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The week in fact-checking: “Plandemic,” Trump on ABC

(Screenshot from "Plandemic") (Screenshot from "Plandemic")

(Screenshot from "Plandemic")

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan May 8, 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: Debunking "Plandemic" … When next-door states start to re-open … No, the Trump team didn’t inherit a "bad" test …  The New York Times and the Biden story … Is the coronavirus less deadly than we thought? No … My best advice for getting the news in the time of coronavirus

The 'Plandemic' video: full of inaccurate conspiracy theories

If you were on social media this week, there’s a good chance you’ve seen someone share "Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19," a 26-minute video about the coronavirus pandemic.

The video is a deep dive into conspiracy theories about COVID-19, public health and the pharmaceutical industry. It discusses Dr. Anthony Fauci’s efforts to combat the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and Bill Gates’ support of vaccination efforts around the world.

The video features an interview with Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute. Mikovits, before her work was discredited, was lauded in the late 2000s for her research on chronic fatigue syndrome. Mikovits makes several claims that are either unsupported or outright false.

We debunked eight separate claims from the video, which is full of inaccurate conspiracy theories. Read our story to see the 8 things "Plandemic" gets wrong.

Special report: 2 neighboring states, 1 merging vision to re-open

Some states aim to work in tandem with their neighbors on ending social distancing. But anywhere that states share a long border and business flows back and forth, alignment may come regardless of any formal pact. Add a dose of competition for customers, and the odds go even higher.

North Carolina implemented its stay-at-home order a week earlier than South Carolina, and has been slower to roll back restrictions. But at this point, the states’ approaches are converging.

Neighboring states might not set out to reopen at the same time, but they can end up in the same place. The disease numbers for cases and tests matter, but they far from dictate policy.

Read our special report on the re-opening of the state economies of North Carolina and South Carolina and learn what it might mean for your state. 

What Trump got wrong on ABC News

President Donald Trump left Washington for his first major trip in nearly two months, and also left the relative safety of a Fox News interview by sitting down with ABC News’ David Muir during a visit to Arizona on May 5.

Muir was criticized for not pushing back harder on some of Trump’s specific claims about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are four inaccuracies from Trump’s comments, fact-checked.

"Don't forget, the cupboard was bare. The last administration left us nothing. We didn't have ventilators, we didn't have medical equipment, we didn't have testing."

Trump’s sweeping generalization — which he has made before — is Mostly False. The state of the Strategic National Stockpile was not where it needed to be for the pandemic, particularly with N95 masks, which were not replenished after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. But it wasn’t bare. In November 2019, the former director of the stockpile described it as an $8 billion enterprise, with extensive holdings of many needed items.

Muir followed up on this one, asking Trump why he did not do more to address the stockpile during his three years in office. Trump blamed Democratic efforts to investigate him over Russia and Ukraine, including the impeachment trial.

"The tests were broken. You saw that. We had broken tests. They left us nothing."

This claim, which Muir did not correct, rates Pants on Fire. COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus. There was no "bad" test to inherit for detecting a new virus. 

On potential deaths: "Those models that you're mentioning are talking about without mitigation."

This claim rates False. Presented with dire outlooks for COVID-19 deaths over the summer months, Trump incorrectly said they did not take into account mitigation efforts, such as social distancing and mask requirements.

Muir asked Trump about dire COVID-19 predictions from two institutions, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The University of Washington’s updated model shows 134,000 Americans could die by August, nearly double their previous projection. Contrary to what Trump said, this model factors in mitigation efforts.

"We’ve never put forward a forecast that included no mitigation," said institute spokeswoman Amelia Apfel in an email.

The other model Muir mentioned, from Johns Hopkins University, stems from an internal federal government slideshow. That document contained one slide that projected 3,000 deaths per day by June.

The information came from a model created by Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Lessler told NPR that his scenarios do assume some degree of mitigation. 

"Nancy Pelosi was out there at the end of February, talking about let's go dancing in Chinatown in San Francisco, because she wanted to prove that there was no problem. But there was a problem. Schumer was talking in March, about there’s no problem. I banned people from coming in, in January."

Pelosi did visit the Chinatown area in San Francisco on Feb. 24, encouraging residents to eat and shop. But she didn’t talk about people going dancing, and she didn’t say there was no problem concerning the coronavirus.  

Pelosi also specifically stressed that people be concerned about the virus.

"Prevention, prevention, prevention," she told reporters. "We want people to be concerned and vigilant. However, we don’t want them to be afraid."

When it comes to Schumer, Trump’s wrong. Here’s Schumer, in a joint statement with Pelosi, on Feb. 27:

"The United States government must do more to address the spread of the deadly coronavirus in a smart, strategic, and serious way and we stand ready to work in a bipartisan fashion in Congress and with the administration to achieve this necessary goal. Lives are at stake — this is not the time for name-calling or playing politics."

And lastly, Trump’s criticism of Schumer and Pelosi ignores some of his own statements and actions in February and March. On the same day Pelosi was touring San Francisco’s Chinatown, Trump tweeted: "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA."

Fact-checks of the week

Tucker Carlson on the coronavirus: Fox News host Tucker Carlson railed against continued statewide shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, claiming they did little to flatten the curve and that "the virus just isn’t nearly as deadly as we thought it was." We rated his statement Mostly False. Reputable scientists warned early in the outbreak that there was not an accurate picture of how deadly the coronavirus was. There’s still not. It’s misleading to compare, as Carlson did, the early reported case fatality rates, which reflect deaths among confirmed COVID-19 patients, with more recent infection fatality rates that estimate the death rate for all infected people.

No, members of Congress don’t get their salary for life: A Facebook post contains a zombie falsehood that just won’t die. It said that politicians "receive full pay retirement after serving 1 term!" We rated this False. Most lawmakers won’t be vested after serving just one term in office. Even for the longest-serving lawmakers, federal law caps pensions at 80% of full salary.

The New York Times’ Biden story: A conservative think tank had this to say on Facebook: "New York Times editor admits Biden sexual assault story was censored at behest of Biden campaign." The claim rates Mostly False. The 2,500-word New York Times story examined the allegation that Biden sexually assaulted a former staff assistant in 1993. Times executive editor Dean Baquet said 13 words about Biden’s past physical contact with women were deleted from the story post-publication. The same words that were removed, however, are intact in the story two paragraphs earlier. The words describe past allegations of Biden "kissing, hugging or touching" women in ways that the women say they "made them feel uncomfortable."

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

PolitiFact behind the scenes: My best advice for getting the news in the time of coronavirus

It’s seldom been harder to discern what’s true, whom to trust and what’s reliable than in the age of the coronavirus pandemic — nor has solid information ever been as important. 

Humans seek information to feel informed and safe. When there are no new developments, or important questions can’t be answered, it leaves us unsatisfied. So we keep looking for information that isn’t there, and that creates frustration.

Still, we can be savvy news consumers, and even find calm in how we engage with the news. In a recent column, I explained three principles that bring order to how I approach my own news seeking: Read with intention. Beware of false hype, both positive and negative. Look to history and science for important perspective.

Read my column about how you can apply these principles to your own news consumption. 

Pants on Fire

Do you smell smoke? 

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

No, homeless people are not "immune" to COVID-19.

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

In case you missed it

We launched a new YouTube series last week to cover misinformation about the pandemic. 

The "Truth-O-Meter Minute" is available to watch on YouTube and on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). The series tackles claims you may have seen about all aspects of the coronavirus and COVID-19. 

New episodes are published twice a week. Subscribe to our YouTube channel

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More by Angie Drobnic Holan

The week in fact-checking: “Plandemic,” Trump on ABC