Facts are under assault in 2020.

We can't fight back misinformation about the election and COVID-19 without you. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact

More Info

I would like to contribute

Eric Litke
By Eric Litke July 8, 2020

Claim that Democratic leaders aren’t using masks based on old picture

If Your Time is short

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a strong supporter of masks, wearing them in her many public appearances.

  • The picture cited as proof that she isn’t wearing the masks “in private” is from December 2019.

  • At that point, it was still a month before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the U.S., and several months before stay-at-home orders began requiring social distancing.

One of the many COVID-19 conspiracies circulating on Facebook focuses on the supposed benefits Democrats get from the presence of the virus.

A June 30, 2020, post in a conservative Facebook group said "hype" about COVID-19 allows Democrats to limit President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies, minimize public attention on former Vice President Joe Biden and to cancel the national convention scheduled for Milwaukee to block Bernie Sanders from gaining support there.

The post includes a picture of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talking with several other Democratic leaders in Congress.

In addition to facebook, the picture and claim were posted on an array of conservative websites, all implying a conspiracy while asserting COVID-19 hype benefits Democrats.

But the Facebook post added one other element.

The text above the list of supposed benefits says in bold letters, "NO MASK in private. NO SOCIAL DISTANCE."

Let’s take a closer look at that part of the claim.

This 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).

Did Democratic leaders including Pelosi huddle up as pictured without standard COVID-19 precautions?

Timing is everything

Pelosi has been a strong proponent of mask-wearing (in contrast to Trump’s refusal to wear one in public).

Two days before this Facebook post, CNN quoted her as saying a federal mandate on mask wearing is "long overdue."

A New York Times story from a month earlier said Pelosi has "relentlessly, and strategically, made masks a part of her platform."

So the allegation of hypocrisy here is noteworthy, particularly with the supposed photographic proof.

But the picture is not what it seems.

The image, taken by Andrew Harnik of the Associated Press, dates to Dec. 18, 2019. It shows Pelosi speaking with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal after the House voted to impeach President Trump, the original caption says.

At that point, the COVID-19 outbreak was just beginning in Wuhan, China. The first case in the U.S. wasn’t confirmed until more than a month later. The first stay-at-home order enforcing social distancing wasn’t imposed until March 2020, in California.

So, of course, Pelosi and the others pictured would not be social distancing or wearing masks.

And we’ll note, Pelosi has been very conscious of mask and social distancing recommendations.

When joined by other Democrats at a recent news conference, the dozens of lawmakers were spaced for social distancing. House committee meetings have been held virtually, and for in-person meetings, masks have been the norm. What’s more, Pelosi consistently wears a mask when appearing in public.

Our ruling

A Facebook post shows Pelosi and other Democratic leaders huddled together, criticizing them for not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines.

But the image is from December 2019, months before masks and distance became part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Citing it as proof in a dramatically different landscape eight months later is ridiculous, particularly when Pelosi has actually been a strong supporter of mask-wearing and social distancing for herself and the Congressional body she oversees.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Eric Litke

Claim that Democratic leaders aren’t using masks based on old picture

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up