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The week in fact-checking: Donald Trump's Pants on Fire week, the death of George Floyd

President Donald Trump. (AP) President Donald Trump. (AP)

President Donald Trump. (AP)

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan May 29, 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 on mail-in balloting, Joe Scarborough, Nancy Pelosi and the First Amendment … The death of George Floyd: What you need to know​ ... Biden flubs CDC numbers … How high is support for mail-in voting? … No, a flu shot doesn’t get you a false positive on a COVID-19 test … Ex-presidential smack-downs. 

Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire week

President Donald Trump hasn’t had a good week when it comes to fact-checking. So far, he’s earned four Pants on Fire ratings.

What has Trump gotten wrong? Let’s take a look.

Mail-in voting. Trump said that California Gov. Gavin Newsom "is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there, will get one" and the election is "rigged." Pants on Fire! Because of the risk of COVID-19, Newsom ordered counties to send mail-in ballots to registered voters, not "anyone." Election experts have found voter fraud is exceedingly rare for mail-in voting.

Who supported Nancy Pelosi for House speaker. While endorsing a Republican for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, Trump took a swipe at Democratic incumbent Conor Lamb. Lamb, Trump said, is "a puppet for Crazy Nancy Pelosi. He said he would NOT vote for her for Speaker, and did." That’s Pants on Fire. Lamb said he wouldn’t vote for her and actually didn’t. Lamb voted for U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts instead.

Whether Joe Scarborough murdered his staff member. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually really sad. In 2001, a female staff member to then-Rep. Joe Scarborough was found dead in a Florida district office. The medical examiner determined she died when a heart problem caused her to faint and hit her head on the edge of a desk. Scarborough was in Washington, D.C. at the time of death, there has been no evidence to suggest foul play, and no official call to revisit the incident. That hasn’t stopped Trump from claiming that there are "many unanswered and obvious questions" that law enforcement should look into about Scarborough, who is now host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." We rated the claim Pants on Fire

What do all these statements have in common? Trump made them all on Twitter. It’s long been the president’s favorite platform for bragging about his own accomplishments, maligning perceived enemies and sharing random thoughts. 

On Tuesday, Twitter did something new: It fact-checked Trump.

After another of Trump’s tweets claiming that mail-in balloting is a recipe for voter fraud, Twitter appended this note to Trump’s tweet: "Get the facts about mail-in ballots." The link leads to news stories and fact-checks that show the falsity of Trump’s claims. 

Trump’s reaction to Twitter was the fourth Pants on Fire. "Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!" Trump said.

Trump is wrong: The First Amendment limits the government, not private platforms like Twitter. Twitter’s decision to mark one tweet as misleading is itself protected under the First Amendment. That’s what six legal experts told us. The First Amendment protects Twitter from Trump, one of them said. It doesn’t protect Trump from Twitter.

The death of George Floyd and the Minneapolis protests

As we ended the week, protesters took to the streets in Minneapolis and cities across the country to bring attention to the May 25 death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in police custody after a white officer pinned Floyd’s neck under his knee while Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.

Our coverage includes:

Fact-checks of the week

Biden on the CDC in China: Former Vice President Joe Biden argues that President Donald Trump failed to protect the country from the coronavirus when he had the chance. "We had over 44, if I’m not mistaken, people from the CDC in China, in China to observe what was going on," Biden said. "The president brought home the vast majority of them, I think left only four in place." We rated this Half True. Biden garbled the numbers. The actual staffing went from 8 Americans and 39 Chinese (47), to 3 Americans and 11 Chinese (14). But within that, the American staff working specifically on new threats like COVID-19 went from four to zero.

Klobuchar on mail-in voting: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said recently that 80% of the people" want the option of voting by mail. We rated that Half True. Klobuchar cherry-picked a poll by a liberal group that framed the question in a positive way and resulted in higher support than other national polls. The other polls showed support between 58% and 72% for voting by mail.

"Beat Biden" or "Be Biden"? Social media users are misquoting Biden, sharing an out-of-context clip that they claim shows him accidentally saying he is going to beat himself in the upcoming presidential election. "Joe Biden tells voters he’s ‘going to beat Joe Biden,’" said the headline. We rated this False. In its complete context, the video from a CNBC interview appears to show Biden saying he’s "going to be Joe Biden." The words "beat" and "be" do sound similar, but the context is telling, with Biden saying he’s going to stay true to his own political positions. 

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PolitiFact on YouTube: Ex-presidential put-downs

We recently fact-checked whether former President Barack Obama is the first ex-president to speak ill of his successor. Our research showed that from Hoover to Truman, Ford to Carter and beyond, ex-presidents have criticized the person who followed them into office. 

Watch PolitiFact reporter Jon Greenberg recap the history of the presidential put-down in our latest Truth-O-Meter Minute YouTube video.

And be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more videos like this!

Pants on Fire

Do you smell smoke? 

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

"If you have had a flu shot in the last 3-5 years, you will probably test positive" for COVID-19.

Actually, medical experts say the flu vaccine isn’t causing false positives for people who take COVID-19 tests.

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

In case you missed it: Coronavirus uncertainties

We’ve been fact-checking claims about the coronavirus and COVID-19 for months now, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. We don’t want the limitations of our knowledge to get lost. So we created a Top 10 list of the most pressing uncertainties about the coronavirus. It includes the questions we still have about how the virus is transmitted, what the symptoms are and how immunity works. Check it out!

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The week in fact-checking: Donald Trump's Pants on Fire week, the death of George Floyd