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This is an image from an ad by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, critical of calls to "defund the police." (Screenshot) This is an image from an ad by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, critical of calls to "defund the police." (Screenshot)

This is an image from an ad by President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, critical of calls to "defund the police." (Screenshot)

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan July 11, 2020

"The Week in Fact-checking" compiles short summaries of our best work; the links will take you to our full reports. Want this report early and via email? Sign up here

This week: Trump’s ‘defunding the police’ ad … Biden on CDC guidance … Debunking claims about masks … Are intelligence reports too long for a president to read? … the Stump Speech Analyzer on Trump’s Independence Day speeches

Ad Watch: Fact-checking the Trump campaign’s 'defunding the police' ad

An ad by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign goes full-bore against those who would support "defunding the police."

The ad features images of looting and violence in the streets, as an answering service narrates with a recorded voice:

"You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we're sorry, but no one is here to take your call. If you're calling to report a rape, please press 1. To report a murder, press 2. ... For all other crimes, leave your name and number and someone will get back to you. Our estimated wait time is currently 5 days. Goodbye."

On-screen text references Trump’s presumptive opponent in the race, saying, "Joe Biden's supporters are fighting to defund police departments," "violent crime has exploded," and "you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America." 

The text in the ad is artfully worded, saying that "Joe Biden's supporters" — rather than Biden himself — want to defund police departments. That’s because Biden is against the idea.

"While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people’s rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police," Biden wrote in a USA Today op-ed. "The better answer is to give police departments the resources they need to implement meaningful reforms, and to condition other federal dollars on completing those reforms."

The ad also paints a worst-case scenario for a post-defunding future. While some protesters want to eliminate police departments entirely, others want to revisit the functions of police departments and reroute some of their funding toward social services. Experts say that most defunding advocates do not want violence to simply run wild in a police-free state.

"If police departments were to disappear, this scenario might be plausible," said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "But short of that, police departments will continue to accept and respond to 911 calls."

Louis Jacobson

Fact-checks of the week
  • Mask protection statistics don’t add up. A popular social media post depicts the degree to which mask-wearing interferes with the transmission of the novel coronavirus. It says "contagion probability" is a very precise 70% if a person with COVID-19 interacts with others, with nobody wearing a mask. If the person with COVID-19 wears a mask while others don't, it’s 5%. When masks are worn by all, it’s 1.5%.  We rated this Mostly False. Experts say wearing a mask is likely to interfere with the spread of COVID-19. But there’s no science to back up the 70%-5%-1.5% numbers.

  • Did Trump revamp CDC guidelines? Biden said in a recent speech about the coronavirus, "The CDC tried to develop clear guidelines about what the stages of reopening should look like — the administration delayed and scaled them back." We rated this Mostly True. The CDC said that the delays were caused by review and revision that was part of a standard process. Still, the White House did request that the public health agency revise its initial guidelines to align more with Trump’s approach of leaving reopening decisions up to state and local governments.

  • The President’s Daily Brief and Russia bounties. Reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan have shined a new light on the daily intelligence report prepared before dawn for the president — and whether Trump reads it. "The president gets a President’s Daily Brief, which is like a mini novel, every single day," said "Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade. "So he gets verbally briefed, the highlights." We rated that False. The top-secret document is written for quick consumption, experts said. There is no set length for the brief, but it has rarely been less than one page or longer than 25 pages.

Knowing the facts has never been more important. Please consider donating to PolitiFact today. 

The Independence Day speech analyzer: Donald Trump’s weekend addresses

Didn’t feel like following politics over the Fourth of July weekend? That’s okay, we did it for you. Reporters watched Trump’s speeches over the weekend, summarized them and fact-checked them.

In the two speeches, Trump painted a grim portrait of a nation populated by "far-left fascists," people who foment "violent mayhem" in the streets, and a generation teaching its children to "hate their own country."

The most attention-grabbing portions were those where Trump named those he saw as enemies of America and its values: his domestic political opponents. Trump described them as "the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators, the looters."

We fact-checked Trump on his comment that 99% of coronavirus cases are harmless and rated that False. Based on CDC numbers, the death toll from identified cases is about 4.5%. The hospitalization rate based on each day’s new cases has fallen over time, but it sits at around 4% as well. Public health specialists note that there are many ways the virus attacks the body, and even people who don’t need to go to the hospital can suffer from debilitating effects over the long term. There’s a lot more to be learned about this disease, but nothing says that it’s harmless for 99% of the people it touches.

Read our full story for more on Trump’s speeches.

Fact-checking Facebook and other social media

In recent years, PolitiFact has ramped up its fact-checking of social media and especially Facebook. Along with other fact-checkers around the world, we partner with Facebook to debunk misinformation on its platform. Here are some of our recent checks. 

  • Coronavirus testing results are not being faked. Facebook posts claim that labs are manipulating coronavirus tests to create false-positive results. We could find no evidence to back that up; we rated this False. The source of the claim said it was a "word-of-mouth story" from his mom without proof. Similar unproven claims about tests have circulated for weeks that echo months-old conspiracy theories about the pandemic. While COVID-19 tests sometimes produce false-positive results, there is no evidence that labs are deliberately manipulating samples. Experts are more concerned about false-negatives, which could pose health consequences.

  • Masks cause ‘fungus infection’? No. "You can’t make this up," begins a Facebook post. "NYS hospitals reporting thousands of fungus lung infections due to wearing a mask!!" We rated this False. (Apparently you CAN make this up.) A spokesperson for Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York state, told PolitiFact that she checked out the claim with multiple infectious-disease doctors "and they have not heard of this or are aware of this." Two other health care officials we checked with said the same thing.

  • More phony Jeffrey Epstein photos. A photo of Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump was doctored so that it looks like Trump is embracing Jeffrey Epstein. In the original image, Trump is embracing his daughter. We rated the claim that a photo shows Trump embracing Epstein in the back of a limousine as Pants on Fire!

Pants on Fire

Do you smell smoke? 

Here's your Pants on Fire fact-check of the week: 

No, Taylor Swift does not want the Statue of Liberty removed

The pop star has called for the removal of statues that honor Confederates, not the Statue of Liberty.

See what else we've rated Pants on Fire this week. 

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More by Angie Drobnic Holan

The week in fact-checking: Trump’s ‘defunding the police’ ad