchwork of restrictions and guidance in place in each state makes comparisons difficult.

Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order at the start of the pandemic and lifted it at the beginning of the summer. She reimposed restrictions in the fall when COVID-19 case and death rates reached a new peak, and then gradually rescinded restrictions by winter. Most businesses have been able to operate in some capacity for the majority of the past year.

D’Assandro cited restrictions on in-person office work, which are still in place and which the administration is contemplating extending. Many states have lifted those restrictions, while others strongly encourage remote work, and many employers and employees have opted to continue work-from-home arrangements.

D’Assandro also pointed to businesses that remain closed, such as water parks, nightclubs and indoor playgrounds.

There are indications that Michigan has had tighter restrictions than other states. An analysis from WalletHub, a personal finance website, looked at mask requirements, limits on gatherings, restaurant reopenings and other policies and found that Michigan has had more extensive social-distancing measures in place than most states.

There’s also evidence that the restrictions worked. An estimate from University of Michigan researchers finds that the “Pause to Save Lives” in mid-November may have cut coronavirus cases in Michigan by more than 109,000. And a Detroit Free Press analysis found that Michigan’s orders during this time helped drive down cases compared with neighboring states.

“Top 10 Most Businesses Closed”

Many Michigan businesses have struggled, while new ones seem to be emerging out of the pandemic.

D’Assandro pointed to data from the Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker, which looks at transaction data to determine whether businesses are still operating.  The tracker shows that as of March 22, the number of small businesses in Michigan decreased by 42.5% since January 2020. Only Washington, D.C., recorded a greater decline.

“This does not mean that they have necessarily permanently closed, though — that’s very hard to track in real time,” Brad Hershbein, a senior economist at the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, wrote in an email to PolitiFact Michigan.

Meanwhile, Michigan is among the top states for increases in applications for new businesses since the pandemic started, according to data compiled by the Census Bureau. Applications were up 56% in February 2021 compared with February 2020.

Economists continue to debate whether business closures are driven by government-issued restrictions or by consumers choosing to stay home. There is evidence that suggests the latter has had a greater impact. 

“Most dangerous state to be elderly or live in a nursing home”

Available evidence does not support the claim that Michigan was the “most dangerous” state to be elderly or live in a nursing home.

People 65 and older make up 17.7% of Michigan’s population, and accounted for 83% of Michigan COVID-19 deaths, according to provisional data from the CDC.

But older adults have made up a disproportionate share of COVID-19 deaths everywhere, and Michigan’s 83% share ranks 29th among U.S. states. 

While older adults in Michigan reported challenges in getting shots during the state’s initial vaccination rollout, nearly 70% of Michiganders 65 and older have received at least one dose. That’s slightly behind the national rate of 77%, according to CDC data.

As for the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, it’s difficult to get a clear answer on the impact of Whitmer’s nursing home policies. But case levels and the death toll at Michigan’s nursing homes have not been among the highest in the nation.

Because states report nursing home data differently and the federal government didn’t begin collecting information about nursing home deaths until June, it’s difficult to compare states. But federal data analyzed by the AARP Public Policy Institute provides some indication of how Michigan’s nursing home residents have fared.

The analysis shows that Michigan is not among the states with the highest nursing home COVID-19 death rates over the past year. Its highest ranking, in January 2021, was 16th in the country, at 2.12 deaths per 100 residents. In August and September, Michigan ranked 43rd. The analysis also shows Michigan’s per capita case rate among nursing home residents hasn’t ranked at the top among states, though there has been a surge in nursing home cases more recently.

Whitmer has faced criticism from Republicans for her decision to allow recovering COVID-19 patients to return to nursing homes with non-infected residents. But health researchers say that policy likely didn’t contribute much to the death toll in nursing homes, and they point to other factors, including high infection rates in surrounding communities and among staff.

“Data benchmarks provided: 0”

Republican lawmakers have criticized Whitmer for not tying decisions on reopening sectors of the economy to specific COVID-19 metrics, as many other states did. A bill before the Legislature would tie health orders to specific COVID-19 trends.

Whitmer has argued that it is difficult to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 based on metrics alone. In March, she vetoed a bill passed by the Legislature limiting the authority of the state health department and laying out specific case criteria for local health officials to follow in deciding whether to ban in-person classes or cancel sporting events.    

“Fidelity to a specific number and percentage is problematic,” Whitmer said at a January news conference, noting that her decisions depend on such factors as whether outbreaks involve a more contagious variant or a single employer.

“Top 10 in highest COVID death rate”

For this measure, D’Assandro pointed to COVID-19-related deaths as a percentage of COVID-19 cases. Michigan’s fatality rate is the eighth highest in the country for confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths as a share of cases.

Dawn Misra, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University, told PolitiFact Michigan that the fatality rate “has little to do with the rate of disease in the population.”

The fatality ratio indicates the severity of the illness, Misra explained, and it can be inaccurate if states aren’t doing enough testing.

She recommended looking instead at the number of COVID-19 deaths for every 100,000 residents.

Here, Michigan ranked 20th among U.S. states, with 173 deaths per 100,000 residents as of April 7, according to the CDC data