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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sued PolitiFact’s owner in 2020 over flu vaccine fact-check

Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman December 21, 2023

PolitiFact has a backstory with the recipient of our 2023 Lie of the Year recipient, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

In August 2020, Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense sued the Poynter Institute for Media Studies (PolitiFact’s owner and publisher) in federal court alleging PolitiFact wrongly ruled false a third party’s claim that the flu vaccine was "significantly associated" with an increased risk of coronavirus. 

The lawsuit alleged that PolitiFact blocked the group from displaying the article on its Facebook page, and more generally that it collaborated with Facebook and government entities — including the World Health Organization, the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — "to suppress vaccine safety speech with a ‘warning label’ and other similar types of notices which, while purporting to flag misinformation, in reality censor valid and truthful speech, including content posted by (Children’s Health Defense) on its Facebook page regarding vaccines."

Susan Illston, a judge sitting in the U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District, dismissed those claims in June 2021.

The fact-check examined a claim that the flu vaccine was significantly associated with an increased risk of coronavirus. The claim tracks back to an April 2020 story from the website collective-evolution.com. That story in turn cites research from the U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. PolitiFact’s reporting, which relied on expert interviews, found that the Armed Forces study did not support the conclusion and headline of the collective-evolution.com article. The study on respiratory viruses predated COVID-19’s arrival in the United States. 

Collective-evolution.com changed the headline and article after PolitiFact’s fact-check. The story has since been removed from the website. 

Kennedy and Children’s Health Defense continue to fight the case in court, appealing the lower-court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. Kennedy appeared and spoke at the appellate argument in May 2022 via Zoom. The appeal has sat for nearly 19 months without a decision. 

"We have never posted a single item of misinformation about COVID countermeasures," he told a three-judge panel.

RELATED: PolitiFact’s 2023 Lie of the Year: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s campaign of conspiracy theories

RELATED: PolitiFact readers’ pick for 2023 Lie of the Year 

RELATED: Looking back at PolitiFact’s Lies of the Year, 2009-2022

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sued PolitiFact’s owner in 2020 over flu vaccine fact-check